I’m talking about the double standard that gives a pass to bloody black regimes when former white rulers were damned for similar acts.
Washington, London and Paris turn a blind eye out of sloth or short-term national interests, but reporters are supposed to hold governments accountable.
This journalistic tension resurfaced when union versus union violence flared at South Africa’s Marikana platinum mine.
Police killed at least 34 strikers and wounded dozens, but “massacre” rarely is mentioned by the news media. “Confrontation” and “tragedy” are more frequent choices to describe the killings.
Had reporters been that dismissive when police killed and wounded black miners during decades of South African apartheid, listeners and readers would have rebelled. Only die-hard racists would have applauded.
Context matters but it doesn’t explain word choice.
Some Marikana platinum strikers were violent. Some carried omnipresent machetes and wooden clubs called knobkerries. They killed a few colleagues and two police officers early in the strike. Police would have been justified if they used lethal force in the face of serious injury or death.
Al Jazeera English online has video of the shooting. It does not show that kind of imminent, close threat, although once police began shooting into the massed protest, one striker appears to be firing a pistol at police.
Further news stories say some miners were shot after they approached police with their hands in the air in the universal sign of surrender. Moreover, Al Jazeera’s video of the shooting shows police almost casually standing and firing.
Further questions were raised by NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in a story broadcast from Johannesburg. She said the shootings weren’t the only remnant of apartheid. At one point, kneeling black strikers tried to negotiate with white mine officials across a barrier of razor wire.
Violence is endemic to Southern African history, usually with blacks accounting for most of the casualties. Miners — given the dangers of their work and often brutal dormitory living conditions — often have been the protesters.
The scale of killing transcends details. This wasn’t the British defense of the 1879 Rork’s Drift mission station during the Anglo-Zulu war when about 150 soldiers turned back an estimated 4,000 warriors. Hundreds were killed or wounded in a 1946 pay dispute by black miners who objected to the vast disparity between their pay and that of white miners.
After the 1948 election that brought the National Party to power with its aggressive segregation policies and promises, whites imposed ever-uglier racist laws. As a result, anti-apartheid protests created bloody white-black confrontations away from the mines.
The 1960 Sharpeville massacre — 69 dead, 187 wounded — involved mainly adult anti-racism demonstrators. In American terms, that was South Africa’s Selma; the images eroded any willful ignorance or denial outsiders enjoyed about the violent, abhorrent system whites created.
In the worst mass violence since Sharpeville, South African police and anti-racism student demonstrators clashed in 1976 in the sprawling Johannesburg black suburb of Soweto (SOuthWEset TOwnship) and other segregated townships. Again, images of dead black Africans confronted viewers and readers outside South Africa. Many victims were children. The UN put the toll at 575 killed and thousands wounded and/or arrested.
Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu referred to some of those killings when, in the wake of Marikana, he said in part, “When we consigned apartheid to history, we said never again would it happen that our police and our soldiers would massacre our people. These were our police, and never again would we suffer the pain of a Sharpeville … Massacre.”
Apartheid ended in the late 1980s and 1990s when a multiracial government was formed and Nelson Mandela was elected president.
Which brings me back to the recent Marikana mine massacre. It’s the bloodiest protest since apartheid. Especially jarring was the one public radio reporter who said it was historic for black police to fire on striking blacks. Wrong. Black police under apartheid shot blacks. One powerful image in a photo exhibit we saw last year in South Africa was of a black officer firing his revolver at demonstrators.
CURMUDGEON NOTES 9.19.2012
Media musings on Cincinnati and beyond• Enquirer prices are going up in a smart way. The paper is embracing a computerized system which charges frequent users for its digital content. The more individuals read, the more they’ll be charged. Full access will mean just that and be available to home delivery and digital subscribers.
However, the Enquirer will still limit unpaid access to its archives. That’s a cheapening disservice to readers who want to know more than one day’s or one week’s reporting.
Infrequent/occasional readers still will be able to read up to 20 articles a month online content without paying. With new ways to get the news — smart phones, tablets, etc. — the Enquirer is adapting. As publisher Margaret Buchanan said in a note to readers and email, it’s better than following some other dailies by cutting print editions to three-a-week and charging for digital.
For more than a decade, online versions of print content and unique online content have been free but that’s not a sustainable business policy. It’s also been trendy to ask why dailies gave away online what they charged for in print. One response involved the technological problems involved in charging for digital content. That apparently is largely resolved here and elsewhere but it’s taken years. Another response was that of papers including the New York Times: free online content except for “premium” offerings such as op-ed columnists. That failed. It irritated more people than it recruited. Meanwhile, we became accustomed to the journalistic equivalent of a free lunch.
I say “we” because I quit reading any number of favorite publications when they threw up pay walls that did not include an occasional freebie. At the head of the pack were the Wall Street Journal and British dailies owned by Rupert Murdock. That included the London Times and Sunday Times. The cost was too great for what I largely could find elsewhere.
I still turn to London’s Financial Times which allows me a few reads a month.
What publishers are learning to their glee is that readers are willing to pay for much of that now that they can get it on mobile devices. Surveys indicate that we have an insatiable appetite for news so long as we can get it anytime, any place we want it. That’s good news for all of us. Sustainable commercial news media remain vital to our form of self-government if only because they are everywhere and no other form of news media can do what they do.
• Maybe some of that new Enquirer income (above) will allow editor Carolyn Washburn to restore some traditional assignments that fell victim to years of staff purges. If anyone needed further proof that firing or retiring specialty beat reporters exacts a toll on credibility comes in a recent Enquirer Healthy Living section. The paper turned the entire cover page over to public relations people promoting their institutions in the guise of news. At least the Enquirer doesn’t pretend its reporters wrote those stories; UC Health and OSU got the bylines. With newsroom staff reductions, it’s open season on readers for public relations people. They increasingly operate without the scrutiny and possible intervention of a savvy reporter.
• There is nothing wrong with what UC Health and OSU public relations people do when they offer free content to the Enquirer. That’s their job; promote the best possible image for their institutions consistent with the facts. The problem is at the paper. This goes beyond the traditional back-scratching where reporters rewrite news releases. That makes it the paper’s product and gives reporters a chance to ask questions. A lot of what dailies — whether the Enquirer or Wall Street Journal — publish begins with press releases.
This symbiotic relationship can go too far. An Enquirer journalist once took a junket, came home and put his byline on the story prepared by the sponsor of the junket. When this ethical/professional travesty was noted, there was, to the paper’s shame, little or no condemnation. As one colleague put it, he thought it was uncommonly well written.
Another time, an Enquirer journalist put her name on a news release and ran it as a story, then had the chutzpah to accept an award for that “reporting” from the group that sent her the original press release.
• The planned Enquirer switch to smaller, tabloid-like pages has been postponed until 2013; it was to start this Fall. The paper blames problems with the new format and new presses at the Columbus Dispatch which is to print both dailies. Meanwhile, Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn continues to tell us that small is beautiful. Or will be.
• Channel 12 made the right decision in terms of audience numbers when they switched from the men’s final in the U.S. Open to an hour of Bengals chatter and then the game. However, viewers got an awful football game and missed what proved to be a riveting tennis match.
• It’s never too early for Harvard undergrads to learn the importance of fitting into the Establishment. Reporters of the daily Harvard Crimson, the cradle of untold New York Timesmen over the decades, have agreed to clear quotes with Harvard officials before publishing their stories.
Jimromenesko.com reported this ethical blindness, saying, “Sometimes nothing is changed. But often, the quotations come back revised, to make the wording more erudite, the phrasing more direct, or the message more pointed. Sometimes the quotations are rejected outright or are rewritten to mean just the opposite of what the administrator said in the recorded interview.”
Romenesko also quoted Crimson President (editor) Ben Samuels’ memo to his staff. It said, in part, “(W)e’ve seen an increase over the past several years in sources, especially Harvard administrators, who insist on reviewing their quotes prior to publication. When those administrators read their quotes, even quotes that Crimson reporters have recorded, they frequently ask that these quotes be modified. “
Some of Harvard’s highest officials — including the president of the University, the provost, and the deans of the College and of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — have agreed to interviews with The Crimson only on the condition that their quotes not be printed without their approval. As a result, their quotes have become less candid, less telling and less meaningful to our coverage . . . To increase our striving for frank and informative quotations, we add a new policy now. Effective immediately, no writer may agree to an interview on the terms that quotes cannot be published without the source’s approval without express permission of the Managing Editor or the (editor) President.”
• CNN International (CNNi) is too close to repressive governments with which it has business deals, London’s Guardian says. “CNNi has aggressively pursued a business strategy of extensive, multifaceted financial arrangements between the network and several of the most repressive regimes around the world which the network purports to cover,” the liberal British paper says. “These arrangements extend far beyond standard sponsorship agreements for advertising of the type most major media outlets feature. CNNi produces . . . programs in an arrangement it describes as ‘in association with’ the government of a country, and offers regimes the ability to pay for specific programs about their country.” The Guardian says these programs are then featured as part of CNNi's so-called "Eye on" series ("Eye on Georgia", "Eye on the Philippines", "Eye on Poland"), or "Marketplace Middle East", all of which is designed to tout the positive economic, social and political features of that country.
The Guardian says “the disclosure for such arrangements is often barely visible . . . To the average viewer unaware of these government sponsorships, it appears to be standard ‘reporting’ from the network.” The paper says that in some “Eye on” programs, no such disclaimer is provided. CNN's "sponsorship policy" says "'[P]arts of CNN's coverage beyond the daily news are produced as special reports, which attract sponsors who pay to associate their products or services with the editorial content,' but claims that 'at no stage do the sponsors have a say in which stories CNN covers.'"
• Joe Biden’s acceptance speech at the Democrats’ convention reminded me that “enormity” is a poor choice for something big enough to brag about. If the speaker means huge, he/she should stick to that 5 cent word and skip the 50 cent malaprop. Enormity describes something awful or outrageous, not just big or important, as in, the enormity of a famine or genocide. While they’re at it, speech writers should drop “fraction” from texts they hand dimmer bosses and clients. A fraction is anything less than the whole: 99/100 of something is a large fraction. It’s not a synonym for small.
• Sometimes, NPR reporters have me talking back and it’s not because it’s a “driveway moment,” when I won’t leave the car until the story is over. It’s usually because they’ve blown a story, not matter how balanced or detailed the broadcast. Repeated stories about the Chicago public school teachers’ strike left me wondering: 26,000 teachers for 350,000 students. I know that’s not really 13+ students per teacher in each classroom but the numbers still cry for explanation that in its he said/she said reporting, NPR failed to provide.
• Here’s another approach to saving local journalism: invite the local daily and public radio station to campus and integrate them with journalism school. The New York Times devoted a major business story to this innovation by Mercer University in Macon, Ga. The story mentioned another innovation, this one in Ohio: TheNewsOutlet initiated by the daily Youngstown Vindicator and Youngstown State University. Now, it includes Kent State and Akron universities. Journalism students work as interns, providing news stories to any organization. That made news when ProPublica, the nonpartisan investigative website, joined forces with TheNewsOutlet. Youngstown State journalism students initially will work on investigative stories guided by ProPublica editors. ProPublica also is an open source news organization.
• I’m willing to risk my perfect record at predicting Pulitzers: Tracey Shelton’s stunning photo of four Syrian rebels silhouetted by the flash of a tank shell that killed three of them in Aleppo. How Shelton escaped is unclear. She is close enough for the men to be individually recognizable. Her images are at GlobalPost.com: men sweeping a street, grabbing their weapons at the sight of an advancing Syrian Army tank, the explosion, the lone survivor running toward her through the smoke, and his lucky minor arm wound. My previous prediction: that the Pulitzer committee would change its rules to allow digital entries and honor the New Orleans Times-Picayune for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina that inundated its presses.
• Poynter Online reports further proof of the nation’s partisan divide: “In August, 31 percent of Democrats polled by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press reported hearing ‘mostly bad news’ about the economy. In September, only 15 percent characterized economic news as bad. Sixty percent of Republicans and 36 percent of independents polled said economic news was mostly bad. The poll’s authors found the gap striking: Differences in perceptions of economic news emerged after Barack Obama took office. But they never have been as great as they are today.”
• I was delighted to read and hear reporters challenge Romney’s falsification of the events in Cairo before the deadly riot in Benghazi. Romney berated Cairo embassy staff for its attempt to defuse rising Egyptian anger over the online short ridiculing and defaming Muhammed. The embassy issued a statement sympathizing with Muslim anger over the video. Romney damned the embassy staff and statement, saying it was the worst kind of appeasement after rioting in Cairo and Benghazi. He had to know the statement preceded either riot.
• American news media were of two minds when offered a graphic photo of a shirtless Chris Stevens after the ambassador was killed in Libya. Some media used it in their primary news reports. Others didn’t use it on air or in print but offered it online to readers. I would have used it. He was not bloody or disfigured, he was not being dragged through the streets or otherwise abused. He was a murder victim, one of four Americans killed in the consulate that day, and we can handle these images and the clarity they bring to events. Our news media showed no such squeamishness when provided photos of bloody Qaddafi.
• Being a Royal Grandmother probably has always been tough, but Queen Elizabeth is having another annus terriblus: Prince Harry cavorts naked with tarts in Las Vegas and the seemingly perfect Kate is photographed topless on a vacation. Maybe the royals’ police protectors need remedial ed: cell phone cameras are everywhere and nothing goes unnoticed, especially if a royal prince is displaying his Crown Jewels, and paparazzi were sured to track William and Kate and to take off her bikini top on an outside balcony was unwittingly naive. Someone has to explain the facts of public life to these folks. They can’t depend on foreign news media being as deferential as those in the British Isles. Harry’s immodesty was published in Britain largely because it was universally available and seen online. Kate’s slip got plenty of online attention, too. British papers, of course, had to write about the future queen’s nipples without showing them. If there is an invasion of privacy suit in France where the photos were published, the photos will have to be introduced as evidence . . . and there we go again.
CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: firstname.lastname@example.org