Newspapers are only good for covering up the cracks

President Jacob Zuma says the South African media are so negative that at times he feels like leaving the country. Imagine emigrating to Perth to get away from the darkies and waking up one morning to find the Zumas moving in next door. With the children.

I have always pictured our president going through the morning papers with a red pen, circling all the negative stories and then sending them off to the various departments. “Fix this now!” would be scrawled in the margin.

It is devastating to discover that he has, in fact, been sitting at his desk with his head in his hands and his travel agent on speakerphone.

He made this startling admission while talking to journalism students visiting parliament this week.

Zuma also said that when he goes out – presumably out of the country and not down the road to Atul’s porzie for a breyani and a bag of cash – he meets people who “wish they were South Africans”. Who are these people? Haitians? Liberians from the Bong County leper colony? They sure ain’t white folk. Unless he be talkin’ ‘bout Honey Boo Boo and her redneck mama, but I think even they would rather hang out in the deep south than move to Krugersdorp.

Comrade president said that unlike South Africa, journalists in Mexico don’t report on crime because they are patriots and want to market their country. And there I was thinking it was because they didn’t want to get snatched by the Los Zetas and have their heads turn up on a pole in the middle of Nuevo Laredo’s Avenida Guerrero.

Here’s something off the Committee to Protect Journalists’ website written last month: “Organised crime capos and corrupt politicians have been getting away with murdering journalists in Mexico for so long that there isn’t a reliable count on the number of the dead, or a useful way to measure the crushing effects on a democracy when a country’s press is afraid to tell the truth.”

Mexico, then, is clearly a shining example of what a country can achieve through a patriotic press corps. Or should I say press corpse.

Zuma also tossed out his favourite chestnut – the media claims to be society’s watchdog, but they were never elected! The government, on the other hand, was elected and can thereby legitimately claim to represent the people. And a damn fine job you’re doing of it, Mr President. We are all very proud of you.

Saying that journalists can’t serve the interests of the public because they weren’t elected is a bit like saying to your dentist, “Who the hell do you think you are, deciding what’s best for my teeth? I didn’t vote for you.”

Journalism is a profession like any other. It is not, as our punchy leader seems to think, a well-oiled secret society of scribbling saboteurs engaged in covert meetings held via CIA-funded satellite links three times a day to plot new ways of destroying the image of the country.

What it is, though, is a seething swamp of cynics, narcissists, nihilists, curmudgeons, blowhards and drunks who generally regard their corporate bosses with the same degree of contempt and suspicion as they do politicians of any stripe.

Also, what members of the independent media do have, apart from an unremitting penchant for free alcohol, is an understanding that journalism – as it has been known since Odysseus wrote a travel piece about his trip to Troy – requires a commitment to a code of ethics. The only code someone like the SABC’s Hlaudi Motsoeneng knows is the one that gets him through the security door at Luthuli House.

Anyway. Who am I to talk. I am the journalistic equivalent of Somalia – ungovernable, deeply in debt and willing to sell myself to the highest bidder.

Here are five countries that have what our president might call a patriotic media: Iran, Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea. Every one of them is on my bucket list. I hope I get to see them before I die. But from what I’ve heard, the queues of investors are so long that I’d be lucky to get in at all.


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