Denying racism: Discursive strategies used by the South African media.

Kevin Durrheim * Michael Quayle Kevin Whitehead Anita Kriel

School of Psychology University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg) Private Bag X 01 Scottsville, 3209 South Africa Email:

Keywords: racism, denial, South Africa, news media, discourse, rhetoric

Running head: Denying racism

* To whom correspondence should be addressed


Abstract South Africa‟s dramatic transition from apartheid to an anti-racist state has resulted in significant social and institutional changes; but the practical distribution of power, wealth, and access to resources in society is still overwhelmingly racially skewed. In 1999 the South African media was the subject of a Human Rights Commission inquiry into racism. This paper explores the discursive practices deployed by mainstream newspapers in response to these accusations of racism. We show how several interlocking strategies of denial were used to remodel the field of racist practices and representations into a terrain suited to preserving white privilege. Specifically, the media used strategies of splitting, (dis)locating, relativising, trivialising, deracialising and, ultimately, reversing racism. In this way, the South African media was able to sidestep criticism by developing „acceptable‟ arguments for reasonable prejudice that marginalise „black‟ experience.


Traditionally, social psychology has emphasised psychological, individual and intrapersonal aspects of prejudice at the expense of the social, interpersonal dimensions. Adorno et al. (1950) suggested that prejudice is the result of fixed personality characteristics, and Allport (1954) argued that individual prejudice is the result of simplified categorisations and negative affect. These seminal studies set the scene for research that has assumed that racism is a problem of prejudiced attitudes, which are fixed and measurable individual characteristics, stable across context and time.

More recently, this approach has been criticised by, inter alia, discursive social psychologists, who have pointed out theoretical and methodological shortcomings of the traditional understanding of prejudice (Edwards, 2000; Potter, 1998; Wetherell & Potter, 1992). In a move that demands a radical reconstruction of the “topic area traditionally occupied by attitude research” (Billig, 1989: 204), Potter (1998) argues that attitudes should be viewed as evaluative practices rather than mental entities. The focus should be on the activity of opinion giving, investigating the discursive functions served by talk in particular contexts. Expressions of racism are thus treated as displays, which are interpersonally constructed, and strategically tailored to the demands of context (Edwards, 2000). Racism exists in the nuts and bolts of everyday talk (and text) rather than in underlying psychological dispositions or attitudes.

Talk, like any other action, is subject to societal rules and constraints. It is the active production of individuals, tailored to the demands of the situation (Edwards, 1997), but it is also deeply normative and scripted. In the contexts of opinion giving, only certain forms and contents of opinion are appropriate on any occasion. Likewise,


normative forms of racial expression will be adapted to broader historical contexts, and racial attitudes can thus be seen as evolving over time (Billig, 1988a; van Dijk, 1991). According to discursive social psychologists, racial attitudes are not mental entities, but are expressions that reproduce ideologies and practices of racism in changing historical contexts (Wetherell & Potter, 1992). They are adapted to the dominant representations and institutional demands of the day.

One of the main ways in which racism has changed since the writings of Allport and Adorno et al. is that everyday racist practices have become “more implicit, indirect, subtle or otherwise less open though not necessarily less effective or insidious” (van Dijk, 1991: 28; cf. Sears, 1988). van Dijk (1991) argues that people generally do not wish to be perceived as racist and therefore must be aware of the contemporary norms surrounding non-discrimination in social interaction. In other words, people are generally aware that they should show themselves to be tolerant citizens (van Dijk, 1993), even when they are supporting racial marginalisation, oppression, segregation, etc.

Billig (1988b) and van Dijk (1992) argue that racism today is characterised and disguised by denial, exemplified by statements such as “I‟m not a racist but …” Denials of racism perform the action of allowing people to justify racist practices whilst claiming membership of the moral community of the unprejudiced. When people declare that they are “not racist”, they are denying that their expressions are motivated by an irrational prejudice. Instead, the specific negative expression about an outgroup member, racial action or event is argued to be reasonable and justifiable (Billig et al., 1988; Edwards, 2000). Positive self-presentation is thus maintained by


advocates of affirmative action are accused of reverse racism. In general. For example. van Dijk (1992) identified a number of rhetorical strategies by which denial of racism was achieved (cf. van Dijk (1992: 92) illustrates mitigation with the example “I did not threaten him. by prefacing a racist statement with “I‟m not a racist. In analysing the European press and parliamentary discourse. 2001). Excuses are appeals to extenuating circumstances in order to explain and justify racist talk and actions. Euphemism involves the use of other labels as proxies for race. but gave him friendly advice”. Blaming the victim involves a reversal in culpability. Palmary & Durrheim.rhetorically quarantining any instance of talk that could lead to a negative perception of the speaker as a whole. such as „segregation is a natural response to cultural difference‟. for example “the poor”. Barnes. For example. van Dijk argues that reversal is the strongest form of denial.” the speaker pre-emptively restricts the hearer from forming a generalised impression that the speaker is „a racist‟.. but . 5 .. Finally. Disclaimers involve denying racial prejudice while simultaneously expressing racist views. the impact of a racist statement is reduced by down-toning or minimising the racist content. blaming immigrants for failing to “fitin” to their new country. an employer may exclude „black‟ job applicants on the grounds that they do not speak fluent English. “criminals”. in which the charge of racism is turned aside or nullified by accusing anti-racist activists of racism. Justification sanitises racist talk with reasonable explanations. for example. In mitigation. all of these strategies of denial serve functions of self-presentation by defending the speaker against potential or actual accusations of racism (van Dijk. “shack-dwellers” or “immigrants”. For example.

Under colonial (British) rule and. under the iniquitous system of apartheid. use discursive contents. Li and Tran (2002) suggests that the media in Australia and Hong Kong. political. Denying racism is part of an ideological tradition that attempts to marry the “contrary themes of „reasonable prejudice‟” (Billig et al. since 1948. we follow van Dijk‟s lead by investigating denials of racism in the media.1992). 1988: 114). 1993). 1993). For all these reasons. van Dijk (1991) recommends that the study of media racism be extended beyond European and North American contexts. and so is an important object of analysis when considering racist practices in society (van Dijk. In this paper. the media plays a central role in setting public agendas by deciding what material is newsworthy. perpetuated and entrenched in societies where overt racism is taboo (van Dijk. Recent publications by Teo (2000) and Flowerdew. similarly. At the same time as fulfilling these individual functions. tropes and strategies to subtly and indirectly encode racist messages. denials of racism also represent acceptable forms of expression by which racism is produced. 1987). passive reporter of facts. thereby supporting the interests of socially dominant groups (van Dijk. but rather – whether intentionally or otherwise – actively constructs and produces public discourse (van Dijk. Racism in the South African media Recent political transformation makes South Africa an instructive context to study the denial of racism. The media plays a central role in both reflecting and shaping social consciousness. economic and social power was in the hands of 6 . Furthermore. The media is not a neutral. 1993). 1991..

Nadine Gordimer once described as “an octopus of thought-surveillance” (Merrett. This illegitimate. the society was desegregated and deracialised. The media was effectively run as a state monopoly and was tightly controlled by the government and its supporters (Berger. The state created an environment that both controlled the information reaching the public and violated the freedom of the press. 7 . racism was outlawed. education and health services. and new norms of non-racism emerged. Opposition political parties were unbanned. while defending historic privilege. Under apartheid. 1999). As power shifted from minority „white‟ hands. „black‟ leaders were released from prison. inequitable and racist social organization was kept in place by a swathe of legislation which segregated „blacks‟ and „whites‟. which Nobel Laureate. and which excluded the indigenous „black‟ populations of Southern Africa from access to resources such as employment. and democratic elections were held in 1994. Between 1950 and 1990 over 100 laws were introduced to regulate the activities of the South African media (ibid). political and economic consequences of racism. In this paper we suggest that the denial of racism in contemporary South Africa is a means of protecting individuals and institutions from the legal. 1994: 79). and the legitimating ideology of „white‟ supremacy. “[T]he bulk of the media – with some important exceptions – either expressly promoted apartheid. Most „white‟ South Africans openly supported this racism. Most prominent was the Publications Act of 1974. the media played a central role in the politics of division. and in both ways contributed to a climate of gross human rights violations” (Berger. 2001: 2). The 1990s was a decade of rapid and radical change. or implicitly complied with it.minority „whites‟.

for instance. 1999: 39). together with verbal descriptions such as “Security forces were forced to make use of rifles and shotguns to disperse rioting crowds” (cited in Posel. to the editors who controlled the newspapers. as 8 . separate training classes. an image that “suggested savage and so-called „tribal‟ behaviour. 1998). right down to the dustbin cleaners who cleaned the dustbins at night and stuffed material in an envelope to be collected by agents” (in Braude. 1990). Former apartheid state operative. stone throwing and close-up pictures of crowds. While watching the 8 o‟clock news broadcast. testified that state agents had been placed in newsrooms. In addition to so furthering the state‟s racist agenda. In justifying state violence.Shocking revelations of the media‟s collusion with the apartheid regime came to light in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission‟s (TRC) hearings on gross human rights violations that had taken place under apartheid (TRC. South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) were subject to “sjambokking [whipping] as a disciplinary procedure. being given older machines to work with. The TRC report describes how black staff of the state-run. The consequence of all this was that the information reaching the public was permeated with racial stereotypes which legitimated the apartheid regime. the media itself engaged in racist practices. the primary intended audience – the „white‟ South African public – were regularly presented with images of flames. 1990: 162). the way in which the SABC represented township violence in the late 1980s (Posel. „black‟ protesters were represented as primitive and mindless stonethrowing mobs. Craig Williamson. Consider. and he described the state‟s relation with the media as a systemic “„macro continuum‟ from the owners of the media. lower budgets…” (ibid: 43).

together with increased „black‟ media ownership and the collapse of the apartheid spy network. political change was accompanied by a dramatic normative shift. It was no longer acceptable to express blatant racist stereotypes or to explicitly argue for racial segregation or discrimination. The values of apartheid were replaced with values for unity. Political transformation in South Africa has had a substantial impact on the media (Berger. legislation was passed to make racism a criminal offence. racist images were used to preserve „white‟ privilege by legitimating oppression and state violence. Despite these changes in the media and elsewhere. „multiculturalism‟ and non-racialism.. „black‟ South Africans still lack access to resources such as education. housing and health care. This invalidated much of apartheid media legislation. In addition. 1999). In the apartheid media. reconciliation. and guaranteed (within limits) freedom of expression and free access to information. These changes. The new constitution embraced the ideals of equality. To ensure that change relied not only on goodwill. and reconstruction. Schutte. 2000. The “underlying implication was that blacks – epitomised by the crowd – are dominated by their emotions rather than reason. Taylor et al. 1998.against the more „civilized‟ methods” used by the police (ibid: 161). employment. Reflecting the disparities of apartheid. an essentially „primitive‟ mode of being” (ibid: 165). South African society is still overwhelmingly divided along racial lines (Inter-Ministerial Committee for Poverty and Inequality. capital. 2000). These contradictions between de jure equality and de facto inequality have prompted some to question whether racism is 9 . were forces for transformation in the media.

indeed a thing of the past. engaged in racially biased reporting and editorial comment (Glaser. Pityana. The Sunday Times printed hate speech in which a columnist suggested that African Americans should “realise that they would probably be living in shacks with no running water if their ancestors hadn‟t been abducted by slave traders”. These charges prompted an investigation of media racism. The Sunday Times trivialised the death of black people by reducing them to mere statistics. while covering the death of white people in detail. The Mail and Guardian treated instances of plagiarism by a black and white journalist differently. two historically liberal English newspapers. 2000). which in turn sparked vigorous debate about racism that is the object of this study. and white males continue by and large to control public opinion. They charged that: The media remains largely in white owned. or whether new forms of justification have emerged to do the work of safeguarding „white‟ privilege. The Mail and Guardian refused to carry letters from black people. They claimed that the Sunday Times and the Mail and Guardian. the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) and the Association of Black Accountants of South Africa (ABASA). HRC. The Mail and Guardian exposed corruption in a way that created the impression that black people are essentially corrupt and incompetent. responding to articles in which they are criticized. 2000. This challenge was put to the media by two groups of „black‟ professionals. 10 . 1999.

Given this defensiveness. a qualitative investigation conducted by an independent researcher (Braude. According to Barney Pityana (2000).The controversy about media racism The South African Human Rights Commission (HRC). The interim report of this investigation (HRC. consisted of eleven submissions from the public (including that of the BLA and ABASA). The outcome of the investigation was damning. responded to these charges of racism against two prominent. in an effort to “facilitate a robust debate and exchange of ideas about how [South Africa] can construct a society free of racism” (Pityana. the HRC decided to pursue the investigation. a body with a constitutional mandate to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. challenged the locus standi of the accusers and disputed the jurisdiction of the HRC to continue with the inquiry. 1999). the newspapers bluntly refuted the allegations. She found evidence of racial stereotyping but also argued that there was “continuity” between the racial thinking of the right-wing and mainstream liberal media: 11 . national newspapers. and extend its scope to the South African media in general. They submitted the allegations to the newspapers concerned for response before deciding whether to pursue the investigation. The conclusions of Braude‟s discursive investigation however were the most cutting. 1999). The public submissions listed numerous instances of racism and the quantitative investigations showed that “stereotypical representations of race are unfortunately still common in the media” (MMP: 57). and a quantitative study of the occurrence of racial themes such as “Blacks are criminals” (MMP. then chairperson of the HRC. and by no means right-wing. 1999). 2000: 527).

2001). Braude accused the mainstream media of what Sears (1988) would call „symbolic racism‟. erroneous and malicious accusation of racism. the evaluation of the report was much the same (Berger. and a threat to press freedom. in complaints about „black demands for special favours‟. Braude‟s report was rejected for failing to provide a definition of 12 . The mainstream South African media viewed the report as an ill-conceived. These continuities are not immediately visible on the surface of the text. 2000). which is expressed in ostensibly non-racial terms. inferior. for example. 2000) and Braude herself (personal communication. 2000. incompetent and criminal continue to be perpetuated. October 11. Although most of the academic response was more measured (but see Tomaselli. 1999: 142). Continuities with the white supremacist assumptions occur in the absence of such explicit racism… Classic racist and white supremacist representations of blacks as. the dichotomy between civilized standards and the powers of chaos… a conceptual dichotomy that underpinned the logic of apartheid… continues to inform daily news coverage of South African society. 2000. inter alia. The research was found to be methodologically weak and the HRC project as a whole was accused of being politically motivated. 2001. Glaser. 2001). The report provoked a storm of hostile criticism that surprised the HRC (Pityana.Five years into the existence of non-racial democratic South African history. Jacobs. (Braude. but which nonetheless conveys an „underlying racism‟ symbolically. the mainstream coverage analysed does not make explicit reference to race as an explanation for the phenomenon represented. The response was scathing. for instance. and Braude‟s report was branded psycho-babble. In contrast to Radio Pretoria [a right-wing station]. Tomaselli. with much of the vicious „argument‟ ad hominem.

the analysis aimed to show how racism. in direct response to the release 13 . by investigating denials of racism. van Dijk (1991) suggests that such media reactions to accusations of racism provide an arena in which the machinery of denials of racism. Our object of investigation is the rich environment of denial created in the media response to the interim report of the HRC. can be clearly seen in action. Method In this paper. Accordingly. reveal the faultlines of reasonable prejudice. She had failed to demonstrate a racist subtext in the mainstream media. Denials of racism are social practices by which racially prejudicial actions may be defended and racism thus sanitised. non-racialism. we aim to investigate denials as regulated performances that have social currency as good arguments.racism and for being an overly subjective and individual reading. and the discursive relationship between the denial of racism and racism itself. 2000: 9). or linguistically as subtext. perform the ideological work of shoring up racial privilege. Although the discourse of denial can be interpreted psychologically as subliminal expressions. and as such. The data corpus for this study consisted of newspaper articles published in the mainstream English-language press in South Africa. we aim to contribute to the investigation of racism in the South African media obliquely. but instead “went on a search for racism in the media – and found it everywhere” (Berger. and racial transformation are discursively negotiated in the public arena in post-apartheid South Africa. which according to Billig and van Dijk.

and react to accusations of racism with denial. negotiated and denied as journalists responded to the HRC report. The HRC report presented the media with a dilemma: it admitted to (undeniable) forms of racial favouritism. These newspapers were selected as they have traditionally been perceived as liberal (Berger. they were likely to represent themselves as non-racist.of the HRC‟s (1999) interim report. After an initial reading. 2000). In criticizing the HRC and justifying its own practices. 1994) and Parker (1992). we once again read through the entire data corpus in order to judge the validity of our conclusions (cf. spanning the period between 21 November 1999 and 24 December 2000. and consequently. our focus was on the social construction of racism and the activity of denial. Silverman. Billig et al. The analysis proceeded inductively. Our approach to analysis was informed by the understanding of discourse and the advice given by Potter and Wetherell (1987. the media articulated 14 . we limited our focus to the subset of approximately 60 articles that made direct reference to the interim report. 1999). Our sample consisted of over 300 newspaper articles that referred to the SAHRC interim report and continuing proceedings. Generally.. 1988). After a detailed analysis of this subset of articles. as we recorded and developed working hypotheses about the ways in which racism was constructed. who kindly made them available to us. but denied being racist (cf. The majority of these were published within two weeks of the report‟s release. This comprehensive set of newspaper clippings was collected by Claudia Braude. This is the same method used by van Dijk (1992) to show how forms of talk that he termed “denial strategies” were produced in talking about race. We focused on two specific features of the discourse of denial: rhetoric and subject positioning.

Racism still exisits) Extract 2 15 . 1999) for themselves and the media. By claiming that this benign racism was in fact motivated by concerns other than racism. we argue that denial was achieved by splitting the broad field of representational practices that could be construed as racist. Following the advice from Billig (1989. The shifting boundaries of racism have implications for individual and institutional subjects as they allow speakers to position themselves discursively as non-racist subjects. we were interested in documenting how this dilemma was managed rhetorically by the activity of shifting the boundaries of racism. or. Second. Extract 1 Considering the history of South Africa we need a free Press to guide our minds into elevated paths of thought and the eradication of all forms of racism. and deny racism. racially biased representation. Splitting racism In our study of the media response. we investigated the way in which writers articulated „subject positions‟ (Harré & van Langenhove. while defending racial advantage. An „evil‟ and morally reprehensible racism was constructed in opposition to „benign‟ forms of racial practice.the contrary themes of reasonable prejudice in a rhetorically persuasive manner. in this case. 29 February 2000. the media could at once defend their practices. (The Citizen. 1996).

But when the “racist” label is used as a substitute for serious debate on important issues. 10 March 2000. whether they be whites. Who today in South Africa will admit a racist intention? Even Eugene Terre‟blanche would deny he is intentionally racist. Muslims. It is the nature of the beast that those whom it mirrors do not like the way that it is done. which is a very sensitive and impassioned subject. „Racist‟ label should not be used to stifle debate) Extract 4 …We must turn our attention to racism that is discernable and visible rather than get trapped in a maze of disputations about intentional or unintentional racism. (The Cape Times. (Mail and Guardian. genuine racism remains a serious problem in our society and we must deal with it. Let us liberate the revolution) Extract 5 People always discern plots and sinister conspiracies in the media. 21 February 2000. 17-23 March 2000. And there is a range of perspectives. we need to discuss racism. ballroom dancers or a combination of all of these. There is favouritism in the media. 16 . dispassionately. … The discourse on racism and the need to eradicate it must proceed on firmer. it merely devalues the struggle against real racism. more credible ground. sports fans. Arrie Rossouw said: „Beeld does not support any form of racism but this does not mean that at times racial undertones are not present in reports or leader articles or do not slip through unintentionally. As difficult as it may be. Racism – dilemma for media) Extract 3 Of course. business people.‟ (Sowetan.…Beeld editor.

Would that it were not so. Firstly. using an empiricist criterion. Like crime. “intentional or unintentional” racisms are distinguished. Extract 5 splits 17 . Extracts 1 and 2 suggest that there are different „forms‟ of racism. subcategorising forms of racism. That there is racism of some sort is undeniable. In a country where racism was worshipped by the government for four decades (at least). We welcomed the inquiry into racism in the media.from support for one rugby team over another. heaven alone knows. to sympathy for one or more political parties. “discernable and visible” racism is differentiated from other forms. Next the commission will discover that crime is a problem in some parts of the country and needs to be combated. and never manages to eradicate evil completely. Human Rights Commission chairperson Barney Pityana says the year-long preliminary probe offers prima facie evidence that racism is a problem which needs greater investigation. it will always be with us. Why tax Rands had to be deployed to inform the commission of this obvious truth. presumably. This newspaper has fought racism. in order to deny that the SA media was racist. Extract 4 splits racism in two ways. from other imaginary forms that inform spurious argument. it flourished. HRC should do job better) The extracts above show some of the ways in which journalists split racism. Rocket science was not needed to reach that conclusion. while the remaining extracts give substance to this variation. Decent people try to fight crime or racism. (The Star. Good does not always win in the age-old battle against evil. Extract 3 suggests that genuine racism may be distinguished. We had hoped it would be helpful. and second. 23 November 1999.

and political and religious justification of white supremacy. and then locating the unacceptable types externally. less subtly. and it is constructed as irrational. the “evil” form of racism is that which “flourished” under apartheid. and was “worshipped by the government for four decades”. as in the data corpus more generally. 18 . The word “worshipped” is significant here for it alludes to the ideological nature of racial policies in the context of Afrikaner Nationalism. Reprehensible racism is thus displaced to the past. along a moral dimension. This dilemma is resolved by splitting racism into different types.racism. Thus. In lamenting the racist past – “would that it were not so” – and in presenting its own history of challenging racism. displacing racism onto a racist and irrational other. 1988b. The categories of racism proposed in these extracts turn out to be highly serviceable for the task of denying racism. for only one form is truly racist and morally reprehensible. 1997). Riggens. a conceptual apparatus is employed to categorise the diversity of practices that could be described as racist. the newspaper constructs itself as non-racist. In Extract 5. racism is denied by stating that “This newspaper has fought racism” (Extract 5). while simultaneously acknowledging that the existence of „favouritism‟ and racism in the media is „undeniable‟ (see Extracts 2 & 5). into benign and evil forms. while admitting that there is “racism of some sort” in the media. in the other (Billig. In all five extracts. This is the racism that decent people fight. Such splitting is a way of negotiating the central dilemma faced by the media in responding to the accusations of racism: The media must devalue the HRC report by denying racism.

denial is done by dislocating “genuine” racism and situating it outside the media. This work of category construction (Billig. showing an “obvious truth” (Extract 5) that an omnipresent and benign racism exists in the media. Once racism is split. and in arguing that. splitting also provided a platform from which to attack the HRC. and thereby “merely devalues the struggle against real racism” (Extract 3). By means of this strategic splitting. Although favouring „whites‟ over „blacks‟ may seem like a continuation of a longstanding tradition of racism in South Africa. 4). or the racism may be unintentional slips (Extract 2. 1996) provides a framework through which the media can deny racism. distancing itself from those which they consider undesirable while implying that racial representation in the media is both inevitable and benign. In addition to servicing the defensive rhetoric of denying or excusing racism. 19 . it is argued that the HRC uses the label „racist‟ inappropriately when accusing the media of racism. together. these forms of favouritism are omnipresent. innocuous.What then of the racism in the media that is “undeniable”? A benign racism is constructed. different from the evil form that flourished under apartheid. This racism is simply a form of “favouritism”. the moral value of this racism is downgraded by drawing comparisons with non-racial forms of favouritism (Extract 5). or unintentional “racial undertones”. similar to supporting “one rugby team over another” or showing “sympathy for one or more political parties” (Extract 5). the HRC investigation is devalued as a waste of money. (Dis)locating racism We have seen how the media splits racism into various forms. While “genuine” racism is seen as a “serious problem” that “we must deal with”.

This includes an understanding of the pressures of publishing a newspaper or operating a broadcast station in SA today. We need to look at who reads newspapers. more concerned about circulation figures. and suggest positive steps to break down the way the media industry works at the moment. Racism is not under every bed. (Cape Times. and an historical gesture of looking back. the Cape Times said: “This will be reflected in the media. It includes the importance of markets or readership and the constraints on publishing or broadcasting in a competitive market. Extract 6 Racism takes different forms at different historical moments. In other words. 14 April 2000. power and media) Extract 7 While admitting South African society was in many ways still racist. the production of news is not always about power – it is about deadlines. What we need is a debate on race. about editors acting as business managers. the media-as-mirror metaphor. audiences and the role of advertising. Are halcyon days of free speech over?) 20 . define as racism. the creation of markets. 26 November 1999. at a particular historical moment. The primary concern or dispute is about what we. about lack of training for journalists.Three discursive tactics are used to accomplish this: the use of passive voice. otherwise the media is not an accurate reflection of society”. That is why the commissioners and the journalists who came before it [the commission] struggled to find this racism – it cannot be seen. the LSMs they‟re located in and how the advertising industry works in determining content. It has become „naturalised‟ in the structures of the media. (Financial Mail.

27 February 2000. That was the cornerstone of the research that the Media Monitoring Project undertook for the Human Rights Commission. 10 March 2000. our predecessors will turn in their graves to see that we cover areas of people who are not white. 23 November 1999.Extract 8 On the other hand. „I am offended by the Media Monitoring Project for accusing my newspaper of suffering from xenophobia on the basis of a „half-baked‟ report. To think the media is all powerful is to give them too much credit) Extract 10 It would be surprising if there was no hidden racism in news rooms. Hence it is often said that we get the media we deserve. given SA‟s history … (Business Day. In fact. The media is not responsible for racism in our society – there are far too many other institutions and ideas for that to be the case.‟ (Sowetan. What does happen is that the media can and does reinforce already established ideas and notions within society. The media can dictate society‟s thinking but it is society which determines the media. He said. Die Burger editor Mr Ebbe Dommisse objected to being accused of racism. Racism – dilemma for media) Extract 9 The media has a complex relationship with its society. Why facts are sacred) 21 . But the media can support or challenge racist ideas by. among other things. reinforcing stereotypical depictions and attitudes that are all of our inheritance from apartheid. (Sunday Times. „Die Burger has changed.

For example. in contrast to a possible active. In this way the media is able to claim agency for positive actions. employing active voice to claim responsibility for positive transformation. agentic phrasing. In all of the above extracts. by admitting that “the media can support or challenge racist ideas”.Passive voice is used when talking about benign racism in the media. Extract 10 uses the passive voice to distance itself from racism by locating racism in disparate and undefined “newsrooms”. such as “the media reflects racism”. Extract 7 states that racism “will be reflected in the media”. However. whereas passive voice portrays the media as a subject of broader forces of racism. 22 . Extract 8 states “Die Burger has changed”. such as fighting racism. while denying agency and responsibility for potentially negative actions. Superficially. Extract 9 appears to provide an exception to this rhetorical pattern. the newspaper‟s fight against racism – “this newspaper has fought racism” – is spoken of in the first person. however is immediately denied by blaming “racist ideas” and “stereotypical depictions” on the “inheritance from apartheid” or on society. Agency. The active voice is predictably paired with positive actions and the passive voice with statements from which the media wishes to distance itself. The same contrast can be seen in Extract 6. Extract 5 characterises the media in the passive voice with the phrase “those whom it mirrors”. where the media‟s “struggle” against racism is spoken of in the active voice – “journalists…struggled to find this racism” – while admissible media racism is presented passively as racism which “has become „naturalised‟ in the structures of the media”. which the media simply „reinforces‟ and is „not responsible for‟. the use of the active voice serves to highlight the agency of the media.

and if society is racist. which has led to the conclusion” (Billig. the task of the media is to represent society accurately. the mirror metaphor works to construct the media as a passive agent in the reproduction of racism. Extract 6 provides an elaborate account of the way in which racism “has become „naturalised‟ in the structures of the media” as well as in markets. It is argued that the press are merely reflecting industrial constraints and the pressures of competing in the South African media market. instead of using this awareness to focus on the power of the media to produce. in society. The media simply re-presents and reflects social views and biases. 1991: 131). the mirror metaphor is drawn on to neatly sidestep media responsibility for racism. The mirror metaphor is explicit at times: “It is the nature of the beast [the media] that those whom it mirrors often do not like the way it is done” (Extract 5). According to this line of thinking. reproduce and redefine racism. In all these cases. then a media that is doing its job properly will reflect this racism. Extract 7 suggests that racism in society will be “reflected” in the media. and allow the media to justify its own racist practices whilst nominally opposing racism. The real cause lies elsewhere. and operates under market 23 . The mirror metaphor is often implicit. Extract 9 argues that “what does happen is that the media can and does reinforce already established ideas and notions within society” and that “we get the media we deserve”. Such arguments re-locate the origins of racist media representations to society at large. rather than the preferences of the [speaker]. This strategy of denial “in effect. However. says that it is the empirical nature of the world. audiences and advertising.The media‟s tactic of using the passive voice to distance itself from “genuine” racism is given shape by the metaphor of the media as a mirror.

“constraints”. by stating that “genuine racism remains a serious problem” and that “South African society was in many ways still racist” (emphasis added). In a more forthright example. 24 . and in locating genuine racism in the past. The third tactic for dislocating racism from the media involves drawing a strong contrast between post-apartheid and apartheid society. allowing the writers to distance themselves from the evils of apartheid. Similarly Extracts 3 and 7. Given the secondary role of the media in reflecting racism. Extract 10 argues that “It would be surprising if there was no hidden racism in news rooms. In Extract 8 the editor of Die Burger is quoted as stating that Die Burger had changed to the extent that its predecessors would “turn in their graves” because it now provides coverage of “people who are not white”. and found to be hardly racist at all. the past becomes a convenient repository for racism. imply that the racism of today is merely a lingering remnant of apartheid. thereby dislocating racism from the present. The assertion “This newspaper has fought racism” (emphasis added) locates the fight against racism in the past. By means of discursive gestures of „looking back‟. current racial practices are contrasted with the blatantly racist past. The argument is that the Die Burger had changed to an extent that would offend its racist predecessors. given SA‟s history”. In all of the above examples. responsibility for change is shifted from the media onto other social agents. In Extract 5 racism is spoken of as something “worshipped by the government for four decades”.

the media could (dis)locate racism from itself. This is South Africa. but there is hope) Extract 12 Well. Extract 11 Our backgrounds make racists of us all. Upbringing may make us racist. 25 . There were a number of instances in our data corpus where the writers went further to depoliticise current practices of racial favouritism. making use of the mirror metaphor. brown racists and. The assumption in the report of the Human Rights Commission seems to be that only whites are racist. isn‟t it? That was my gut response to the recent furore over the South African Human Rights Commission‟s somewhat controversial interim report on racism in the media. of course. denying racism while justifying racist representations. This section discusses rhetorical strategies that take the moral and political sting out of accusations of racism. Relativising and trivialising racism In responding to the HRC‟s accusations of racism. rendering them a-moral. and contrasting present racial practices with the crude racism of the past. regardless of colour. (Cape Times.By portraying themselves as passive. white racists… This is not purely a South African disease but is to be seen in every country in the world. These strategies may be interpreted as ways in which contemporary media practices are constructed as benign. 26 November 1999. This is far from the truth – there are black racists. of course there is racism in the media. the media portrayed itself as engaging in benign racial practices.

In fact. whereby the field of racism was split in a self-serving manner. 23 November 1999. the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of choice – all of these things. Waste of time) Earlier. 23 November 1999. but which they 26 . the stench of political correctness hangs heavily in the air. are equally important.(The Star. as in many facets of South African life. into evil and benign forms. 23 November 1999. Tolerance. (The Citizen. we discussed the strategy of splitting. In the extracts above. Here we extend this discussion by suggesting that splitting is the basis for more general strategies of relativising and trivialising media racism. and many more. (The Citizen. an appreciation of criticism. at this time. Race not necessarily a chief factor in choosing news) Extract 13 It is also important to remember that non-racialism is not the only democratic value that needs nurturing in this country. Ignore Braude slurs. media racism is relativised by comparing it with violations which writers claim are equally bad. attitudes towards gender differences. (The Star. but most journalists are painstakingly cautious about not causing offence. 24 November 1999. parties tell press) Extract 15 We have no doubt there is racism in the media. And still the scavengers rummage in the dirt for scraps. Race not necessarily a chief factor in choosing news) Extract 14 The HRC has an important role to play in protecting free speech in general and media freedom in particular. Instead it is hunting for violations of constitutional rights in the wrong place.

Secondly. According to her. anti-black racism of white South Africans is relativised by contextualising it against other forms of racism found all over the world. freedom of speech (Extract 14). a diversionary function. the writer in Extract 12 concludes that it is therefore obvious that there will be racism in the media today. describing racism as “a disease” implies that individuals are helpless victims of an invading pathogen that somehow causes racism in unwilling hosts. relativising serves two functions: firstly. Furthermore. and politeness (Extract 15). racism is relativised by contrasting the value of anti-racism with other values in society. Secondly. Two strategies of relativising racism are apparent in the extracts above. Given the omnipresence of racism and the history of racism in South Africa. it serves to equate the oppressors with the oppressed by suggesting that people of all races are guilty of racism. the universal “disease” of racism is naturalised as its origins are to be found in “our backgrounds”. Racism is thus treated as an inevitable and benign residue of history and circumstance. First. This serves to dislocate agency even further – victims of a disease are not generally blamed for their condition. including tolerance and democratic values (Extract 13).imply are worse than media racism. Siedel (1988) suggests that the racism of a particular agent may be trivialised or made less important by relativising it. it is possible to deflect attention away from media racism by pointing to other values that the media upholds. These strategies of relativising racism serve to minimise the importance of media racism by juxtaposing it with other forms of racism and other values. While recognising racial bias in media reporting. In Extract 11. drawing attention away from specific instances of racism and suggesting that such practices are commonplace elsewhere. 27 .

serves diversionary functions. By stating that “journalists are painstakingly cautious about not causing offence”. A similar strategy of relativising and trivialising media racism is evident in Extract 5. inconsequential and thus not deserving of serious consideration. This allows the media to maintain the status quo. discrimination or perpetuating racial inequalities in power and resources are specifically ignored. which merely 28 . Racism is thus trivialised by constructing racism as an unavoidable residue of the recent past to render racism in the present unremarkable. where media practices were described as a form of “favouritism” in the same vein as “support for one rugby team over another”.The statement that racism is “not purely a South African disease” (Extract 11). In this way. harmless and enthusiastic spectator. In Extracts 13 to 15. Consequently. media racism is reduced to the important but minor issue of causing offence. refusing to take any action in response to the racial bias pointed out by the HRC. by the statement that “non-racialism is not the only democratic value that needs nurturing”. In Extracts 12 and 15. This transforms the meaning of a “racist” media from an unacceptable violator of human dignity and rights to an innocent. Racism is trivialised in Extract 13. The consequences of media racism are trivialised as more serious consequences such as human rights violations. the existence of racism in the media is taken as self-evident in the light of the South African context and history of racism. lessening the importance of the „white‟ racism of which the media is accused. the “furore” over the HRC‟s “controversial” report is constructed as a disproportionate response to a patently obvious finding. the findings of the HRC are dismissed as unexceptional. the value of anti-racism is downgraded as attention is diverted to other (more) important values.

which demonstrates intolerance with its accusations of racism. This is Siedel‟s (1988) second function of relativising discourse. The racist perspective is trivialised as simply being one in a “range of perspectives”.g. and compromises democratic values. and they must choose to leave 29 . and that certain actors (e. Deracialising racism Extract 16 So if an elderly black state pensioner in Soweto and Harry Oppenheimer are mugged on the same day. A little later we will show that it is a short step from equating the moralpolitical status of racist and anti-racist actors to reversing their status. and on maintaining the value of media freedom. “regardless of race”. the moral status of the racist press is equated with that of the anti-racist HRC.. when it should be focussed on serious problems of racism elsewhere. people of all races are equally responsible for racism. and there is only space for one story.supports a particular “team” in its choice of people and issues to reflect. critical attention is diverted from the fact that racism advantages a racial elite. are racists (Extract 11). Likewise. the media) are in a better position to challenge racism than others. equating the oppressors with the oppressed. Since all people in South Africa. Thus. By drawing attention to other instances of racism and other values. by relativising the value of non-racism against the value of tolerance (Extract 13). The HRC investigation is thus reduced to an activity of looking for “scraps” of offence or favouritism (Extract 15). a platform is laid from which to relativise the agents of different practices and values. turning antiracists into the true racists.

17-23 March 2000. If a busload of working class (black) South Africans are killed. And it is no different in South Africa than in any other country throughout the world. Race not necessarily a chief factor in choosing news) Extract 17 In a society where class distinctions. cutting across „racial‟ identity. Which is more likely to run? Most editors would choose Oppenhemier – not because he is white. nothing was said of the inseparable connection between „race‟ and „class‟ and how it manifests itself in South Africa. Another example that springs to mind is the recent spate of bus crashes. racism depends on a symbolic process of racialisation. has [sic] been a growing social phenomenon since 1994.the other out. 1988) suggest that contemporary forms of racial expression combine anti-black affect and 30 . which will attract more media attention? Are the values there based on race? (The Star. and how class has been reflected and refracted through the prism of „race‟. By deracialisation. There are countless examples of how „race‟ and class intersect under concrete conditions in this country. 23 November 1999. I‟m by no means saying that this is right. whereby social significance is attributed to human difference. we mean the symbolic process whereby potentially racist practices are divested of racial significance. and attributed to non-racial causes. but that is how traditional news values in newspapers work. A number of observers have described similar practices. and a bus carrying middle-class overseas (white) tourists crashes. but because he is famous. Proponents of the theory of symbolic racism (Sears. Let us liberate the revolution) According to Miles (1989). (Mail and Guardian.

Wetherell & Potter. 2002. Deracialisation is a reaction to and depends upon the racialisation of human differences. but by rational decisions about the newsworthiness of stories. rather than overt racial themes. Billig (1991) suggests that prejudice may be justified by referral to traditional values such as equality and fairness. The media‟s racial bias is motivated by non-racial factors – Harry Oppenheimer‟s fame. Deracialisation is illustrated in Extract 16. and the overseas tourists‟ foreignness. „blacks‟ or Muslims (see Extract 5). where racism is reduced to nonracial favouritism. Just as sports fans and ballroom dancers may be offended by media favouritism. so may „whites‟. individualism). the newsworthiness of two different bus crashes is compared: a “busload of working class (black) South Africans” and a “bus carrying middle-class overseas (white) tourists”. Augoustinos. Likewise. Extract 6). In a first example. the reader is invited to understand that this is not racism. Here we undertake a more detailed investigation of the discursive strategies used in deracialisation. the newsworthiness of the mugging of an “elderly black state pensioner” is compared with the mugging of Harry Oppenheimer (a South African tycoon). where the writer argues rather frankly that racially slanted reporting is in fact not motivated by racism. We have already come across instances of deracialisation. Lecouteur & Soyland.g. and these racial assumptions are apparent in the activity of 31 . thereby sanitising racist discourse (cf. However. 1992). In both cases the news of „black‟ misfortune is deemed less newsworthy than „white‟ misfortune. and in a second example. This constructs a passive media whose attention is directed to the more newsworthy event by social interest (cf. and the consequences of racism are reduced to the causing of offence.traditional values (e.

unknown „black‟ man? Why not an equally famous „black‟ man? Although the conclusion that “most editors” would choose Oppenheimer is portrayed as obvious – it is simply how “traditional news values in newspapers work” – the conclusion is stacked against the nameless „black‟ man by setting the racial actors up unequally. deracialisation is performed by arguing that we should view SA society through the prism of class not race. or working class „white‟ South Africans? In Extract 17. Why not tourists from another African country. but raises a fresh charge of classism. class is suggested as a non-racial 32 .deracialisation. newsworthiness is advanced as a non-racial explanation of discriminatory racial reporting. through the euphemistic use of „class‟. famous „white‟ man (Oppenheimer) with a poor. This serves to deflect the accusation of racism. In Extract 16. Why compare a rich. given “the countless examples of how „race‟ and class intersect under concrete conditions in this country”. It is implied that discrimination on the basis of class may be mistaken for racism. By admitting to the possibility of classism. The example is loaded in favour of the media representing „whites‟ lives rather than the lives of „blacks‟. commonsensical and rational choice. This kind of categorical shift allows racial prejudice to be expressed without ever mentioning „race‟. A similar kind racial consciousness informs the deracialisation in the second example (Extract 16) where an unbalanced contrast is set up between working class South African „blacks‟ and middle class overseas tourists. the accusation of racism is rhetorically shifted sideways into less politically sensitive territory. Consider first the selection of the basis of comparison in Extract 16. which is not treated as a problematic position. making this seem like an obvious. while in Extract 17.

Discrimination is justified by explaining racial discrimination in terms of non-racial factors. Since the media simply provides a reflection of the world „out there‟. 23 November 1999. Right now. if somewhat unfortunate. „White‟ lives are represented in the media because they are newsworthy (Extract 16). arrived at somewhat reluctantly. (The Star. 23 November 1999. Reversing racism Extract 18 The consequence of all this is to make it more difficult to defend human rights. but the furthering of racism…There are worrying hints that not furthering racism may involve suppressing the facts. 2000). as is illustrated by the statement “I‟m by no means saying that this is right” (Extract 16). Why facts are sacred) 33 . (Business Day. the choice of which story to print is a pragmatic one. HRC should do job better) Extract 19 The problem arises with its [the HRC‟s] proposal that internal codes of conduct be extended to cover not just overtly and gratuitously offensive material. It is now time for the commission to do its job properly. outcome of how things are. and accusations of prejudice can be further avoided by representing the view as being arrived at reluctantly (Edwards.category that serves to divide people along racial boundaries in South Africa. not involve itself in political agendas. These non-racial factors are used to make racial discrimination appear as a necessary. the populace is baying for the blood of criminals and wants to brush aside their rights.

Jaap Marais. Several major newspapers have criticised the HRC on these grounds. Masking real issues) Extract 21 I still hold the view that a complaint about racism from two racially exclusive groups is probably a clue that this is all an elaborate millennium hoax on the part of Barney Pityana… (Sunday Times Business Times. 34 . you‟ve done the press in SA a huge favour) Extract 22 Leader of the Herstigte Nationale Party [a right wing party]. These are not only complex philosophical issues. has accused one of the authors of the interim report on racism in the media of fomenting antiAfrikaner sentiment on the pretext of protecting Jews against anti-Semitism. It is unfortunate that these real and weighty issues have been clouded by what appears to be one researcher‟s own agenda and interests (or even prejudices) pushing aside sense. 12 March 1999. but are also very significant on a practical level – not to mention the leverage applied by a variety of interest groups. objectivity and reason. 5 December 1999. each with its own agenda and differing power base. Thanks.Extract 20 An inquiry by a public body such as the HRC into racism in the media always has the theoretical potential for unwarranted interference with press freedom and even for introducing Orwellian “thought police”. (South African Jewish Report. Claudia.

on the one hand. the media was able to position itself morally within the broad field of racial practices. On the other hand. as representative of “antiSemitism” in Die Afrikaner. and racist. 1992). the old technique of shouting “anti-Semitism” as the argument to end all arguments.” Mr Marais said it was. The first way of reversing racism depends on relativising the value of anti-racism. They were portrayed as inter alia irrational. it also positioned itself with reference to other social agents. 26 November 1999. but to give a suspect meaning to them thus attacking the other side and putting it on the defensive. In so doing. most notably.“All that was done was to attack a series of articles of general political interest on the so called New World Order and Jewish propaganda about the „six million‟ by a person with no ties with the HNP or Die Afrikaner. relativising and deracialising racism. the HRC. “Media-Racism” author anti-Afrikaner: Jaap) By splitting. with a view to understanding how the media – which admitted racial favouritism – were able to argue that it was the HRC that was in fact racist. often quite viciously. Anti-racism is to be tolerated only to the extent that it does not interfere with the 35 . There were many instances in our data corpus where the HRC and the primary researcher were attacked. charging agents of racial transformation with racism (see van Dijk. They could also reverse racism. (The Citizen. misguided. politically motivated. Here we scrutinise some of these arguments. as discussed earlier. Not only were writers able to equate the oppressors with the oppressed. it was a way of not defending the statements made.

as Extract 18 says.defence of other “democratic” values. racism is reversed by arguing that the anti-racist initiative undermines these other values. in Extract 20. anti-racism is only one of a string of values including “attitudes towards gender differences. but criticised specific initiatives for obstructing the struggle against racism and other human rights violations. it is suggested that anti-racism should not lead to “unwarranted interference with press freedom” or the introduction of “Orwellian „thought police‟”. causing “unwarranted interference with press freedom and even…introducing Orwellian „thought police‟” (Extract 20). Similarly. racially relevant values have been presented. and pointing to other important human rights values. There were a number of ways in which this was done in the extracts. the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of choice…and many more”. It was suggested that the HRC‟s focus on benign media racism deflected attention from the real issues. By splitting the field of racism into evil and benign forms. When “the “racist” label is used as a substitute for serious debate on important issues”. instead of protecting free speech. the HRC “is hunting for violations of constitutional rights in the wrong place (Extract 14). The consequence of all this. Once competing. In their arguments. the HRC “merely devalues the struggle against real racism” (Extract 3). and is then to be deemed racist. “is to make it more difficult to defend human rights”. The media maintained the moral high ground and 36 . As Extract 13 says. Furthermore. the media conveyed support for a narrow and vaguely defined anti-racist agenda. an appreciation of criticism. writers were able to argue that particular anti-racist strategies were misguided without rejecting all anti-racist initiatives. fighting racism “may involve suppressing the facts” (Extract 19). Similarly.

the anti-racist project of the HRC is undermined by highlighting the nominal racial exclusivity of the groups that initiated the accusations. and the ability to recognise competing democratic values – the media could criticise the HRC for focussing on trivial issues. This is shown in Extract 20. which suggests that “these real and weighty issues have been clouded by what appears to be one researcher‟s own agenda and interests (or even prejudices) pushing aside sense. objectivity and reason”. misreading the facts. 2001). thus undermining the proper fight against racism. more powerful. Here. in Extract 21. the existence of racism is deemed obvious – even banal – both because it is a 37 . the media knows what genuine racism is. By so adopting an epistemological high ground. this strategy naturalises and universalises racism (Durrheim & Dixon. From this position – having a clear view of the facts.projected reasonableness by embracing the value of anti-racism and showing how the HRC undermined this anti-racism and other democratic values. A second. Mr Jaap Marais claims privileged knowledge of the true intentions of the authors of the HRC report. the writers create an inverted wonderland where the HRC becomes the agent of racism. In contrast to the HRC. and accuse them of a sinister racist (“anti-Afrikaner”) agenda in criticising Die Afrikaner for anti-Semitism. strategy of reversing racism involves claiming ontological high ground. and acting to ultimately hamper the fight against genuine racism. Similarly. a knowledge of what constitutes genuine and benign racism. and knows when anti-racism should be tempered or overshadowed by other competing values. This strategy reverses racism by an epistemological positioning. In contrast to the relativising tactics of epistemological reversal. In the convoluted rhetoric of Extract 22. acting irrationally.

This is because “our backgrounds make racists of us all”. 18 and 21). or an incorrect understanding of racism (Extracts 3. Racism. By relativising racism (and anti-racism). Accordingly. the HRC investigation could be constructed as prejudiced. Similarly. we can have “no doubt there is racism in the media. To sum up. against nature. isn‟t it?” (Extract 12. “political agendas” (Extract 18). in Extract 16 we see that “it is no different in South Africa than in any other country throughout the world. But there are also broader and more universal ontologies of racism.consequence of our South African backgrounds. writers claimed epistemological privilege. as in many facets of South African life” (Extract 15). the media used two strategies to reverse racism. In both. Thus. cf Extract 6). and by naturalising racism they claimed ontological privilege.” By such arguments. racism is reversed on ontological grounds. and is thus ultimately the prejudiced party. “is not purely a South African disease but is to be seen in every country in the world”. as Extract 11 points out. the source of this irrational motive is found in the “stench of political correctness” (Extract 15). and because it is simply a universal phenomenon that is found all over the world. If benign racism is a natural and universal fact. of course there is racism in the media. then any social agent opposing this form of benign „favouritism‟ is acting irrationally. Regarding the HRC. irrational and ultimately racist. the media claimed privileged knowledge. Racism is in our backgrounds – “Well. This is South Africa. Conclusion: Racism in the South African media 38 .

The denial of racism served interests of self-presentation (van Dijk. By so positioning themselves in this split field of racisms. or as benign. In so doing. 1993). the media displaced „genuine‟ racism outside itself. The field of racist practices and representations was split in a serviceable manner. van Dijk. The question that arises at this point is how the denial of racism is implicated in media racism itself. these constructions positioned the media as non-racist – only benign. On the one hand. at the same time as doing the rhetorical work of mapping out the boundaries of reasonable prejudice (Billig. necessary or unintentional bias is „owned‟ – and enabled the charges of the HRC to be refuted. Billig et al. 1988). and in tandem with these self presentational functions. 1994. deracialised. By representing itself as a passive reflection of society and by means of historical distancing. This was done by way of a series of interlocking discursive strategies. socially acceptable or commonplace. ideological. while simultaneously denying racism. journalists developed three further strategies of denial: they relativised. Although the media denials are explicitly oriented to disclaiming racism. 1992). necessary. reprehensible racism on the one hand. and an omnipresent and benign favouritism on the other. following the critical approach to media discourse (Fowler. More broadly. journalists managed to „resolve‟ the dilemma of acknowledging their discriminatory racial representations. we 39 . these denial strategies work to re-construct and renegotiate the shared meanings of “racism” in the public arena in such a way that racial bias can be defended in non-racial terms.We have shown how the media response to the HRC report was to deny the charge of racism. 1988b. locating it externally. and reversed charges of racism. into an evil.

It is surely not simply benign favouritism that allows the writer to equate the death of „black‟ passengers with the misfortune of „white‟ passengers being involved in a bus crash. the writer contrasts a “busload” of „blacks‟ with a “bus carrying” „white‟ tourists. („white‟) foreigners are considered more newsworthy than non-famous. We have already suggested that the denials in corpus of text serve self-presentational and rhetorical functions. we are told that the „blacks‟ are killed. upper. whereas our finer sensibilities are protected in the description of the „white‟ bus. we may ask: Newsworthy to whom? Clearly not to the privileged class 40 . we should interrogate the discourse by investigating the functions that the discourse serves. Here we consider how such denials serve to perpetuate racism in post apartheid South Africa. Famous. Crucially. In the second example to show that „black‟ experience is not newsworthy. which merely crashes. the „white‟ people in both examples are afforded more human qualities. But. Instead. for example. even though these are far lighter than the misfortune of „blacks‟. The „blacks‟ are categorised and dehumanised as a load – similar to a load of cargo – whereas the „whites‟ retain their individuality. Consider the way in which „black‟ people are represented in Extract 16. is carefully scripted to „show‟ that „black‟ experience is not newsworthy.or middle-class. Extract 16. Moreover. the journalists were simultaneously justifying racial difference and perpetuating negative racist stereotypes. „black‟ experience was also marginalised in the media response. working class. in the activity of denying racism. which emotionally engage the reader in their misfortunes. In addition to such dehumanisation. („black‟) South Africans.should not simply be satisfied with media explanations. In the extracts cited above.

of „white‟ South Africans. But whose facts to they report? One fact that gets full coverage in South African newspapers is fact that most crimes in the country are committed by people classified as „black‟. The dehumanisation and marginalisation of „black‟ existence is justified by means of the mirror metaphor: that newspapers simply report the facts and thus reflect society. and that by far the majority of crime victims are „black‟ South Africans. We are left overwhelmingly with the impression that in the new South Africa. deflected and defused without confronting the practices that generated the criticism in the first place. accusations of racism can be discounted. What is not reported is the fact that individual „blacks‟ who commit crimes make up a miniscule proportion of the „black‟ population. and so their experience is marginalised. An understanding of the techniques by which racism is being renegotiated in the media may lead to an understanding of how racism is subtly transforming itself to find a new lease of life in post-apartheid South Africa. Ordinary black life falls outside the ambit of newsworthiness. By means of the denial strategies discussed above. whose interests and lives the media represents. the South African media today continues the racist traditions of the past. These strategies allow the media to respond to criticism without challenging the inequalities and racial bias that persists. The argument of this paper is that it does this by denying racism and developing „acceptable‟ arguments for reasonable prejudice. „whites‟ are the victims of „black‟ criminality. the misfortunes of these ordinary South Africans are deemed unnewsworthy. 41 . unfortunately. For the media. In dehumanising and marginalising „black‟ experience. and so „blacks‟ are excluded from the means of representation.

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