Tjatjarag – Point counter point

2011-10-01 10:44

At the newly democratised SABC in 1994, I sat next to a colleague who worked on files called “black news”. Curious, I asked what “black news” was. He said it was news about black people and areas, which was reserved for black audiences.

A fresher straight out of the liberal space of the Weekly Mail, this was my rude introduction to news apartheid. I had read it in the “extra” or township editions of newspapers but here was an opportunity to hear how it had all been put together, an insider’s account of the anatomy of censorship and of how journalism had been employed to work for apartheid.

I think I speak for most of my generation of youngish black editors if I aver that we bring this history and consciousness into our editing. We do not position ourselves outside the edifice of democracy or of the history of liberation.

So the rhetoric which paints us as enemies of democracy and hand-maidens of capital is annoying. And it’s incorrect: a Media Tenor study shows that South Africa’s media is more positive and balanced than countries with which we were compared.

I can’t speak for all, but those of us who are friends are quite clear about the impact of democracy and its attendant equity laws on our career paths. It wouldn’t have happened unless a crusty old industry had been forced to change.

But I do position myself four-square out of the edifice of corruption and democratic decline. And therein, I think, lies the problem. As government spokesperson, Mr Manyi, you are paid to be blind to this harm, to make it small and to amplify the positive.

There is a lot of positive and, yes, you are right that perhaps we do not cover it deeply or well enough. But there is also a lot that is worrying: waste and an elite high life; and a parallel civil service – one run by the 1.3-million-odd civil servants, the other run by ridiculously expensive consultants.

It is our patriotic duty to expose these things and, while the elite in the civil service and the political class may not like it, our survey shows that eight in 10 City Press readers believe corruption to be worthy of coverage.

The use of consultants to prop up the state is evident even in your patch. While your Government Communication and Information System has a staff that is the envy of all editors, most ministers have expensive, private companies to serve their communication ends.

Is it patriotic or traitorous to point out these things?

You expect that black editors will think alike and that the common fact of skin colour and a shared history will mean that we act in unison. You also expect that because you are a figure of authority, we will share your worldview, ideology, headlines and agenda.

It is as if you think we are all in a Black Management Forum journalistic chapter and because we are black and you are the chapter president, we will follow you. And because that’s not the way the world works, you don’t feel us and we don’t feel you.

Extrapolate this logic to, say, Indian (from India, I mean) editors, and it fails. But for the Chinese media (and even that’s shifting) and possibly the North Korean media, there is almost nowhere else in the world where your media ideal is practised.

I would also challenge you to expand your repertoire of reading material. Most of the coverage I read, edited and wrote about the national health insurance scheme has been positive because, as you say, many of us come from a past where we lived through the indignities of an apartheid health system. Is it wrong to ask what it will cost?

Surely it is the question on most lips?

The labour movement is fairly covered (can you really say that labour federation Cosatu’s general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is demonised – he is a media sweetheart?).

This is not only because many of us come from blue-collar homes, but also because the labour movement is regarded as a core institution in our democracy.

Surely, however, it is legitimate to question strike violence and the outcomes of a strike season that has possibly cost workers more in lost wages than what they gained in increases?

And your view that traditional practices are regarded with disdain by a bourgeois media can’t be stood up with any evidence.

The antidote to “black news” has been the plethora of voices and opinions that fill our pages and our airwaves. It is a daily joy to behold, a tangible fruit of freedom. 

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