Thursday, September 12, 2013

Are the ANC right to complain the SA press is always negative?

Even those who are not loyal supporters of South Africa’s ruling party sometimes argue that the press in SA should be regulated or controlled in some way because newspapers are unfair to the ANC in never presenting any good news.
Is that reasonable? Do they have a point?

Let us suppose - impossible though this obviously is in the real world - that the government was perfect and doing nothing wrong or open to criticism by anyone. It would be pointless for the press to report political ‘news’ at all in those circumstances since there would be no bad news and no one would be unhappy.
The logical course for the press to pursue, then, given that things can never be perfect, is to point out what is going badly, not what is going well - that is, to appear critical rather than supportive (which is of course how a free press always appears anywhere in the world). 

The problem in SA, once again, is the party-state. If parties alternated in government, it would be unremarkable that the press criticises ‘the government’ whatever they do, as a kind of national duty or pastime.
But there is only ever one party of national government in SA.

That is why criticism of it can only ever appear one-sided.

This first appeared as a letter in Business Day, November 25 2011