ANC Whitewashes Black Journalists

Cape Times (South Africa), May 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

ANC Whitewashes Black Journalists


LAST WEEK, the world celebrated Press Freedom Day. As we were approaching this significant day, my mind traveled back to October 2011 and recalled a piece written in a national newspaper by the Government Communication and Information System's chief executive, Jimmy Manyi. In this piece Manyi was elaborating on a point he had made earlier about why he did not "feel" black editors in public discourse or the media agenda.

Manyi argued that his expectation of black editors was that they would provide an outlet for historically marginalised voices.

This could rightly be interpreted as meaning that black editors are expected to empathise, when dealing with political issues that pertain to governance by Africans.

It is easy to dismiss Manyi by saying that as a government spokesman he expects black journalists to be blindly sympathetic to black governments. That is not how he came across to me, and if he did, I would be the first to oppose him.

I hold the view held by many black journalists with whom I have discussed media issues that black journalists should be in the forefront of exposing and attacking any signs of wrongdoing in governments run by blacks. That would be the true meaning of patriotic journalism. While we hear a lot of complaints on the part of government officials and black politicians in general about black journalists, we hear very little of black journalists' discontent and how black politicians address them.

About two years ago, in a meeting with former City Press editor Vusi Mona, we discussed how some white journalists demonstrated far greater insight than black journalists on major political issues. We both agreed that white journalists made use of their contacts, who had access to power. Mona expressed a desire to see a platform created where black journalists could have the access seemingly enjoyed by white journalists.

Mona, who was at the time with the Presidency, is Manyi's deputy now, and I wonder if he realised his dream. If Manyi does not "feel" black journalists, I dare say the feeling is mutual from black journalists, too, and not without reason.

This feeling was best captured in 1997 by the then New Nation journalist and later City Press political editor, Jimmy Seepe, who observed that there were "concerns often expressed among black journalists that government bureaucrats and ministers are generally more obsessed with what appears in white-run newspapers than they are with what is printed in black publications".

The "overriding mentality in the black majority government", Seepe further noted, "seems to be that the only opinions that matter are those printed in white newspapers".

Seepe further observed that there was a common feeling among black journalists that since the democratic elections, journalists working for black-oriented newspapers had found "it more difficult to gain access to government ministers than do their black and white colleagues working on white publications".

While ministers preferred to leak information to "white publications whenever important policy matters have to be tabled, black newspapers are the first to be invited by government when it is confronted with a major crisis".

In the same year that Seepe expressed this sentiment, former City Press editor Khulu Sibiya pointed out that the government had a tendency of reminding black journalists of their "blackness and the role expected from us - but when it comes to scoops and leakages of information, we are expected to take a back seat to the white media".

This tendency on the part of the government, according to Sibiya, was objectionable.

Black journalists, Sibiya argued, should "not be called upon when the chips are down, or to clean up the mess". Black journalists believed, and rightly so, Sibiya further pointed out, that "the ANC's constituency and our readers are one and the same - and if they want to address them, it should be done through the black press". …

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