Biz-Community, 10 December 2007

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There is a general impression that many SA print media outlets capitalise on the 'weak' and 'infamous' social status of certain cultural, racial and ethnic groups to produce sensational - but not necessarily well-researched - stories in the purpose of boosting their sales and readership. Wary that this could fuel scourges such as xenophobia and ethnic conflict and undermine national unity, the Media Monitoring Project (MMP) has warned about these unfair practices, saying they constitute human rights violations, which undermine a person's right to equality and dignity. "While we recognise the media's powerful role in shaping democracy and nation-building, we however maintain that the media has the clear responsibility to act within the Constitution," MMP project co-ordinator Nonceba Mtwana said. Mtwana was speaking during the 'Race, Racism and Xenophobia Round Table' held at the Human Rights House in Parktown, Johannesburg, on Wednesday, 18 April 2007. This gathering comes against the backdrop of the MMP's publication of the report titled 'Revealing Race Project', which monitored during five months a set of articles published in the following newspapers: Daily Sun, Sowetan, The Citizen, The Star, Business Day, Beeld, Sunday Independent, Sunday Times, City Press and Mail and Guardian. Interlinked "Racism and xenophobia are interlinked," Mtwana said, "and we found that race and nationality tend to be mentioned over and over again in crime stories. "Certain SA publications tend to use xenophobic languages in their reporting, for example labelling people from other countries as 'aliens'." Dr Zonke Majodina, deputy chairperson of the SA Human Rights Commission, echoed Mtwana's sentiments. "While boasting about freedom of expression, journalists must be very careful not to carry out stories that may propagate hate speech, which goes against the spirit of the Constitution," Majodina advised. "Racism is being re-invented in this new political dispensation and journalists need to do an analytical research around their stories so that they not only inform the masses but educate them as well," she added. Prof Guy Berger, head of school of journalism and media studies at Rhodes University, said that the media is very defensive and tend to be too politically correct, mentioning race and nationality where it is irrelevant and not mentioning it when relevant. Too media-centric He also regretted that MMP report was too media-centric, and questioned why the organisation did not involve places such as schools, churches and sport environments in his research. Now the onus is on the MMP to find ways of engaging the media in the aim of looking for relevant strategies to forge a non-racist and non-xenophobic media environment. "As the media has the responsibility to educate and challenge society's stereotypes, we need to engage them, more especially those that have huge audiences, to take this debate forward in order to promote good journalism, encourage tolerance, respect, dignity and understanding among people," Mtwana said.