The shenanigans of alleged racism at City Press teach us clearly that the media is untransformed in this country. Instead the media professionals from the disadvantaged background now devote their time and energy to fighting over who is a black African and who is not?

This battle for power, control and domination among the so-called Indians, coloureds and Africans in the newsroom creates more confusion over the question of national identity and unwittingly protects and preserves capitalist interests.

The lack of a practical definition of a new South African identity and the unpreparedness of editorial executives to move away from apartheid-drenched racial reasoning and infighting is nothing but a sign of ignorance, cowardice and indecisiveness on how to serve newspaper readers in this dynamic African society.

The City Press editorial leaders, managers and staff, instead of looking for better ways to contribute to social cohesion and nation-building, are preoccupied about what they ill-define to be transformation or a so-called “black perspective” in their reporting. The fault in their understanding or definition of these terms is embarrassing.

Truth, equality and justice do not care for the skin colour of the writer of a column, story or feature. And the fact that you are a dark-skinned journalist does not make you a guru on township life just like a light-skinned journalist is not an expert on European history. These are some of the fundamental cracks that emerge when we examine the clash about who is a racist and who is not. It is about racialised identities.

This infighting among people who should be working towards the same goal — informing and educating the new society — is very common, it can be found in almost every institution or organisation in this country. It would have been foolish for anyone to think journalists were exempt as they too are afflicted by the same challenges that bedevil South African society. In fact this is worsened by the fact that newsrooms not only suffer from juniorisation — that is too many young, inexperienced people — but intellectual laziness where very few journalists read anything else except their own stories.

The pool of experienced and talented black journalists seems to have been exhausted at City Press. Many of the senior editorial executives are people who were born after 1976 and, worse, have no sense of South African or even struggle history.

In fact the blacks who have risen to power and control at City Press and many other newsrooms have been content to look after their own position and status instead of using their platforms to fight and promote genuine transformation. Nothing has been achieved after the anti-racism submission to the Human Rights Commission in the mid-1990s. Even the recent report on transformation, conducted by the media itself, gave a bleak picture.

Genuine transformation is not about substituting blacks for whites to push and protect the capitalist agenda where profits are more important than informing and educating the readers. And this is what has been happening at City Press since 1994: editorial slants that put profits before truth.

Now, under journalists and editors who push this editorial doctrine, your skin colour does not matter.

The requirement to rise to the upper echelons in the newspaper industry is for one to show commitment to hostile perspectives towards the government and the poor. The prerequisite for success in journalism as explained by the late legendary editor Aggrey Klaaste has always been for a black editor or journalist to be a “house nigger”, a journalist who identifies and protects the interests and agenda of the master or capitalist owner.

Perhaps it is time for journalists — black or white — to acknowledge and recognise their duty: to make as much profit for their masters as they can, even at the expense of the highest office in the land. In other words journalists must protect and preserve the economic status quo.

But now the staff at City Press want us to think that some of them are heroic, positive and constructive when all they are fighting for is self-preservation, ambition and power. Black journalists have long given up on fighting for genuine transformation. They have, largely, become part of the petit bourgeoisie because of the prominence, position and status they enjoy as a result of their access to people with power and influence. They love the celebrity culture so much that that is what dominates their coverage.

The objective of the broadcasting and print media from 1994 should have been to promote the ideals, values and principles enshrined in the Constitution. They are against racism, tribalism, sexism, class and xenophobia. They insist that this country belongs to everyone who lives in it. When journalists fight over who is black and what is transformation in an untransformed economic system, they are just displaying their ignorance and lack of understanding of the deep issues that face this country. It is disappointing to observe the power wrangling at City Press. But, again, journalists are just like politicians. They love themselves more than the society they claim to serve. Also, no newspaper or journalist is beyond their society.

The journalists have nothing else to fight over except their incapability to transform the system. After all they are products of a colonisation of a special type, and apartheid, a deeply entrenched system that perpetuates prejudice and discrimination, spatial divisions and, above all, economic inequality.

Now that we are poised to celebrate 20 years of democracy and freedom, it is time black and white journalists wake up to the new society where people should not be judged by the colour of their skin but the content of their character. Unfortunately as far as journalists are concerned, it is all about Number One, where every individual wants to protect, preserve and promote his position, status and power if not to wrestle it from those who are allegedly less black.

It is 36 years since October 19 1977 when newspapers were banned for standing up for truth, justice and equality. Can journalists who inherited that legacy please stand up?



Sandile Memela

Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic, columnist and civil servant. He lives in Midrand.

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