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