The media censors success

2010-12-01 07:44

I have a healthy obsession with collecting magazines and the written word. Like a well-written novel, or a  well-composed song, one is able to keep a magazine for decades and read it repeatedly, the same way one is able to listen to a well-composed song for years. Writing is a work of art, which is why any well-written text is like a song that never gets old or a painting that you can’t stop admiring.

People in the publishing ­industry – be it magazines, books or newspapers – need to recognise their role as opinion makers and mood creators. This makes the fourth estate a very significant pillar of any ­democracy, especially in a ­developing nation like ours.

I am writing this while trying to resist the temptation of ­giving away my opinion on the proposed media tribunal.

The mass media plays many roles in our society. It is astonishing, though, that there is only one role that media practitioners magnify above all others: their role as the watchdog that keeps government in check.

This role is very significant, but the media is supposed to be responsible for more than ­keeping government on its toes.

The media needs to recognise its role in shaping values and feeding perceptions through what it publishes.

The need for e-publications like Good News South Africa was necessitated by commercial media’s inability, or should I say reluctance, to publish positive stories about our people.

I recently read about one Vusi Gumede in a lifestyle magazine. At age 35, Gumede (born in Mtubatuba) is an associate ­professor of development ­studies at the University of ­Johannesburg. Gumede completed his PhD at the age of 27 and has featured in Who’s Who of Southern Africa since 2005, and the American Biographical ­Institute’s Great Minds of the 21st Century in 2003.

In 2007 he was honoured as a Distinguished Africanist Scholar by Cornell University and as a World Fellow by Yale University in the US last year. All of this was achieved by a 35-year-old man from the deep rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal.

I had to ask myself how I, as an ardent reader, was not aware of such an accomplishment.

The answer: It’s because our media has no business publishing such positive “lame” stories when there are many controversial and jaw-dropping stories to grab our collective imagination.

Granted, the media should publish all they need to publish about the credit crunch, ­Mugabe’s marriage, the arms deal and even the president’s cabinet reshuffle, but is it too much to ask the media to spare one page for the positive stories of our country and its people?

Our young people in rural ­areas and elsewhere in the country need to read stories about young achievers.

I understand that the media adheres to the tacit rule “if it bleeds, it leads”, but can we for one moment focus on what is good for the country?

For now, I am going to go back to my 1991 copy of Tribute Magazine to read about the success of Herman Mashaba of the Black Like Me empire.

I do need, and am desperate for, such stories. As a South ­African, I have read enough ­stories that remind me of how bad and doomed I am.

» Mlotshwa is a deputy manager for communications in the KwaZulu-Natal ­education department. He writes in ­his personal capacity

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