In whose interest?

So much blazing heat and so little intellectual illumination—that is my sense of the debate about the exclusion of white journalists at a recent meeting of the Forum for Black Journalists (FBJ).

The first point to make is that the democratic achievements since 1994 and therefore the discursive context in which power relations and hegemony are exercised has shifted markedly in the media.

Today, by far most leading newspapers have black editors and other executives.
The question then arises about continuing dissatisfaction of whatever nature by black journalists and why it occurs if the editors are largely black.

Surely, these editors are in a powerful position to change the conditions that aggrieve black journalists. And are there in some cases racial perceptions about power relations in the newsroom not corroborated by clear evidence of conscious discrimination but influenced by available skills and experience?

During the exodus at the SABC of both black and white journalists, editors and managers in the past few years, the leading executive positions were and still are held by blacks.

This indicates that the problems black journalists face are decidedly not a simple racial matter. Editorial and managerial policies, ideology and practices might intersect with race or be independent of it.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that white journalists were excluded because there is a mistaken perception that they have driven an anti-Zuma campaign. But the fact is that there are several black journalists, editors and commentators who strongly criticised Jacob Zuma.

I also know that some white journalists and commentators have been more courageous in reporting or writing about social ills and presidential excesses than have many black journalists and commentators.

Therefore the concern Abbey Makoe, chairperson of the FBJ, raised about the need for black journalists to “impact on the national agenda of our fledgling democracy” is his most vulnerable point: the fact is that most black editors and journalists have not strongly criticised the neo-liberal economic and social policies of the government, when it is the poor black majority who have suffered their effects most.

Moreover, it is the professional black middle class that uses black racial solidarity to advance what are in fact often their class and career interests.

Ordinary black workers join non-racial trade unions to advance their interests. Was that meeting with Zuma perhaps meant to set the tone for a worrying return to the early years of President Thabo Mbeki’s rule, when some black editors said that it might be unpatriotic for them to criticise a black-led government?

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