The Devil Has a Tail
(and we all keep chasing it while the head is headed for Gehenna)

A few weeks ago a bunch of black journalists led by a black editor at the SABC under the banner of Forum of Black Journalists staged a muscle-flexing exercise in Sandton which sparked a near-riot because some white journos complained about being refused entry to the imbizo (spelt ; off-the-record briefing) with state president-in-waiting Jacob Zuma. They said the briefing was racist.

The event could have passed off as just another Bulelani Ngcuka clone session if it wasn't for Ben Said of etv, radio and other print journos complaining about it. For god's sake it was off-the-record which means whatever Mr Said could have heard would have ended up as another heap of useless film.

I sat back and discussed the blackout (or whiteout) with a bunch of young journalists in Nelspruit. You know when you are young you are so full of enthusiasm you can see yourself as Mondli Makhanya one day; which is good and encouraging. But when you are black and young and in the media you are also confronted with the possibility that you will work the white media the rest of your life 'til your knuckles turn pale and when your bones can not carry you anymore they give you a wheelchair and a wristwatch and make you a Press Ombudsman. There you will spend the few last years of your life solving complaints from political parties who swear to god that the media has an agenda to sell the revolution cheap.

Of course the media always has an agenda because whatever people read in newspapers they believe with all their heart. The media has an agenda because when that agenda has been well-executed governments collapse and people go to jail. Haven't you wondered why we have Interfax, Granna and Pravda.

This is a juicy bone I am going to pick with the FBJ. What is the current media agenda; economically, politically, socially and intellectually? Given that the media indeed has an agenda, who is setting that agenda and how is it being implemented? I would have loved a response, but okay, let's move along.

Let me take the FBJ to task (okay, I'm not a member because I don't believe in boxes at the time when I need to fly beyond Azania's boundaries). First, there are more tabloid darkie journalists whose role every single day is to count how many times soccer boss Irvin Khoza called an unpatriotic journo a 'kaffir'. They are out there trying to find out if Mandoza's blood samples were taken after he caused an accident regardless of the corruption of his blood sample as a result of the intravenous drip. There are more darkie journalists out there trying to sniff our which soap star is getting married, estranged, divorced, evicted from his townhouse, repossesed BMW, owes a clothing store, plagiarised Scarface, doing cocaine, smoking dagga, seen with Khanyi, danced with 3Sum, spoke shit about the ANC at an IFP rally or quit as Communications Manager for the Local Organising Committee than those trying to find out how the ANC's socialist programme of six priorities will be rolled out in the next five years. There are very few journalists who are interrogating where the money the ANC needs to provide free education, free health care and an agrarian programme will come from in the wake of the Communist takeover which means the World Bank is the last resort. Very few of them can understand what Tito Mboweni means when he says double cab bakkies and SUVs will be parked in garages as the year progresses.

Very few black journalists can write about how Finance Minister Trevor Manuel's apathy towards extending the income tax exemption bracket from R60 000 to maybe R80 000 would impact on the poverty levels and closing of the gap between the rich and the poor. If only Trevor did that the 63cents fuel surge wouldn't worry a lot of people. Few black journalists understand the economy enough to inform others about it.

Ask them about the most popular news item right now which is the Israeli-Palestine conflict and they are so in the dark it's not even funny.

Very few can interview state president Thabo Mbeki or ANC President Jacob Zuma and get them thinking before responding instead of reading from notes prepared for them by Mukoni Ratshitanga and Jessie Duarte. What is the FBJ doing about the lack of black journalists in awards ceremonies that honour real journalism? Ban the whites.

I've been to a lot of media awards and the absence of black faces is eerie. They are not there because when a white journalists flies to interview the Dalai Lama the black journalist is busy scoping Mandla Mthembu and his wife. When a white journalist goes on a mission to Gaza Strip the black journalists is at the SAMA awards writing about what the celebrities are wearing. When former SABC journalist Jacques Paw went on an undercover mission to expose corruption in Home Affairs for Special Assignment, the black journalist is uncovering empty celebrity fridges for Selimathunzi.

And these are the issues FBJ should concern itself with. The juniorisation of the newsroom, the Irish coffee effect, the concerted recruitment of outspoken journalist by government to become spindoctors, the ineffectiveness of training, the insulting salaries paid to journalists by media houses, the unequal freelance payment ratio whereby others get R6 to R10 per word while others get R1 or even less. Without confronting these issues head on, we will always have experienced journalists Allister Sparks, Max du Preez, Patrick Laurence and a bunch of other white liberals stationed in London setting the agenda while the darkies follow them with letters disputing or supporting their assertions. We will continue to have Christine Qunta, Barney Mthombothi, Rich Mkhondo and Ronnie Kasrils writing as experts at the expense of young black journalists who are so desperate for training and empowerment to be effective commentators.

What is the FBJ doing about all these issues I raised; nothing, ban the whites. I'm not a white apologist or someone who suffers from a baas mentality, the same way I'm not a black apologists or someone indoctrinated with uncritical nationalism. I call a spade a spade and I got a spade in my hand.

Abbey Makoe is my Ace of Spades; quite frankly I felt so bad that I had to Google him to know who he was because where I come from a journalist is only as good as his last byline. I know of many journalists because I read their stuff, watch them on television and listen to them on radio because their work is wow and credentials impeccable. I know of Redi Direko because she's good, the same way I knew of Snuki Zikalala because he used to be good. I know of Vuyo Mvoko and Deborah Patta because they are as good as their last byline, but Makoe.

I'm not standing here on a high horse trying to condemn an 'august' body like the FBJ but I honestly think its priorities are twisted. Where is FBJ as journalists are harrassed by police while doing their work? Where is FBJ as journalists continue to work without a union in place? For the life of me this is the only profession legislated about in the constitution under Freedom of the Media. They don't call us the Fourth Estate for nothing you know.

A question one needs to ask about these off-the-record imbizos and their relevance; worst case scenario, what would have happened if Zuma confessed to all the felonies he was once charged and currently charged with to them? Given that it was off-the-record, what would they have done?

Point to take for FBJ, what is needed is not unnecessary muscle -flexing which does not produce the desired results but leaders who are concerned about the empowerment of black journalists, not as tail chasers of stories emanating from Skeirlik, University of Vrystaat, LOC briefing etc, but people who can set the agenda and implement it. Why? Simply because everybody believes what they read in the newspaper.

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