Sandile Memela, spokesperson for the ministry of arts and culture, is at it again, attacking those handy old scapegoats, the non-government media and the so called “coconut intellectuals” for being too critical of the government. Writing in the Mail & Guardian, Mr. Memela seems to suggest that the private media and all the black commentators and intellectuals should follow the government line set by His Masters Voice and the Government Communications Service.
He argues that by criticizing the President and other (black) leaders, the media is racist because it perpetuates or further entrenches racist views about the ability of black people to govern.
Ironically, since 1994 - especially with the advent of Thabo Mbeki to the presidency - the media have created a sociocultural context in which it becomes possible to show disdain and utter contempt for legitimate African political leadership. This is displayed in the coverage of the Manto Tshabalala-Msimang story. The single-minded purpose is to get the public to internalise racist thinking about blackness as what colonialism has always portrayed as meaning unfit to self-govern.
Say what? I think what Mr. Memela is trying to say is that we should not criticize President Mbeki or Minister Manto Tshabalala Msimang because if we do we would be showing contempt for something called “legitimate African political leadership”. I think this implies that once a Minister is appointed by the President, we have no right to criticize that leader (if he or she is black) because if we did, we would really be undermining the legitimately elected leaders of the country. And we would also really just be showing what nasty racist pigs we are.
But this is not all. Mr. Memela got his knickers in an even bigger knot because:
more and more people are asking themselves about the media’s commitment to bolstering confidence and trust in government.
These statements show a rather embarrassing lack of understanding of the nature of a constitutional democracy and the role of the media and intellectuals in such a democracy. It scarily assumes that it is the role of the media to bolster confidence in the government or act as praise singers for the President and his cronies.
But the media has exactly the opposite duty in a democracy based on respect for the dignity not of the self-important leaders but of those people who are rather more important in a democracy – the voters.
The media has a duty to report on both the good things and the bad things that happen in our country, both the good things and bad things our leaders do, so that we as the voters can decide whether we want to vote for this government again the next time we have an election. The government does not have a divine right to rule and therefore does not have a right to be bolstered by the media – regardless of their actual track record.
To suggest that the media should lie to the electorate so that they do not present negative images of black people, is to show contempt for the very people that are supposed to be at the heart of the government’s concern.
In a democracy trust and confidence is earned by leaders and should not manufactured by state media who hear or see no evil and try to mislead the people by claiming that they have a patriotic duty to bolster confidence in the government.
It is a sad day when a government spokesperson inadvertently shows such contempt for the masses of our people and argue with such a utter lack of shame in favour of boot-licking and a suppression of the facts that should influence the choices we make come the next election.