Joburg Expat: South African Press - Part One

July 5, 2011

South African Press - Part One

South African news on offer in Woolworth checkout line
When I recently spent the night at the hospital with Jabulani and - sacrilege - didn't have my Kindle with me (but who brings a Kindle to a soccer match), I broke down and bought a South African newspaper for the first time since living here.

How can you be such a snob, you will say, and spend a year in a country without subscribing to the local newspaper? Well - if you lived here and were privy to scanning the headlines every few days in the checkout line at Woolie's, you would also turn into a snob. First off, every newspaper looks like a tabloid. I'm sure some of them are more serious than others, but judging by their looks, they're all equally bad. The headlines typically scream some kind of crime, either something about police corruption or a horrid murder or perhaps a strange and hard-to-believe love turned kidnapping story. Is it any wonder, then, that everyone thinks there is nothing but murder and bloodshed happening here in South Africa, if that's all you ever read about?

Secondly, there are never any international news.This point was evident when I read the Sunday Times while perched on those plastic chairs at Mulbarton Hospital. I patiently leafed through it (a giant specimen of a newspaper), story by never-ending story about the upcoming municipal elections (they were held, on May 18th, with gains by the Democratic Alliance over the ruling ANC, which is having an increasingly hard time justifying its disappointing service delivery after so many years in power), not finding even a shred of international news 14 pages in. Not even something about another African country. Finally, on page 15, there was one brief article about the bin Laden raid, and that was it.

I did some further research in today's Star, one of the more reputable local papers, and this is what came up in the "World" section of the online edition:



Not exactly the kind of world news a snob like me who is hooked on the New York Times would be looking for! But I suppose it is like everywhere else: You get the kind of news that sells the best.

I'm not sure why South Africa is so myopic. This is usually something Americans are accused of, but I can assure you, even the smaller market newspapers of the places we have lived, like the Raleigh News & Observer, the Milwaukee Sentinel, and the Kansas City Star have much stronger world news coverage than what you can find here. Is it perhaps the result of being cut off from the world for so long under sanctions against the apartheid government? Or is it simply because there are more than enough domestic problems to report on and complain about?

Whatever the reason, as an expat I have been very slow to embrace the local newspapers. I think their quality leaves something to be desired. It reminds me of our years on Singapore, where the only thing worth reading was the International Herald Tribune because it was the only non-censored newspaper to be had (at a steep price). Newspapers here aren't censored - yet. But that is a topic for the next part of this series.

9 comments :

@injoburg said...

I agree the majority of papers are rubbish, but without my weekly Friday fix of the Mail & Guardian (http://www.mg.co.za) my time in South Africa would have been much, much less interesting. Follow it for a few weeks and you'll get much greater insight in what's happening around the country. M&G is weekly so focuses more on investigative journalism and though there's the necessary barrage of corruption articles there's plenty of really interesting background analysis and opinion as well as an African/international news section. Give it a try!

Heather said...

Love this post. I definitely agree that the tabloid style makes the newspapers look trashy. I also agree that the M&G is the one decent news publication to read -- I subscribe to their daily email and read it every morning.

cat said...

Now I wanteed to suggest the Mail and Guardian too - which I love. It is weekly, but also on the web or a Kindle subscription. I used to subscribe to Time magazine, but really, I am findinf it almost "Too American" especially in election years. But for you that might be an option.

Bing said...

At least they CAN write trashy stuff. Come to Singapore and all the editors are too afraid of the possible backlash to write anything that is remotely close to a criticism, especially of government agencies and politicians.

That's probably why Singaporeans end up loving crap and trashy stuff so much when we travel. We're starved of it at home!

Madelein said...

I agree with you! Our journos are shocking. For a balanced investigative view read www.thedailymaverick.co.za. They even tweet from news events so you get live commentary.

Sine said...

Hi all - just a quick comment so you know I'm still alive... Have been in Germany visiting relatives but glad all my scheduled posts have garnered lots of comments. Was cut off from the internet for a whole week!!!

Sine said...

Finally back in the world of internet! Thanks to all of you for your comments on this, I will definitely check out the Mail and Guardian and get the email update. I'm sure it will give me plenty of new material to write about!
Bing - you are absolutely right, I don't think I could have survived our Singapore years without the International Herald Tribune, which was sinfully expensive but at least not censored. Although I just read something about them self-censoring so strictly that it might amount to the same thing...

@injoburg said...

Here's good local insight into the quality of SA's mainstream newspapers: http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/columnists/2011/07/18/media-must-stop-showing-state-in-a-bad-light

Sine said...

Thanks for the link - I agree with about half of the article, but all the comments below also have a point. I am very much in favor of a free press and very concerned about the push of the ANC government for more censorship, but like the author of the article I object to the trashy nature of the news here. It only seems to be out for the juicy story and the headlines, not so much trying to get to the truth. Some good investigative journalism a la New York Times is what's needed.