Racism and the media: 'We're not out of the woods'

The emergence of the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ) indicates there are problems in the media, South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) CEO Tseliso Thipanyane said on Tuesday.

“What is going wrong in media rooms to lead to the establishment of the FBJ?” he asked at a discussion on how the media cover race and racism.

He was referring to the outcry that followed the banning of white journalists at the relaunch of the FBJ in February, which also featured an off-the-record briefing with African National Congress president Jacob Zuma.

Talk Radio 702 lodged a complaint of discrimination with the SAHRC after its political reporter Stephen Grootes was among white journalists asked to leave.

Thipanyane said it was no longer popular to talk about the issue of racism and when black people experienced it, they just “keep quiet and move on”.

It needed to be dealt with, he said, adding, “We should not delude ourselves and think we are out of the woods.”

He said the media had trashed the SAHRC’s report on racism in the media, in 2000.

The findings of that inquiry concluded there was indeed racism in the media in South Africa. The commission proposed a set of measures, including offering racism awareness training and sensitising journalists as to how racism creeps into their copy.

Thipanyane said the media, as part of South African society, were not immune to the challenges of racism.

The discussion was co-hosted by the Mail & Guardian and training consultancy FrayIntermedia.

It was prompted by coverage of the FBJ incident, a racist video shot by University of the Free State students and the murder of four black people, allegedly by a white youth, in Skielik in the North West.

e.tv journalist Ben Said told the forum he was initially been let in at the FBJ event by Zuma’s security staff. When he was asked to leave, the organisers did so politely, but some of the delegates called him and his peers “coconuts”.

When Talk Radio 702 group head of news Yusuf Abramjee left in protest at them being asked to leave, Said said one delegate was heard to remark: “This is typical of how a Western Cape coloured would behave”.

ANC discussions

ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte said the party had discussed whether Zuma should attend the FBJ event, and decided he should go.

“There should never be a day in South Africa that when people say, ‘we have a problem we would like to put to you’, we would not listen.”

Duarte also cited an anecdote of a journalist being refused access over the telephone because she sounded white.

This was a “dangerous sign” and “one of the issues that we should be talking about”, Duarte said.

She drew parallels between the way white and black transgressors were reported on, saying reporters tried to find reasons for white transgressors’ behaviour, but not black.

Referring to the racist video, she said: “...
they can pee in food and abuse four black women and we must be sympathetic because they were not raised [properly] ... “

She said the media minimised issues, not doing enough analysis or background research.

The ownership of the media was also an “unresolved matter” in South Africa, and changing the hands of ownership was important to the ANC.

She questioned whether transformation had indeed occurred simply because a high percentage of managers in the media were black.

The ANC has proposed a media tribunal to raise its concerns about recent media coverage, including the lampooning of Zuma in cartoons.

Referring to recent moves to buy into the group which owns the Sunday Times by the Mvelaphanda group, and a consortium which included Foreign Affairs Department spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa, “the media went to town”.

She asked if as much fuss would be made if Naspers, which also has historic links, were to make similar moves.

The SAHRC hearings into the FBJ incident would be held on Wednesday. - Sapa

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