Up against Apartheid: The Role and the Plight of the Press in South Africa

Up against Apartheid: The Role and the Plight of the Press in South Africa

Up against Apartheid: The Role and the Plight of the Press in South Africa

Up against Apartheid: The Role and the Plight of the Press in South Africa

Synopsis

A firsthand report of the workings of the press in the intensely troubled nation, complete with portions of the Erasmus Commission Reports never before published in the United States on the so-called Muldergate scandal. Pollak was the co-founder and editor of MORE magazine, which specialized in media analysis. After observing the workings of the press in South Africa, he believes that in the 1980sthe English-language press will play a significant role in determining whether that country will be able to defuse its racial problem before it explodes into bloody civil strife. The press in South Africa remains the one relatively free institution that has been critical of the government. Pollak examines the pressures under which it works, the ways in which the government has sought to control it, the ways in which the press has fought against the controls, and the actual impact that the press has had upon the course of events, domestic and foreign. He describes the punitive closing of newspapers, the arrests and the torture, and the abuse of reporters imprisoned for what they have written. He also describes the carefully calculated bureaucratic obstacles to press coverage of events in South Africa, such as visas, work permits, and police credentials, as well as tapped telephones, security sleuths, and general harassment and intimidation used by the government to encourage self-censorship on the part of journalists. The constant war of nerves between the Nationalists and the press corps produces the desired chilling effect. Pollak shows that the South African press played an important part in revealing the Muldergate scandal, a saga of national and international intrigue, corruption, and violence that included an attempt by South Africa to purchase the Washington Starto extend its credibility around the world.

Excerpt

On 3 March 1980 the Nationalists seized the passport of Bishop Desmond M. Tutu, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. But this action, and the implicit threat that a banning order might follow, failed to silence the outspoken black minister, who continued to deliver speeches vehemently attacking the government for its apartheid policy. On May 4 the New York Times gave over much of page three to a detailed description of the growing tension between the Nationalists and Tutu. Times correspondent John F. Burns reported that Tutu thought the passport seizure was senseless if meant to limit his access to audiences abroad, since his speeches receive wide coverage in the foreign press.

The attitudes and activities of dozens more antiapartheid leaders and organizations also are frequently reported abroad. Moreover, the foreign press corps in South Africa rarely misses major stories that demonstrate the government's repressive nature. The Soweto uprising in 1976, the death of Steve Biko and the bannings and detentions that followed in 1977, and the Muldergate scandal in 1978 and 1979, all drew worldwide coverage, often accompanied by commentary denouncing Nationalist policy.

Government officials smart over the constant assault on their country's image. They regard foreign reporters as second only to members of the domestic English-language press in their capacity to subvert the Vaderland and white supremacy. Most Afrikaners think they and their government are completely misunderstood by the outside world. If only the visiting . . .

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