Just do­ing our job to in­form, ir­ri­tate … and de­press

Business Day - - MARKET WRAP -

AFORMER edi­tor of mine, who I will not name here be­cause he be­came a govern­ment spokesman and is now reap­ing the con­se­quences of his words, used to say that a news­pa­per’s job was to “in­form, ir­ri­tate and en­ter­tain”.

He ar­gued, and I agree, that af­ter read­ing the pa­per, read­ers must know more than they did, must have en­gaged (to use that hideous and overused word) crit­i­cally with the con­tent, and must have en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Un­less your news­pa­per’s se­lec­tion of sto­ries, car­toons and im­ages did all three, you were do­ing your read­ers a grave dis­ser­vice and risked, over time, los­ing read­ers to other me­dia.

Un­for­tu­nately, news­pa­pers to a very large de­gree are forced to re­flect the so­ci­eties in which they op­er­ate, and, in the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment, it has be­come very dif­fi­cult to be en­ter­tain­ing in any tra­di­tional sense of the word.

If our read­ers were par­tial to sto­ries about the lighter side of train wrecks or fun things to do with dis­mem­bered pup­pies, we would be in the money. But, as­sum­ing that you’re not, it’s hard for us to make your morn­ing pa­per fun in condi- tions of near-zero good news. Take yes­ter­day’s big sto­ries in Busi­ness Day as just one ex­am­ple of just one day. For the pur­poses of this ex­er­cise you could use any pa­per, ex­cept per­haps The New Age, that good-news-loving, state-en­dors­ing pub­li­ca­tion.

On the front page we ran the fact that the rand was ca­reer­ing to­wards R10 to the dol­lar, that growth had stalled and even a top Trea­sury of­fi­cial had slashed her fore­cast to 2% growth for the year rather than the more op­ti­mistic fig­ures bandied about by her peers at the World Bank and the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment.

We re­vealed that rhino poach­ing in Kruger Park had got so bad that the govern­ment was think­ing about string­ing the fence — taken down to such fan­fare more than a decade ago — back up.

And Sibanye Gold, one of the smaller min­ing com­pa­nies, had been forced to slash 1,110 peo­ple off its books and even the unions were herald­ing this as a suc­cess as thou­sands of other jobs had been saved. Should con­di­tions re­main as chal­leng­ing (an­other hor­ri­ble South African­ism) as they are now, more jobs will un­doubt­edly be shed.

On top of all this, the an­nual global com­pet­i­tive­ness rank­ings by the in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected IMD busi­ness school re­vealed — you guessed it — that SA had slipped three places to 60th over­all and that we were the worst placed of all the Brics coun­tries and that, con­trary to the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship’s rhetoric, things are not all that rosy in the repub­lic.

The IMD cited “a lot of missed op­por­tu­ni­ties” in its rea­son­ing, adding “un­em­ploy­ment, cor­rup­tion, and dif­fi­cul­ties in trans­parency” to the list of prob­lems.

We are one measly notch above Greece, the de­fin­i­tive eco­nomic bas­ket case, and are be­low Spain and Por­tu­gal. A glim­mer of light was that it has been de­cided to com­mis­sion a study into the cost and fea­si­bil­ity of high-speed rail links be­tween SA’s ma­jor cen­tres.

But any­one who has stud­ied the roll-out of th­ese large-scale in­fra­struc­ture projects will know that if you’re al­ready ap­proach­ing your dotage and want to go on a fast train as a birth­day treat, you should prob­a­bly head to Ja­pan or France rather than wait for the home-grown one to start rolling.

There is no doubt that all the mar­kets — rands, bonds and shares — have been hit hard by this un­re­lent­ing tor­rent of neg­a­tiv­ity and I know there are some out there who hold that we jour­nal­ists are trea­sonous for con­stantly harp­ing on about what is go­ing wrong. I have heard the ar­gu­ments that more sun­shine jour­nal­ism, as es­poused by news­pa­pers such as The New Age, would have an up­lift­ing ef­fect on sen­ti­ment and that we would all ben­e­fit from a more san­guine view of the world.

But I ar­gue that, as mis­eryin­duc­ing as it may be, only an un­re­lent­ing fo­cus on an un­var­nished view of re­al­ity will cre­ate the con­di­tions for much-needed change. We need to know the truth about what is go­ing on.

How can we com­plain that there is no bud­get to build school toi­lets but free up R2bn to en­sure that the pres­i­dent can up­grade his jet?

How can we com­plain that kids are go­ing hun­gry but not act when of­fi­cials plun­der, for per­sonal profit, feed­ing schemes?

We must see, un­der­stand and then act (rather than just talk) ac­cord­ingly.

Af­ter all, if meet­ings were work and plat­i­tudes were pol­icy, SA would be win­ning the war on poverty. They’re not and, un­for­tu­nately, nei­ther are we. Twit­ter: @qwray E-mail: [email protected]

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