Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bastard, Don’t Touch Me On My Studio: An Open Letter To South African Media

One incorrect preposition and an ZA internet meme was born. South Africans were delighted and entertained by arguably the funniest moment in South African politics since Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene broke that chair. In a filming of eNews’ African Current Affairs programme, Africa360, Andre Visagie, Afrikaner Weerstandbeweging (AWB) Secretary General, in a fit of anger, simultaneously seemed to threaten political analyst, Lebogang Pheko and started storming out of the studio. This resulted in a rather funny, standoff between Visagie, his bodyguard, Etv staff & the true ‘star’ of this story, Chris Maroleng, who uttered the phrase which (at least for now) is the phrase de jour, 'don't touch me on my studio,’ and various variations of that. However, the message was clear, the man was not to be touched to be touched on his studio. (see the video here) Now the jokes on this have gone on & on, my favourites alluding to the vaguely sexual nature of ‘don’t touch me on my studio.’ Forgive me, I have a gutter mind.

As this is a blog on South African politics would it truly be complete without a Juju mention? I think not, so here is the Juju aspect. Today, in yet another press conference, our dear ANCYL President saw fit to refer to BBC journalist Jonah Fisher as a ‘bastard,’ ‘agent,’ & ‘little boy’ amongst other things (full tirade, word for word can be found here). In all of that, Julius then attempted to have him forcibly thrown out of the press conference. Why you ask, because Mr Fisher had the nerve to make mention of the fact that Julius himself lives in Sandton after Julius launched into one of his patented tirades, this time against Zimbabwe’s MDC referring to them as a “popcorn” party who spoke “from air-conditioned offices in Sandton.”

However, there is a slightly more serious aspect to this story. Has the South African political landscape, truly fallen to these depths or perhaps is the media focusing on certain aspects of South African politics a little too much?

We’ve been grappling with the Julius question for a long time now. So much debate has been waged in blogs, Twitter, and newspapers columns on whether Malema is as a monster that the media has created and whether the time has come for South African media to ignore Malema. And whilst there are pertinent arguments on both sides of that particular debate, I’d have to agree with the majority of South African media here, we can’t ignore Malema. He is a leader within the ANC, which is South Africa’s ruling party and will continue to be so for many more years and the prospect of him leading the ANC, as terrifying as it is, may not be that far-fetched.

That’s Julius though, but the AWB, really? In 2010, a group that by all measures is practically defunct (except their own unreleased member numbers, which they claim, grow by the thousands daily) is now getting primetime television spots and making headlines? Ever since Eugene Terre’Blanche was killed the AWB has been everywhere. I understand to get the inside story on the death of Terre’Blanche, they are the people to speak to. However, what has really irritated me is that the media has allowed the AWB now, to speak on other issues. I’m sure a freak show is always good for ratings and papers sold, but the media also has a responsibility. They may like to hide behind the general argument that, ‘if they (consumers) don’t want to hear it, we won’t report on it,’ and whilst there is an element of truth to that, there is also a slightly fallacious basis to that statement. On numerous occasions, we do see the media, ‘lecturing’ the public, with headlines & stories exhorting our fascination with the frivolities in life and directing our attention back to ‘important news.’

Let me be clear, I’m not calling for a black-out on the reporting on the views of Right-Wing Afrikaners. However, there are far more responsible and capable voices that could be allowed to represent these views. Whilst I disagree which much of what they say, the Freedom Front Plus gained my respect when they used our legal mechanisms to get “Kill The Boer’ declared as hate speech. Whilst we may complain a lot about our proportional representation system, the beauty of it is that nearly all, regardless of how much of a minority they may be, do get a voice in Parliament. For South Africa to truly become the nation it seeks to be, all need to feel that they are heard and whilst parliament has a role to play in that, so does the media. However, the media cannot allow themselves to be seduced by AR’s and sales figures into choosing the most virulent and angry of voices, the freaks, to be the news. If for no other reason, look where a democratic tradition as old and eminent as that of the United States’ has fallen thanks to the growth of partisan media.

Finally, I’d like to round this off by going back to my Std 1 (Grade 3 for you young ‘uns) teacher Mrs Hibbert (one scary woman). That year, 1995, was when South Africa was in the midst of debating and ratifying out new constitution and we, in Std 1.1. had a little booklet explaining our right as children. What I loved and has always stuck with me from that booklet was that with every right explained, there was a corresponding responsibility expected from us attached to it. So media, freedom of the press is something that no democracy can do without and I will defend vociferously, but remember, with that right, there is a responsibility, to not only ensure that all sides of a story are represented but to also ensure that such representation is done in a responsible manner.

Note: While the Internet meme is "don't touch me on my studio" what was actually said was, "touch me on my studio."


  1. Many excellent points raised here. This, by and large, is the problem; when media cannot strike a balance between sales-driven pursuits and an issue's relevance to the public. Mass media plays an agenda-setting role in terms of the average citizen's 'water cooler' talk, and they are well aware of this. It's good to let everyone have their say, but it's also important to remember to balance out the varied viewpoints that will arise from asking everyone for their opinions.

    It's also interesting that you bring up that old Rights/Responsibilities sheet from Std. 1 (I think I was in Class/Grade 1 when I got mine). I was talking about it not so long ago, and I actually managed to find a photocopy of the thing amongst all my old crap (though I appear to have misplaced it again for the time being). We need to be reminded, regularly, about the correspondence between our rights and responsibilities in a democratic nation, or we'll end up swinging back and forth between the far right and far left viewpoints.

  2. you were in st1 in 1995? ugh!

    *leaves to apply wrinkle cream*

  3. I admire people who have the determination to speak their mind and the courage to live out loud. YOU are one of those. But even more importantly, you share your heart and opinions with dignity. I'm proud to know you, albeit only online.