South Africa's Single Story

2017-04-25 12:02

The South African media, the majority of news outlets holds in general a single narrative on all matters of public interest. There is a shocking intolerance for any differing point of view. Journalists are in the main no longer interested to even hide their opinions on stories or matters. Each report is made into an editorial laced with what the journalists editor thinks and holds as true. Journalistic bias, personal feelings and convictions run each story reported and not the story running the reporter. The news is tainted and hardly fair. Right of reply is generally ignored and frowned upon.

There is general disdain for a fair space to hear the other side on all stories. It is just pitchforks and pots.

Complex matters, matters that ought to develop healthy debate are only presented in accordance with the editorial "feelings" of each outlet. When a story breaks in South Africa, one already knows how each news outlet will cover it. Always the coverage suppresses the usual suspects and promotes the usual saints. Without fail, this single narrative permeates through television, radio and print media.

The often refrain is that the SABC is the largest news outlet in South Africa. Indeed, by numbers of listeners/audiences, the SABC far outshines the rest. However the SABC does not have the "lead" majority. Story formation and narrative is still controlled by private media with the SABC always following to disseminate that which has already been formulated elsewhere. If the SABC dares to take a different angle or an open angle on a story, it immediately becomes a story with accusations of bias.

The results of a single narrative is that we as public are non the wiser, we don't get an alternative viewpoint. Media in South Africa has created a strong following of people who think exactly the same on all complex matters. It is unnatural, unhealthy and bad for social progress.

Stories are presented by almost all media in a uniform manner as though its told by one person. Is there no problem with this single narrative? Should we accept it? Is it natural that each radio host on Radio 702 or PowerFM says the same thing and sees complex matters in the very same way and interpretation? Why is it so?

South Africans are not made to interrogate why things are the way they are. On the economy there is hardly any analysis, fair analysis of why the rand is so volatile since 1970. We don't get fair debates on foreign policy or employment policy. No one is keen to look into our monetary policy fairly and debate this openly.

When our media calls in commentators or analysts, they are not shy to bring in two or three personalities who think exactly the same on matters to regurgitate each others point of views. The circus of watching eNCA's in-house analysts is a joke and a half. Single minded, single narrative, single worldview and single vocabulary.

There is an interesting level of holding negative doomsday views on everything. Analysts who say doom has arrived get more invitations from media to comment, always and always, this doom never manifest but the same bad analysts get invited even more.

President Jacob Zuma was presented as a fumbling, clueless buffoon from week one of his presidency in 2009. Books and newspapers were published claiming he was against intellectualism and accused him of dismantling the economics planning teams president Thabo Mbeki had set up.

As the Global Financial Crisis hit hardest, it was clear that Zuma is not only getting a hard reception from domestic politics but global politics and economy too. Immediately the global economy went into a mild recession and Zuma’s response was to spend money on manufacturers like the auto sector to keep it going and met with mining companies to work out ways that jobs can be saved.

The criticism continued even as it transpired that the reason he had abolished the presidency economics team was because of a grand plan he came up with to establish a super-planning ministry under Trevor Manuel who he tasked with coordinating the first ever holistic national plan, which led to the production of the National Development Plan. Pundits and writers who had said Zuma was dismantling units did not come forth to apologize but were given even more book deals and more airtime of television and elsewhere.

As the Global Financial Crisis ensued, entered the emerging markets currency fragility (Fragile 5) of which South Africa is a part. No other leader had seen such global havoc on economy before. Mandela and Mbeki experienced the Asian Currency Crisis and the dot com one but nothing of the scale of the Global Financial Crisis which entered global markets into a Global Recession.

As FIFA2010 occurred, the pundits declared that Zuma would fail. When his government staged a magnificent tournament, none came back to apologize for their negativity and gloom.

The attack and ouster of Colonel Gadhafi did not assist matters.

Credit Ratings Agencies (CRA) started warning Zuma on spending around 2012 after he decided to spend R9 billion on youth wage subsidy and on instructing Transnet, PRASA, SANRAL and ESKOM to double their efforts in infrastructure building and gearing the economy. The SOEs had to go and borrow to make sure the lights stay on and the power load shedding is dealt with.

What is core to the CRAs is not Zuma or the allegations against him. None of the CRAs have ever raised these in their various written statements but controlled spending. The recent fear is what CRAs refer to as Zuma’s populism spending risk. These include FeesMustFall who Zuma has backed against the advise of his Treasury. CRAs did not like this.

SANRALs failure to get citizens who use Gauteng roads to pay etolls meant that the debt becomes Zuma’s and this was particularly mentioned by CRAs as a cause for downgrade in 2013.

The Zuma emphasis on Radical Economic Transformation is seen as expensive and needing more from budget allocation thus not conforming with fiscal discipline the CRAs are advising.

The issue within the ANC is that of tactic. All ANC members agree that there should be changes in patters of economic ownership in South Africa. The old dispute dating back to 1996 was how? What comes first? The anti-Zuma group believes blacks must wait until the economy has grown before transformation can be effected via redistributive budgeting. Zuma believes the wait can be too long and may come when the ANC has lost momentum, history and even political power. Zuma argues that the economy must be transformed now whilst it is down and be made to grow with the majority participating so as not to lock the same majority out when economy is too grown and expensive.

As we march and make demands for Zuma to fall, let us also read all statements from CRAs, read Treasury submission to Fees Commission and various budgets in the past few years.

CRAs are not interested in Zuma reshuffle per se, or whether there is a report by Madonsela. They are currently worried about the apparent infighting inside the ANC, they call this political instability, and they are also worried about radical economic transformation costs, as SOEs will have to partake to raise blacks to their rightful place.

Blacks in particular must think which side they’re marching and what it is they’re demanding.

This does not fit a single story narrative where the majority is being told not to consider any other narrative but just one. We must be curious and go to source ourselves.

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