Here Is A Challenge To Community Newspapers

2013-04-29 07:01

Our online journalism is one characterized by incest — a pleasurable game of sleeping with one another on the bed of breaking news; journalist on journalist, editor on editor, and publication on publication. But the pleasure from these incestuous relations becomes bitterly regrettable when children – community newspapers – succumb to the temptations as well.

Gradually, this incestuous relationship between major publications tends to graduate into marriage, thus throwing the readers into worrisome uncertainty as to who actually wrote a certain story. Synonymous to how difficult it is to tell who, between a husband and wife, actually owns the car, all we can ever do is assume that perhaps the first website that shared the link to the story is the actual ‘owner’ of it.

Anyway, since I have coughed that off my throat (I’ve always wanted to say this), let me begin with my concerns, challenges and suggestions for some community newspapers—our innocent children envying the elderly cut and paste journalism.

I can still remember that day when I was routinely glued to the laptop in my room at the University of the Free State, reading about the under-reporting of rape cases in remote, rural areas such as Limpopo. According to the report, many girls fall victim to heartless rapists who opportunistically advance their evil desires knowing that nobody in the community will bark at them.

If they do bark, none shall be courageous enough to launch an attack.

Sometimes the reluctance to attack is informed by the sad reality of a dearth of a platform to communicate the injustices, particularly if the details won’t boost newspaper sales.

The community remains silent, while the victim silently suffers.

Those few who barked end up sparing their voices as the ‘shouting’ proves to be an exercise in futility, sobbingly nodding along Kelly Clarkson’s If No One Will Listen.

My little, objectionable understanding of a community is that it comprises a shared system of values and a solid wall that never allows any of its members to be toxic against one another. A community encompasses people whose lives are an embodiment of the ecclesiastical ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ primary law.

In light of my open-for-rebuttal comprehension of what a community means or should entail, I feel the time is right to revisit the case in point—minimal reporting of rape incidents and other forms of     abuse in  rural  communities.

The role of newspapers, in the context of the community, is to highlight social injustices, evoke the consciences of those in power, and also tell stories of the unsung ordinary men and women. Community newspapers are the first sources to consult for information regarding respective communities in which they operate and the people thereof.

Campus newspapers may not be insulated from this argument.

I have heard many a times activists blaming the mainstream media for neglecting stories of rape and abuse, while tirelessly chasing glamorously profitable stories. Often, giant newspapers have proved beyond reasonable doubt that they can only cover horrific cases such as Anene   Booysen's or a bleeding Johannesburg woman who has been found in toilets, allegedly repeatedly raped and lying unconsciously (now that’s newsworthy).

The gap left then calls on to community newspapers to play a role in fiercely addressing acts of social injustice meted out in rural communities. Rather than recycling national news stories, community newspapers must at all times be at the forefront of the fight against rape and other forms of abuse in our communities.

Arguably, it is an unpardonable journalistic incompetence to have national publications reporting about what happened in our communities while our very own community newspapers ran after stories that do not concern us.

As a matter of fact, regular newsmakers should not see themselves in community newspapers. President Zuma is not supposed to read about himself in a community newspaper. Instead, when reading the newspaper he should learn about the plight of ordinary     residents of  the community who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and murder.

In universities, management should pick up a campus newspaper to seek information about the grievances as well as achievements of students, not to read about the university’s achievements. There must be a huge difference between a university website and a campus newspaper, with the latter being rich with the voice of students as members of the community.

National newspapers should refer to community newspapers for news about the people of those communities.

I think the scope of community newspapers must be regulated so that coverage doesn't overlap into national news.

How about strict licensing similar to one of community radio stations?

Where are community newspapers in the deep rural areas of Eastern Cape to expose the fallacious convictions of old men who still believe sleeping with young girls can cure them of HIV?

In Limpopo where unreported rape cases are as frequent as a jingle on a radio show, where are community reporters?

The proposal I'm tabling is that as part of the justice system, government should empower local newspapers. In return, the newspapers will have to dig deep into remotely carried out acts and bring them to the state's attention; more like the Scorpions.

The problem arises when community newspapers fail to stay relevant to their designated constituents.

Additionally, editors should overcome the impulse to make more money by allowing too many advertisements in the already limited space.

When one looks at the Eastern Free State Issue as an example in point, one recognises that the local newspaper publishes little news articles, and the entire space is filled with advertisements (I know money is needed but the vision behind was not to make profits but to give residents a voice).

How then will stories of rape be continuously broken?

A paper like Dumela News also succumbs to the incestuous temptations of re-publishing articles from websites, as the publishing of Margaret Thatcher's role in apartheid proved. Question then is: If community newspapers misinterpret their scope and exclude pressing community issues, can we logically anticipate national publications to pay attention to those issues?

It all starts at home.

Dumelang News is purportedly ‘The People’s Paper’ yet has broadly extended its reportage to events as irrelevant to the targeted community as the Boston Bombing, Zim Food Crisis and international sporting events.

What about issues concerning the people of the community?

If in a blink of an eye a woman is raped in South Africa, why is there no in-a-blink-of-an-eye reporting of that?

Community newspapers must have sharpened teeth to bite into clandestine cases of sodomy where young boys are turned into wives by stupid men in rural areas and townships.

Incidental reporting is a common characteristic of national newspapers. For continuous condemnation of rape and other forms of abuse, the ball remains in the court of community newspapers.

Evidently, Daily Sun has shown that it is possible to focus on a specific market, in the same way that elitist publications are doing. So, in order to disrupt the otherwise seamlessly carried out abuses in our communities, we will need media houses specifically dedicated to exposing cruel violations of our people's rights to dignity and life. These publications won’t be newly-established, but the strengthening of existing community newspapers will be needed, perhaps with incentives and protection of the ‘investigators’. This is a model that may also augment the police as well as policing forum services in our communities.

Of course I'm only limiting this to matters of social justice, not to say that achievements of community members in sports or creative arts won't be written about.

At the moment, I suppose we have all been convinced that the media can play a very influential role in pressurising the justice system to act, through garnering support and causing public outcries.

It is just sad that these powerful media tend to wait for a horrific scene where an innocent girl is not only raped but butchered as well.

“So did they just rape her, nothing juicy and horrifying”? I can imagine the conversation between a journalist and the editor.

If the journalist’s answer is negative, it is business as usual in the newsroom – checking up on Nelson Mandela’s health, pseudo-analysis of military deployment, bothering Mac Maharaj, as well as the irresistible incest.

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