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Wednesday, 4 May 2005

Lust for Truth

One of the things I was really looking forward to when back in the UK, was the pleasure of getting the weekend papers and spending hours, if not days, poring over them. Sadly, it gave me as much of a faceache, if not more, to read print journalism, as it does to read it online. I must be way off base and out of synch with everyone else's way of thinking, but I have always believed that journalists had a responsibility to tell the truth, as much as possible. Especially journalists who work for what purport to be serious newspapers such as The Guardian and The Observer. To say that the selection of articles I read left me disappointed would be an understatement. Some random examples -

An article on macho getaways. For a start, do we really need to be encouraging this? Included in the list of things to do was go big game hunting in Namibia. Again, is this something we should be encouraging? But the thing which really incensed me was that the tone of the piece made it sound like you could just jump off the plane in Windhoek, shotgun under your arm and start taking potshots at the animals willy-nilly. Which is blatantly untrue. Namibia is stringent on its preservation of game. Taking a deck at a big cat will land you in jail quicker than you can say 'pass the lager'. Perhaps there are some asshole private game reserve managers who will let you shoot their animals, but it is not something that is condoned by either the people or the government of Namibia, and I object to a country being portrayed this way. LAZY journalism.

An article on Zimbabwe, although I use the term loosely. And I read it because now that the 'elections' are over Zim will once more slip under the radar. The writer described how the country was falling apart. How the only place still just ticking over was Victoria Falls. And how the only people going there were White South Africans. White South Africans who were hated by the locals because they refused to shop locally and support the local economy, bringing in their vehicles full of food from their own country. Well ain't that a damning indictment. It's easy to take a potshot at the White South Africans isn't it? What the journalist failed to mention was the stores in Vic Falls are full of empty shelves. Basics such as milk and sugar are just not available. If bread is made there are hundreds of people queuing out the door to get their hands on it. You can't always get fuel at the service stations. Hell if I was going on holiday somewhere like that, I'd be bringing my own supplies too. At least they're still going there. But showing all sides of the story would take a bit more effort, wouldn't it. CAN'T BE ARSED journalism.

The guy who wrote that tourism was booming in Zambia and that the economy was on the up. Well sure tourism is booming if you have the money to pay for fly-in safaris and luxury accommodation. I'd say that market is somewhat limited, wouldn't you? And making a sweeping statement about the economy on the up is all very well, but if you put it in the context of Zambia's debts falling from USD3 billion to USD2 billion, or whatever the true figures were, it suddenly doesn't seem like such a boom after all. I can attest to the fact that the people I work with are not exactly skipping through the daisies with joy about economic and tourism booms, as they trek barefoot for kilometres to fetch dirty water. COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTEXT journalism.

What bothers me is that I only know these articles are a bunch of arse because I live in this area and know what's going on. What about all the places and things I know nothing about? Say an article about China buying up oil. Well is it true? I don't know anything about China. I don't know a lot about oil. So is everything we read a lie?

An article not read in the UK but rather in the Guardian Weekly, at which I laughed out loud. Jonathan Freedland - who actually brazenly admitted he'd written the article while on holiday in Cape Town, sitting in a deck chair in his friend's garden - whingeing and bemoaning that post-Apartheid South Africa did not live up to the expectations he held for it in his protesting student days. He was disappointed to find black people working as cleaners and waiting tables for example. Erm, hello? In a country where the vast majority of the population is black, then black people will be doing all kinds of jobs, from government ministers and businesspeople through teachers and nurses down through to cleaners and waiters. It would be a bit like going to China and declaring that you were disappointed to see that Chinese people had to sweep the streets. Get a grip. South Africa's not perfect. It has a lot wrong with it. A lot of the wealth is still in white hands. But you are never going to have a day when you won't have black people working 'lowly' jobs, people do those jobs everywhere.

And lastly, nothing to do with Africa. An article (also written by a man, I wouldn't dare to suggest a pattern) by a music journalist. Who was in an airport waiting for a flight. When he saw a Famous Rock Star, who was travelling with his young child. According to the 'journalist' the Famous Rock Star was really rude and wouldn't sign autographs. Perhaps. But also perhaps he was enjoying some family time and didn't really want to be hounded by people. The 'journalist' then took great delight in detailing how the Famous Rock Star then rudely pushed his way to the top of the queue to board the plane. Erm, all airlines call parents with young children and those needing assistance to the front of the queue. But that wouldn't have made such a good story, would it?