Friday, October 5, 2012

A change of focus is needed in South Africa's news agenda

Surely it is time for citizens to be the central agenda for news in South Africa. Considering recent upheavals in the country which have raised the possibility of civil unrest, it is a plausible argument that the views and concerns of citizens have not been communicated effectively.

From my years as a Journalism and Media Studies student at Rhodes University, I have heard arguments and seen for myself a large number of news articles that have been based on a political or business focus. They have persisted with a particular topic even after the story has been drained dry. In the mean time, the views and opinions of citizens have been largely discounted, in favour of authoritative or favourable figures in politics and business.

Although there have also been ambitious production projects which have made citizens set the news agenda in the past few years, they have not grown in numbers. They have been dwarfed by a continuous focus on the political and the corporate. Considering the growing scrutiny South Africa is facing in the "teen" years of the post-apartheid era, surely it would be of more benefit than harm for citizens to be the central focus of the news agenda in the country.

The Marikana miner's strike was an example of how citizens are largely ignored on issues directly related to them. The confrontation between the Lonmin miners and South African police became an issue focused on political opportunism and the corporate consequences of the event. The context which drove the miners to stage the telling strike was hardly explored. The context of the miners, I believe, mirrors the context of millions of South Africans who form part of the working class. An analysis of news articles from South African titles which focused on the strike show the disparity between the number of miners, and the political and corporate figures who served as sources for stories related to the Marikana miner's strike.

Striking Lonmin miners in a meeting. Picture: Supplied
I realise the importance of interrogating political and corporate issues in the country, in light of the global context we find ourselves in. I am not saying issues related to these organs should be ignored. Instead I yearn for citizens to feature more prominently in news directly related to them.

I believe in the influential role of the media, particularly in the South African context. Resolutions can be necessitated should the frustrations of South African citizens be explored thoroughly in the media. I am reminded of Raymond Louw's (2004) argument about a big mistake South African media made in the initial years of South Africa's democracy. Louw argues that the South African Constitution has allowed the South African press so much freedom, that the press does not know how to make proper and effective use it. In the initial years of South Africa's democracy, the press did not interrogate key issues extensively enough, and did not press for accountability as vigorously as it could. The consequences of this mistake can be seen in the country today.  

As South Africa's economy grows, the inequalities in the country widen. The media can play a pivotal role in addressing this unfavourable pattern. The causes of this growing inequality needs to be addressed, and this can be done through more in-depth accounts from South African citizens. An approach like this can not only be beneficial to influencing positive change, but can also enhance the quality of journalism in the country in terms of the depth and substance of stories produced. A change of focus is needed in the South African news agenda.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more! The recent Marikana coverage a STRIKING EXAMPLE of the need for more human-focussed bottom up news angles to move South Africa's unique democratic process forward.