Journalism and public life

With regards to Letters to the Editor, Warl- Jorgenson (2002) believes that they “are not representative of the general population”. She believes that the letters printed and often written only represent a segment of the general population. In this way, the interests of the general population are not catered for. Letters that are misrepresentative allow media companies to cater for only the needs of a few while neglecting the greater public. The author then argues that the operation of the newspaper ” is orientated away from the service of the public and from taking seriously its concerns and ideas” Warl- Jorgenson (2002:186).

She then states that contemporary newsroom practises function in a top-down way. I believe that this is like the military, where feedback is minimal. Top-down journalism would imply that journalists have a sense of power and that the audience are just passive beings, with no sense of rationality. The author’s main point is that editors should take the audience more seriously. This is not necessarily the case in my community, as I shall explore later. Habermas (1994) talks about a public sphere in which the people would talk about issues and the press would cover these issues.

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Now it seems that the press is selective in nature and it provides the topics of discussion. This trend can be seen with regards to letters to the editor as Editors choose which letters they want published. These letters hardly consist of any kind of criticism of the newspaper; neither do they conflict with the editor’s opinions. Furthermore, editors can edit and distort letters to serve their own means. For example, before, people could talk about anything, however, now there is a sense of restriction of freedom of speech. Issues that the press do not deem suitable to report on, they ignore.

This is why the world ‘forgets’ about things like the treatment of the Taliban POW’s in Camp X-Ray etc (included in African Perspectives- January 2002) Mabote (1998) talks about the media only operating for or catering for a specific segment. He uses the example of a house in Sandton getting broken into, getting media coverage, while just ten kilometres away in Alexandria, a family that has been massacred gets no coverage. A similar incident happened recently when CNN covered the smash of the Columbia space project intensely, while giving an Earthquake in Nigeria almost no coverage.

Seven people died in the shuttle, while over 53 people died in Nigeria. How can CNN claim to be catering for a global audience, as their selectiveness does not indicate this in the least? I have decided to analyse a few papers that cater for the Muslim community, namely, The Ummah and Al-Qalam, and African Perspectives, as well as a broader community newspaper- The Rising Sun. I have also included in my case study, a Hindi newspaper titled Satyagraha. It can often be seen that these community newspapers perspectives are more balanced than the mainstream counterparts.

With regards to the content in the Rising Sun, the claim to be catering for Reservoir Hills, Sydenham, and Overport, but mainly concentrate on the Overport region. Crime is the biggest issue, and thus gets the most coverage. This publication has no editorial as such, however one can sense a strong presence of the Minority Front political party, in articles, adverts, promotions and awareness campaigns. The Ummah newspaper is also community based, however, its community is distinguished by religion and not geographical location. The editor usually takes an alternative perspective from that of the mainstream media.

Published letters include diverse topics such as Honour Killings in Islam, Names and their value, vaccines for pilgrims etc. The paper also looks deeper into issues that are relevant to the Muslim community. In a recently published article (September 2002) the paper gives a different perspective of the one-year remembrance of the September 11 saga, by remembering not only the killed in America, but also those around the world. These articles, while seeming to be subjective and biased only for Muslims, actually add coherence, another dimension and wholeness to the mainstream media’s perspective.

Al-Qalams letter to the editors page mostly consist of the community criticising the editor on some issue. In the November 2002, the writers criticize the publications for printing a Pick and Pay advert, as they believe that this was inappropriate. In this way, it seems that the Muslim community does exist, and is not a construct as Warl- Jorgenson suggests. To explain how different newspapers cater for their communities, I chose one issue, and looked at how the different papers covered it. I have chosen to concentrate on the violence that plagued Gujerat last year. The Independent on Saturday took an objective stance.

Perhaps this is because of its image that it is trying to maintain. It gave ample coverage to both sides. The Daily News’s coverage was detached and it tended to focus on the future of the disputed site. The articles were desensitized in that there was no emotion in the reporting of the killings. The Sunday Times Extra was more optimistic in its selection of news. The articles seemed to extract the good. The newspaper emphasised on the isolated cases of brotherhood, instead of concentrating on the thugs. Perhaps this was done to control public restraint in South Africa.

References Habermas J.(1994) The emergence of the public sphere. In the Polity reader in cultural theory. Cambridge: Polity Press Mabote , R (1998) The Media- South Africa’s 10th province. Equid Novi 19(2) Wahl-Jorgenson, K (2002) The construction of the public in letters to the editor.

Deliberative democracy and the Idiom of Insanity. Journalism 3(2) Satyagraha- Volume 3- Edition 2 February 2003 The Rising Sun, April 1-7 2003 Ummah Newspaper – February 2002, September 2002, April 2002 Sunday Times Extra, March 10 2002 page 7 Daily News- March 5, 8 2002 The Independent On Saturday 16 March 2002 Al- Qalam- November 2002 African Perspectives- January 2002.


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