Me­dia houses guilty of slow trans­for­ma­tion

Van Vu­uren’s book lauded for rais­ing vi­tal is­sues


ANEW book by Hen­nie van Vu­uren, ti­tled Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, has lifted the lid on the eco­nomic crimes com­mit­ted by the apartheid state and how some me­dia houses sup­ported the Na­tional Party with fund­ing dur­ing the last years of apartheid.

The book’s chap­ter, which deals with the role of the me­dia un­der apartheid, was the topic yes­ter­day dur­ing a dis­cus­sion hosted by the Press Club of South Africa in col­lab­o­ra­tion with In­de­pen­dent Me­dia.

Pan­el­lists at the dis­cus­sion held at the Hil­ton Ho­tel in Dur­ban were the au­thor, In­de­pen­dent Me­dia ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Doc­tor Iqbal Survé, Pro­fes­sor Arthur Mu­tam­bara of the African News Agency, and Fo­rum of Jour­nal­ists for Trans­for­ma­tion pres­i­dent Piet Ram­pedi. Aca­demic Ashwin De­sai fa­cil­i­tated the dis­cus­sions.

They ex­plored the role of the me­dia then and what role it plays now. Me­dia trans­for­ma­tion and the role of the me­dia in so­ci­ety came un­der scru­tiny.

Ram­pedi said the me­dia in­dus­try is still suf­fer­ing from in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism and this is re­flected in the way news sto­ries get re­ported. “In the main, black jour­nal­ists are still be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against… If you don’t subscribe to a cer­tain nar­ra­tive your up­ward mo­bil­ity is im­peded.”

Part of the prob­lem, Ram­pedi said, is the fact that the me­dia own­er­ship pat­terns that were there pre-1994 still ex­ist.

Dr Survé con­grat­u­lated Van Vu­uren on the book, say­ing it is one of the sem­i­nal books in SA his­tory. He said it is clear from the book that some of the big me­dia play­ers like Naspers were em­bed­ded in apartheid.

This begs the ques­tion: “If that covert hand was there then, is it still there now and does it still shape the nar­ra­tive?” He also said the role that the dom­i­nant me­dia groups play in muz­zling new en­trants into the me­dia space needs to be in­ter­ro­gated.

“As some­one try­ing to find the space for truth, we are still up against an in­sti­tu­tional sys­tem which is grounded in apartheid years.”

Van Vu­uren said there is a need for in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism and for com­mu­nity me­dia. He said one of the main chal­lenges he had writ­ing the book was ac­cess­ing in­for­ma­tion. The apartheid state had de­stroyed 44 tons of doc­u­ments. How­ever, there is still a good body of work avail­able to re­searchers.

Mu­tam­bara also de­cried the state of me­dia own­er­ship, say­ing the plu­ral­ity of voices is needed. “We must have me­dia houses owned by Africans driv­ing the agenda.”

He said tech­nol­ogy could be used to ad­dress this, as some tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions, like Mpesa, have ad­dressed is­sues of bank­ing. “Yes, the rich will al­ways take ad­van­tage of ev­ery sit­u­a­tion, but there is a thing called re­source­ful­ness. The poor can be re­source­ful through tech­nol­ogy.”

Ram­pedi said so­ci­ety needs to de­mand ac­count­abil­ity from the me­dia.

“We have al­lowed the me­dia to be reck­less and to be loose can­nons,” he said, adding that this was ev­i­dent in some of the rul­ings made against the me­dia by the Press Om­buds­man.

He warned that reck­less ac­tions by the me­dia could lead to strin­gent laws as law­mak­ers were be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­pa­tient with the con­duct of some me­dia houses.

“Facts must al­ways be re­ported on re­gard­less on the im­pli­ca­tions. Cur­rently, the me­dia of­ten looks at who is the cul­prit be­fore do­ing the story. It’s no longer about the facts,” Ram­pedi said.

Dr Survé slammed se­lec­tive re­port­ing by some me­dia houses on some is­sues. He said there was very lit­tle re­port­ing on the links that par­ties like the DA and the EFF have with cap­i­tal.

“It is fash­ion­able to­day to have Gup­tas on the front page, but that does not mean they are the only peo­ple who have done these kind of things. Where are the other peo­ple?”

He warned that the me­dia will be com­mit­ting a fun­da­men­tal mis­take if it thinks or­di­nary peo­ple can be fooled.

“Par­ti­san me­dia will lose the trust of or­di­nary peo­ple. What the me­dia must do is to tell all sides of the story… Fake news is also when you don’t tell the full story, but pre­tend you are telling the full story,” he said.

Yes, the rich will al­ways take ad­van­tage

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