SOUTH AFRICA: MEDIA 'SIMPLISTIC' WHEN WRITING ON RACE, XENOPHOBIA

AllAfrica.com/Business Day, 19 April 2007

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The media has been accused of being "simplistic" and "non- analytical" in its reporting on race and xenophobia. The Media Monitoring Project's report on racism and xenophobia released yesterday found the country's media industry wanting. However, the South African Human Rights Commission lambasted the report over inadequate methodology, and the size and scope of the research. The report assessed only Johannesburg-based print media in May and June last year. Crime was found to be the hottest topic, featuring in 16% of the stories dealing with racism and xenophobia. Key messages found in the analysis of the articles were that "all whites are racist", "Africans are victims" and that race was the primary explanation for crimes. The report said this left the validity of media reporting at a simplistic level, lacking sufficient explanation and proper analysis. Prof Guy Berger, head of journalism at Rhodes University, used the same criticism against the report itself, questioning whether the depth of reporting should not be analysed further than just the articles themselves. "I think it would be useful to also interview journalists," said Berger. He said the audience should also be involved, as this would then bring the production and consumption of such articles into consideration. According to Berger, the report reached contentious conclusions on how race in the media should be reported. It had found that, when a crime was committed by a white person against a black person, race was likely to be mentioned. "When a black person is the perpetrator, however, the media tends to ignore the race, leaving the impression that it is common for black people to commit crime," it said. Berger challenged this, saying it created a "lose-lose" situation for journalists as they were criticised for mentioning black people as perpetrators of crime, as well as for not mentioning them. He said it would have been more beneficial to explore whether race should be mentioned at all. Contrary to the study, Berger said he did not believe that the media played enough of a role in leading the debate as it was "too politically correct". Zonke Majodina, commissioner at the South African Human Rights Council, commended what the research was attempting to highlight, saying there was "a huge task ahead" with regards to dealing with such sensitive issues. She said "informed research" was essential to help chart the way forward. "The xenophobia we see today is the same as the racism of the past," said Majodina.