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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 15:42 GMT
Are South Africa's media racist?
The Human Rights Commission in South Africa has accused two newspapers of being racist.

News and Information for Africa
The government has frequently blasted the media with similar accusations. But others say the government in general, and the ruling ANC party in particular, are oversensitive and intolerant of genuine criticism.

Does the Commission have a point? Are the media in South Africa still operating in the remains of an apartheid culture? Or is the accusation of racism a convenient way of trying to stifle legitimate critical reporting?


Your Reaction

Let's have some compassionate deep spirited journalists, not a bunch of angry upstarts who cannot understand change.

Charmain Falode, United Kingdom
I would like to state the no-one should be in the slightest bit surprised. Yes South Africa is a nation of change, at the moment but it is also in a state of mass confusion that has been very much carried over into the media.
People seem to be leaving that beautiful land in droves, whether their departure is due to black on black crime, coloured on coloured, Indian on Indian, white on white or white on everything else. Basically many entities within the media culture of SA needs to leave in droves. Time for a change, let's have some compassionate deep spirited journalists, not a bunch of angry upstarts who cannot understand change.
Charmain Falode, United Kingdom

Surely rather than having a go at each other (Willem) people should be looking at the wider picture. The commentators have their own views and they are entitled to them, to accuse them of knowing little of the subject is hardly helping the argument.
Matthew, UK

It is really sad to see so many people view their ideas about how South Africa is/should and was run, when they have never been there!! I lived there for the most part of my life during both the apartheid era and the non-apartheid era, having being brought up very liberal with the idea and continuing belief that every one deserves to be treated as an individual and to be given the respect they deserve no matter what colour they are. That is how most South Africans feel, but it is the ongoing interference from small minded so-called intelligent people who wont give South Africa the chance to change.
Jo Trede, UK (South African)

I do think that the ruling ANC party is sometimes over sensitive, but at the same time the South African media must exercise caution and tact because it is only human nature that criticism shall not be taken lightly.
Crystal Svanikier, South Africa

For countries like South Africa, or the USA who have such a hard task of trying to abolish racism and discrimination need to realise that racism is a two-way process! On a trip to the USA I was shocked by some media within the black communities that said 'all whites are evil', or 'white man is the devil'! If it was vice versa it would be considered racist, why doesn't the media in all countries acknowledge this? Maybe this is why racism still continues to be a problem even today!
Richard, UK

I found it very interesting reading the 'expert' opinions of everyone that has never even set foot in South Africa. It is clear that very few of the commentators even know what the specific allegations regarding racism in the media are. I suggest that you read the newspaper articles that are so-called 'racist' before forming your ridiculous opinions.
Willem, SA ( in USA), USA

While there are a limited number of black/white radical newspapers, I found the majority of journalists to be very PC (politically correct). Maybe that is the problem...
Besides, no matter who is in government, the media will always criticise them - it's their job to find flaws!
Jo, NL, ex-SA

"How soon we forgot" the way it was. The carnage. The brutality. The deep hated intolerance. The total exclusion. The dehumanization. Shall I continue? South Africa was never a so-called first-world, for your information. The people of South Africa have tasted freedom and are a very educated electorate. Let them decide their fate. For those that enjoyed the oppressive government and fled because of ANC, please shut-up, you are not fit to advise.
Chuks Echeazu, American

It is difficult for a nation that institutionalised Apartheid to change and demonstrate racial equality. This process will take years, even decades. It is unreasonable to expect South Africa's 37.4 million people to just forget the likes of F. W. De-Clerk
Peter Crawford-Bolton, UK (in US)

Racism shall never be eliminated. It is a war of fear and man must try to reduce it because everywhere we look it is there especially in the west or rich white neighbourhoods world wide. Blacks should stop complaining while giving mediocre service to their people, some of it is just inferiority complex. I have never met a black who does not feel inferior because of his colour consciously or unconsciously.
Horo Odoe, Equador

African governments have always gone out of their way to eliminate any form of criticism.

James Mcintosh, South Africa
If the HRC's criticism of the media wasn't tragic, it would all be extremely hilarious.
I have not yet come across an African government which does not demand a slavish press. And quite frankly, I would consider almost all of the South African press to be extremely slavish. African governments have always gone out of their way to eliminate any form of criticism. They do not cherish the idea that criticism (whether justified or not) is the basis of democracy.
James Mcintosh, South Africa

I'm white and I finally think I'm beginning to understand how the Jews felt in Germany before the war. There is an " International white media conspiracy" and "subliminal" racism against blacks in the (white controlled) media. The press is owned by the "rich whites who have never been near a township". The commission against (white) racism is so racist it's scary.
Peter, South Africa

The shame is that that xenophobic attitude in most cases is from the fellow black South African brothers!

Bokarr, France
South Africa has to understand that the only way to win the confidence of other African brothers is for them (the S/Africans) to be more tolerant and less xenophobic! I can remember in 1977 some of my classmates were refugees from South Africa! Those were the apartheid days!!
Why can't these very brothers and sisters accept us in their midst come what may! LOOK let's say the truth that the maltreatment the other Africans face in South Africa is worse than what they come across in any other country! The shame is that that xenophobic attitude in most cases is from the fellow black South African brothers! Why?! Why?!
Bokarr, France

West African immigrants especially Nigerians and Senegalese are almost universally portrayed by the white-owned papers as criminals.

Ndubisi Obiorah, Nigeria
I spent six weeks in Johannesburg in October-November 1998 with a South African NGO. I have no doubt that the South African media is racist.
Russian, Italian and Japanese immigrants or residents are not stigmatised on account of the Russian, Italian or Japanese Mafia but West African immigrants especially Nigerians and Senegalese are almost universally portrayed by the white-owned papers as criminals one and all; no mention is ever made of the thousands of law abiding, hard working Nigerian professionals and business people who are contributing to South Africa's economic progress.
Ndubisi Obiorah, Nigeria

Changing the stove dose not make the food tasty.
Alem, USA

It seems strange that a black only organisation can complain about racism in the press, I wonder what they would have to say about a white only organisation?
Troubled, South Africa

It will take a long time before white South Africans begin to accept black people after what they were initially taught.

Denver Mahara, Zimbabwean (UK)
The word apartheid is only officially off but realistically that doesn't stop people from being racist. It would be too ambitious to expect every white man to be smiling at every black man they come across. Here in England after trying to combat racism, people still practice what they call unwitting racism. In this case they just don't show you, that they don't like you but just pretend.
The present generation is now more tolerant and less racist than the older conservatives. Therefore it will take a long time before white South Africans begin to accept black people after what they were initially taught by apartheid. You still experience racism in Zimbabwe 20 years after independence.
Denver Mahara, Zimbabwean (UK)

Why should blacks everywhere continue to think that the white man will change his/her attitude towards our skin? It is up to us to assert our rightful place in spite of history. It is a matter for insightful and purposeful leadership, one that will stop to be intimidated.
The odds - with even the media's own shameful slant of events on the African continent - are great but that is where the challenge lies. Let us begin by educating the next generation now - it is only they who can be trained to see things differently. But will this be easy? No, if you take the black man's plight in the US now after programs like affirmative action. Should the quest be abandoned? No, but it must be a global crusade, led by blacks themselves.
S. S. Adzei, Ghana

Perhaps the ANC needs a good shoe in the rear end to get on with delivering their promises. They are just looking for a scapegoat.

Warwick Anderson, Sweden
Perhaps the problem is that certain papers are still written for a majority of one particular race of people. ie a particular race group will buy those papers. For example the reporting of a rather staunch Afrikaaner paper might overly criticise the ANC Governments failings. I recently spent 3 months in South Africa and was quite content with the papers I read, all reports seemed fair and just. Particularly from the papers which are being brought to book. The Star, Sunday Times, Eastern Cape Herald, Cape Times for example are just doing their job. Perhaps the ANC needs a good shoe in the rear end to get on with delivering their promises and sorting out the many problems their incredible country has. I for one feel they are just looking for a scapegoat.
Warwick Anderson, Sweden

One suspects that the media in South Africa is less biased in their reporting than in the heyday of apartheid. The business press is especially objective in covering economic news on the continent of Africa. The best way to counter racist press is to start one's own media. African countries need more private media outlets. Government-controlled media is anachronistic in today's world.
Ed Edet, USA (Nigerian)

Considering that most of the ANC high command are also members of the SA Communist Party it is no surprise that they would try to suppress freedom of the press when it speaks out against the crime and government corruption rife within the country.
Franz van Dyk, UK, Ex South African

The South African press is possibly the most democratic in Africa. It is also an important source of African news that is often not available in other African countries because of intimidation of the press. The vast majority of South Africans are "non-white" and surely will not support "racist" media. Let the market decide. It would appear that the Human Rights Commission is merely pandering to populist sentiment in targeting the "liberal" media that is highlighting the shortcomings of the administration. It just so happens that this administration is largely "non-white". In the South African context, probably in the whole African context, criticism of government = criticism of "non-whites".
Sue, Zambia

If the South African government doesn't like what its press writes, the best response is to demonstrate that it can improve life for all South Africans.
Jon Livesey, USA

Apartheid is alive and well in South Africa.

Alan A., UK (Ex SA)
Apartheid is alive and well in South Africa. A shocking statement, but all that has happened is that the prejudice has shifted, from anti-black to anti-white. Try and get a job in SA if you are white, particularly if you are low-to-medium skilled. In the "post-apartheid era", any criticism of black rule, or black government is seen as a return to the bad old days. I think the press are doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances. They have a duty to report the truth, and if that is in any way un-complimentary to the existing government, it is slated as racism.
Alan A., UK (Ex SA)

It is a dream for anyone to think that just because the government changed hands that the hearts of the white people changed with it. You cannot miss the constant theme to trivialise everything to do with African people. Mind you, the BBC is just as racist.
Jabu Sithole, South Africa

The one universal of Southern African politics - when politicians cry patriotism and especially racism, what they really mean is "how dare the press expose our mismanagement and gutting of a country? How dare these people expect transparency and good government? Because we are black, this gives us every right to screw our countrymen out of their future." Africa deserves better than this kind of thinking, but it won't get it with a muzzled, politically correct and blind press to guard against the depravities of the rulers.
J Olorunsola, Nigeria

Apartheid was rooted in all government and white owned institutions including the media. Unfortunately the change of government has not reversed it. My belief is that it takes a long time to change people's attitude. On the other hand the government should not try to avoid criticism by hiding behind apartheid's legacy. Many African countries ruin democracy by stopping the media to do its work. The media should be there, free to report, no matter what the government feels about it. Let the people themselves judge it.
Clement T Chiwaya, Malawian in USA

It is impossible for members of the news media to not form their own opinions. And, some of those opinions are going to be a diverse as those of others. That is one reason why it seems impossible to expect the media to match up to the expectations of anybody.
Dave Adams, USA

I found most newspapers which I read to be fairly impartial.

Margaret Carre, Belgium
Having lived in SA over ten years ago and having recently returned for a holiday, I think I can say that I found most newspapers which I read to be fairly impartial. At least if someone commits a crime it is freely reported i.e. name, place etc. (from name one can obviously tell whether the person is white, coloured or black.) Here in Belgium a person's nationality is not allowed to be mentioned nor is the name given - only initials! All that to protect the feelings of certain minority groups in Belgium who are, in most cases, the obvious criminals. If they are guilty why not say so no matter whether he/she is Chinese, African, European or Moroccan etc.
Margaret Carre, Belgium

If you close people out of education, jobs and freedom of opinion, not to talk about voting rights, based on what colour or tribe this happens to be then the racism is not acceptable. Freedom of discussion is by no means racism or a threat to human rights. Democracy starts by the freedom of expression and this freedom may contain elements that not everybody like.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland

The race card is a great excuse for all your problems.

Jim Kirk, USA
The ANC is a most intolerant government. It suppresses opposition even from rival black political groups. The race card is a great excuse for all your problems. It's much nicer to blame racism for economic problems and inefficiencies than attributing it to more complex problems. The ANC is lucky to have inherited the only first-world country in Africa.
Jim Kirk, USA

I think South Africa still continues apartheid in general. I have talked to some sales men from South Africa while I was working in Botswana. I can not forget their impoliteness still now. Apartheid has still existed in their society where their media is created.
Japanese student, UK

Some South African media is racist but The Mail And Guardian? That's ridiculous? Aside from employing more black journalists, training black journalists, its history involved fighting the apartheid system whilst much media supported it or tried to be 'impartial'. However, it's no government stooge and has also exposed much of the corruption, racism and electorally difficult issues in the current government. And for those actions, it has been deemed to be racist. Madness.
Rich Johnston, England

It takes a long time for racism and prejudice to die.

Dave, USA
It takes a long time for racism and prejudice to die. Just because you don't have the Apartheid system anymore it does not mean that all the prejudices learned by people are simply going to disappear.
At the same time the new rulers in S. Africa are very sensitive of their position and nervous about establishing the respect they think they deserve. The worst thing they can do in that case is try and stifle the opinions of the press that opposes them. In a free society the truth will be known, and the truth will rise above the opinions of those that are driven by prejudice.
Dave, USA

South Africans have not got the press they deserve.

Mark Harrison, Canada
Before 1994 the print media in South Africa was hostile to the Government and the electronic media was sympathetic so there was a certain balance. Now the latter is in the hands of the ANC and much of the print media is owned by their sympathisers. For all these reasons, speaking as a former resident I would say South Africans have not got the press they deserve.
If now a few papers are finally speaking out it's not surprising that these attacks are the result. The ANC comes out of the same 60's Stalinist mould as Mugabe. They are just starting to prove it.
Mark Harrison, Canada

See also:

14 Feb 00 | Africa
SA editors face racism questions
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