For the rest, something should urgently be done about development reporting, gender reporting, HIV/Aids reporting, and all those other boring categories of reporting that we have been forced to attend workshops about.
Examples I was given range from ‘a disabled woman got a house’ to ‘children didn’t have a school and now they have a school’. The newsroom doesn’t dare to protest, my spokesperson says, because they are announced as ‘development’ stories and therefore they are good and indispensable. Like cod liver oil maybe. Who reads ‘development supplements’ in newspapers? If you don’t, why would you expect anyone else to? African online media and those horrible, horrible, horrible community radio stations, all paid by well-meaning but clueless donors bore everybody in their reach to death with such stories. It should stop.
The above should convince that my earlier tirade against an exaggerated anti-corruption focus is not intended as a plea for sunshine journalism. No! Rather ten Jackie Selebi stories (at least they have the mafia in them) than one ‘Let’s all use malaria nets now, now there’s a good people’ story. And the next person who assaults me with a story about yet another strong black woman who invariably labours 22 hours per day to bring up a few dozen children (all through high school) on a domestic workers’ salary, never slept a full night in her life, is always hungry because every crumb from her mouth goes to the poor little sods, does extra work for ‘the community’ on weekends, never everhas any fun, and is always so admired by the narrator (keep up the good work, Dora, I know you can continue to do it for another century!), is going to get it in the neck. Really.
Sunshine developmental journalism is patronizing and racist. It invariably buys in to the old stereotypes of the good hearted primitive who means well and just has to be educated a bit, with a radio programme that repeats the same message through the year (because he doesn’t quite get it if you tell him once, the poor dear). Has no idea that malaria comes from mosquitoes or why his children keep dying. When he uses the malaria net to cover the kids, we will take a picture and show it proudly on our developmental page. See? See? He’s got it, it’s working. Next thing there’s no food and the guy sells the net (because, hey, you need food). Then we are so disappointed. We go somewhere else and build a school, and we dedicate a developmental supplement to that.
The problems of course remain, because nobody has asked any questions. In particular, nobody has bothered to find out why we can’t fight some damn mosquitoes, or why, when a school is built, it quickly falls into disrepair. Has anybody ever interviewed those drunk and abusive teachers we all blame for the bad state South African education is in? When are we going to ask questions? Not just about which minister is responsible for something bad and needs to be criticised, but real questions about how things are and what people do, say and think. What is it that informs the crippled South African discourse? I want to understand this society, but precious little I read in the papers helps me there.
Give me stories about domestic workers who party and get drunk: I want to know what they say at such occasions. (Actually, I just wrote a book about that, so I know and you don’t, because it’s in Dutch). Give me stories about people who come to workshops for the buffet lunch and the hotel, and secretly make fun of the facilitator. About pirates, prostitutes, smugglers and girls who bury their newborn babies, or die in childbirth, because nobody at the clinic wanted to give them condoms or, later, a hygienic abortion. Give me an interview with a police commissioner that is not an exercise into the obvious (‘You are incapable, are you not?’ ‘No I am not’), nor a PR exercise (‘police commissioner announces new white paper on improving police performance’). We live in a society that is traumatized, complex, desperate, dysfunctional and full of questions. Let’s face the questions for a change, instead of writing up what we think we know.