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Kevin Durrheim * Michael Quayle Kevin Whitehead Anita Kriel
School of Psychology University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg) Private Bag X 01 Scottsville, 3209 South Africa Email: Durrheim@nu.ac.za
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
Palmary & Durrheim. For example. Excuses are appeals to extenuating circumstances in order to explain and justify racist talk and actions. an employer may exclude „black‟ job applicants on the grounds that they do not speak fluent English. “criminals”. all of these strategies of denial serve functions of self-presentation by defending the speaker against potential or actual accusations of racism (van Dijk. but . such as „segregation is a natural response to cultural difference‟. Blaming the victim involves a reversal in culpability. van Dijk (1992) identified a number of rhetorical strategies by which denial of racism was achieved (cf. for example. 5 . In analysing the European press and parliamentary discourse. Disclaimers involve denying racial prejudice while simultaneously expressing racist views. For example.. In mitigation.rhetorically quarantining any instance of talk that could lead to a negative perception of the speaker as a whole.. by prefacing a racist statement with “I‟m not a racist. Barnes. Euphemism involves the use of other labels as proxies for race. for example “the poor”.” the speaker pre-emptively restricts the hearer from forming a generalised impression that the speaker is „a racist‟. In general. For example. van Dijk (1992: 92) illustrates mitigation with the example “I did not threaten him. “shack-dwellers” or “immigrants”. Justification sanitises racist talk with reasonable explanations. the impact of a racist statement is reduced by down-toning or minimising the racist content. but gave him friendly advice”. 2001). Finally. advocates of affirmative action are accused of reverse racism. blaming immigrants for failing to “fitin” to their new country. van Dijk argues that reversal is the strongest form of denial. in which the charge of racism is turned aside or nullified by accusing anti-racist activists of racism.
. 1993). 1991. economic and social power was in the hands of 6 . For all these reasons. denials of racism also represent acceptable forms of expression by which racism is produced. van Dijk (1991) recommends that the study of media racism be extended beyond European and North American contexts. thereby supporting the interests of socially dominant groups (van Dijk. 1988: 114). use discursive contents. under the iniquitous system of apartheid. since 1948. and so is an important object of analysis when considering racist practices in society (van Dijk. political. but rather – whether intentionally or otherwise – actively constructs and produces public discourse (van Dijk. Denying racism is part of an ideological tradition that attempts to marry the “contrary themes of „reasonable prejudice‟” (Billig et al. At the same time as fulfilling these individual functions. Recent publications by Teo (2000) and Flowerdew. The media is not a neutral. 1993). the media plays a central role in setting public agendas by deciding what material is newsworthy. we follow van Dijk‟s lead by investigating denials of racism in the media. Li and Tran (2002) suggests that the media in Australia and Hong Kong. In this paper. Under colonial (British) rule and. tropes and strategies to subtly and indirectly encode racist messages. perpetuated and entrenched in societies where overt racism is taboo (van Dijk. 1987). similarly.1992). Furthermore. The media plays a central role in both reflecting and shaping social consciousness. 1993). passive reporter of facts. Racism in the South African media Recent political transformation makes South Africa an instructive context to study the denial of racism.
The media was effectively run as a state monopoly and was tightly controlled by the government and its supporters (Berger. the society was desegregated and deracialised. while defending historic privilege. 7 . Most prominent was the Publications Act of 1974. and which excluded the indigenous „black‟ populations of Southern Africa from access to resources such as employment. education and health services. 1994: 79). Opposition political parties were unbanned. 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). racism was outlawed. 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. This illegitimate. or implicitly complied with it. and new norms of non-racism emerged. As power shifted from minority „white‟ hands. inequitable and racist social organization was kept in place by a swathe of legislation which segregated „blacks‟ and „whites‟. Under apartheid. the media played a central role in the politics of division. “[T]he bulk of the media – with some important exceptions – either expressly promoted apartheid. political and economic consequences of racism. 1999). „black‟ leaders were released from prison. The 1990s was a decade of rapid and radical change.minority „whites‟. 2001: 2). and in both ways contributed to a climate of gross human rights violations” (Berger. The state created an environment that both controlled the information reaching the public and violated the freedom of the press. and the legitimating ideology of „white‟ supremacy. Most „white‟ South Africans openly supported this racism. Nadine Gordimer once described as “an octopus of thought-surveillance” (Merrett. which Nobel Laureate.
the way in which the SABC represented township violence in the late 1980s (Posel. to the editors who controlled the newspapers. Consider. In justifying state violence. Craig Williamson. stone throwing and close-up pictures of crowds. 1990). being given older machines to work with. 1990: 162). „black‟ protesters were represented as primitive and mindless stonethrowing mobs. 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. an image that “suggested savage and so-called „tribal‟ behaviour. Former apartheid state operative. for instance.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. 1998). the primary intended audience – the „white‟ South African public – were regularly presented with images of flames. together with verbal descriptions such as “Security forces were forced to make use of rifles and shotguns to disperse rioting crowds” (cited in Posel. The TRC report describes how black staff of the state-run. 1999: 39). In addition to so furthering the state‟s racist agenda. separate training classes. 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). testified that state agents had been placed in newsrooms. as 8 . The consequence of all this was that the information reaching the public was permeated with racial stereotypes which legitimated the apartheid regime. South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) were subject to “sjambokking [whipping] as a disciplinary procedure. While watching the 8 o‟clock news broadcast. the media itself engaged in racist practices.
employment. These contradictions between de jure equality and de facto inequality have prompted some to question whether racism is 9 . Reflecting the disparities of apartheid. capital. „multiculturalism‟ and non-racialism. legislation was passed to make racism a criminal offence. and guaranteed (within limits) freedom of expression and free access to information. 2000. 1999).against the more „civilized‟ methods” used by the police (ibid: 161). To ensure that change relied not only on goodwill. racist images were used to preserve „white‟ privilege by legitimating oppression and state violence. political change was accompanied by a dramatic normative shift. The “underlying implication was that blacks – epitomised by the crowd – are dominated by their emotions rather than reason. South African society is still overwhelmingly divided along racial lines (Inter-Ministerial Committee for Poverty and Inequality. together with increased „black‟ media ownership and the collapse of the apartheid spy network. reconciliation. This invalidated much of apartheid media legislation. and reconstruction. Taylor et al. It was no longer acceptable to express blatant racist stereotypes or to explicitly argue for racial segregation or discrimination. were forces for transformation in the media. In addition. 1998. housing and health care. Political transformation in South Africa has had a substantial impact on the media (Berger. 2000). Schutte. These changes. an essentially „primitive‟ mode of being” (ibid: 165). Despite these changes in the media and elsewhere. The values of apartheid were replaced with values for unity. In the apartheid media. „black‟ South Africans still lack access to resources such as education. The new constitution embraced the ideals of equality..
or whether new forms of justification have emerged to do the work of safeguarding „white‟ privilege. This challenge was put to the media by two groups of „black‟ professionals. The Sunday Times trivialised the death of black people by reducing them to mere statistics. 2000. while covering the death of white people in detail. The Mail and Guardian refused to carry letters from black people. two historically liberal English newspapers. and white males continue by and large to control public opinion. HRC. The Mail and Guardian treated instances of plagiarism by a black and white journalist differently.indeed a thing of the past. They claimed that the Sunday Times and the Mail and Guardian. 1999. 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”. They charged that: The media remains largely in white owned. engaged in racially biased reporting and editorial comment (Glaser. the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) and the Association of Black Accountants of South Africa (ABASA). 2000). which in turn sparked vigorous debate about racism that is the object of this study. The Mail and Guardian exposed corruption in a way that created the impression that black people are essentially corrupt and incompetent. These charges prompted an investigation of media racism. Pityana. responding to articles in which they are criticized. 10 .
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). the HRC decided to pursue the investigation. According to Barney Pityana (2000). national newspapers. the newspapers bluntly refuted the allegations. a qualitative investigation conducted by an independent researcher (Braude. challenged the locus standi of the accusers and disputed the jurisdiction of the HRC to continue with the inquiry. 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. and by no means right-wing.The controversy about media racism The South African Human Rights Commission (HRC). then chairperson of the HRC. The conclusions of Braude‟s discursive investigation however were the most cutting. 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 . 1999). They submitted the allegations to the newspapers concerned for response before deciding whether to pursue the investigation. The interim report of this investigation (HRC. a body with a constitutional mandate to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. Given this defensiveness. 2000: 527). and extend its scope to the South African media in general. and a quantitative study of the occurrence of racial themes such as “Blacks are criminals” (MMP. in an effort to “facilitate a robust debate and exchange of ideas about how [South Africa] can construct a society free of racism” (Pityana. 1999). 1999).
1999: 142). erroneous and malicious accusation of racism. The mainstream South African media viewed the report as an ill-conceived. inferior. and a threat to press freedom. October 11. for instance. Continuities with the white supremacist assumptions occur in the absence of such explicit racism… Classic racist and white supremacist representations of blacks as. In contrast to Radio Pretoria [a right-wing station]. 2000. the mainstream coverage analysed does not make explicit reference to race as an explanation for the phenomenon represented. (Braude. which is expressed in ostensibly non-racial terms. 2001). with much of the vicious „argument‟ ad hominem. 2001). and Braude‟s report was branded psycho-babble. 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. in complaints about „black demands for special favours‟. but which nonetheless conveys an „underlying racism‟ symbolically.Five years into the existence of non-racial democratic South African history. The research was found to be methodologically weak and the HRC project as a whole was accused of being politically motivated. Braude‟s report was rejected for failing to provide a definition of 12 . 2000) and Braude herself (personal communication. incompetent and criminal continue to be perpetuated. 2000). These continuities are not immediately visible on the surface of the text. inter alia. Tomaselli. 2001. Glaser. The report provoked a storm of hostile criticism that surprised the HRC (Pityana. 2000. Although most of the academic response was more measured (but see Tomaselli. for example. Jacobs. The response was scathing. the evaluation of the report was much the same (Berger. Braude accused the mainstream media of what Sears (1988) would call „symbolic racism‟.
non-racialism. Accordingly. reveal the faultlines of reasonable prejudice. She had failed to demonstrate a racist subtext in the mainstream media. Our object of investigation is the rich environment of denial created in the media response to the interim report of the HRC. van Dijk (1991) suggests that such media reactions to accusations of racism provide an arena in which the machinery of denials of racism. and racial transformation are discursively negotiated in the public arena in post-apartheid South Africa. or linguistically as subtext. Method In this paper. we aim to contribute to the investigation of racism in the South African media obliquely.racism and for being an overly subjective and individual reading. 2000: 9). in direct response to the release 13 . Denials of racism are social practices by which racially prejudicial actions may be defended and racism thus sanitised. the analysis aimed to show how racism. perform the ideological work of shoring up racial privilege. can be clearly seen in action. and the discursive relationship between the denial of racism and racism itself. we aim to investigate denials as regulated performances that have social currency as good arguments. Although the discourse of denial can be interpreted psychologically as subliminal expressions. and as such. but instead “went on a search for racism in the media – and found it everywhere” (Berger. which according to Billig and van Dijk. The data corpus for this study consisted of newspaper articles published in the mainstream English-language press in South Africa. by investigating denials of racism.
and consequently. 1994) and Parker (1992). The analysis proceeded inductively. Our approach to analysis was informed by the understanding of discourse and the advice given by Potter and Wetherell (1987. Silverman. The majority of these were published within two weeks of the report‟s release. our focus was on the social construction of racism and the activity of denial. The HRC report presented the media with a dilemma: it admitted to (undeniable) forms of racial favouritism. 1999). 1988). Generally. In criticizing the HRC and justifying its own practices.of the HRC‟s (1999) interim report. 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. After a detailed analysis of this subset of articles. negotiated and denied as journalists responded to the HRC report. After an initial reading. This comprehensive set of newspaper clippings was collected by Claudia Braude. who kindly made them available to us. We focused on two specific features of the discourse of denial: rhetoric and subject positioning. we limited our focus to the subset of approximately 60 articles that made direct reference to the interim report. but denied being racist (cf. as we recorded and developed working hypotheses about the ways in which racism was constructed. the media articulated 14 . spanning the period between 21 November 1999 and 24 December 2000. Our sample consisted of over 300 newspaper articles that referred to the SAHRC interim report and continuing proceedings. and react to accusations of racism with denial. These newspapers were selected as they have traditionally been perceived as liberal (Berger.. we once again read through the entire data corpus in order to judge the validity of our conclusions (cf. 2000). they were likely to represent themselves as non-racist. Billig et al.
the media could at once defend their practices. 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. we argue that denial was achieved by splitting the broad field of representational practices that could be construed as racist. while defending racial advantage. 29 February 2000. By claiming that this benign racism was in fact motivated by concerns other than racism. we investigated the way in which writers articulated „subject positions‟ (Harré & van Langenhove. An „evil‟ and morally reprehensible racism was constructed in opposition to „benign‟ forms of racial practice. 1996). 1999) for themselves and the media. or. and deny racism. we were interested in documenting how this dilemma was managed rhetorically by the activity of shifting the boundaries of racism. Racism still exisits) Extract 2 15 . in this case. racially biased representation. 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. (The Citizen.the contrary themes of reasonable prejudice in a rhetorically persuasive manner. Second. Splitting racism In our study of the media response.
more credible ground. Racism – dilemma for media) Extract 3 Of course. As difficult as it may be. Who today in South Africa will admit a racist intention? Even Eugene Terre‟blanche would deny he is intentionally racist. it merely devalues the struggle against real racism. 16 . And there is a range of perspectives. It is the nature of the beast that those whom it mirrors do not like the way that it is done. … The discourse on racism and the need to eradicate it must proceed on firmer. whether they be whites.‟ (Sowetan. „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. 10 March 2000. which is a very sensitive and impassioned subject. sports fans. business people. 21 February 2000. 17-23 March 2000. But when the “racist” label is used as a substitute for serious debate on important issues. (The Cape Times. we need to discuss racism. dispassionately. ballroom dancers or a combination of all of these. Muslims. (Mail and Guardian. 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. Let us liberate the revolution) Extract 5 People always discern plots and sinister conspiracies in the media. There is favouritism in the media. genuine racism remains a serious problem in our society and we must deal with it.…Beeld editor.
“discernable and visible” racism is differentiated from other forms. it will always be with us. Would that it were not so. Rocket science was not needed to reach that conclusion. HRC should do job better) The extracts above show some of the ways in which journalists split racism. Extract 4 splits racism in two ways. heaven alone knows. in order to deny that the SA media was racist. This newspaper has fought racism. Extract 5 splits 17 . Next the commission will discover that crime is a problem in some parts of the country and needs to be combated. and second.from support for one rugby team over another. That there is racism of some sort is undeniable. subcategorising forms of racism. to sympathy for one or more political parties. “intentional or unintentional” racisms are distinguished. Firstly. and never manages to eradicate evil completely. from other imaginary forms that inform spurious argument. We had hoped it would be helpful. using an empiricist criterion. Why tax Rands had to be deployed to inform the commission of this obvious truth. presumably. 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. 23 November 1999. Extracts 1 and 2 suggest that there are different „forms‟ of racism. while the remaining extracts give substance to this variation. We welcomed the inquiry into racism in the media. In a country where racism was worshipped by the government for four decades (at least). Like crime. it flourished. (The Star. Decent people try to fight crime or racism. Good does not always win in the age-old battle against evil. Extract 3 suggests that genuine racism may be distinguished.
for only one form is truly racist and morally reprehensible. 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. the “evil” form of racism is that which “flourished” under apartheid. In lamenting the racist past – “would that it were not so” – and in presenting its own history of challenging racism. in the other (Billig. In Extract 5. This dilemma is resolved by splitting racism into different types. along a moral dimension. and political and religious justification of white supremacy. a conceptual apparatus is employed to categorise the diversity of practices that could be described as racist. This is the racism that decent people fight. into benign and evil forms. displacing racism onto a racist and irrational other. while admitting that there is “racism of some sort” in the media. 18 . 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. while simultaneously acknowledging that the existence of „favouritism‟ and racism in the media is „undeniable‟ (see Extracts 2 & 5). racism is denied by stating that “This newspaper has fought racism” (Extract 5).racism. less subtly. as in the data corpus more generally. In all five extracts. The categories of racism proposed in these extracts turn out to be highly serviceable for the task of denying racism. Riggens. and then locating the unacceptable types externally. 1988b. and it is constructed as irrational. the newspaper constructs itself as non-racist. Thus. 1997). and was “worshipped by the government for four decades”.
showing an “obvious truth” (Extract 5) that an omnipresent and benign racism exists in the media. it is argued that the HRC uses the label „racist‟ inappropriately when accusing the media of racism. distancing itself from those which they consider undesirable while implying that racial representation in the media is both inevitable and benign. different from the evil form that flourished under apartheid. splitting also provided a platform from which to attack the HRC. This work of category construction (Billig. together.What then of the racism in the media that is “undeniable”? A benign racism is constructed. or unintentional “racial undertones”. This racism is simply a form of “favouritism”. (Dis)locating racism We have seen how the media splits racism into various forms. Once racism is split. the HRC investigation is devalued as a waste of money. 1996) provides a framework through which the media can deny racism. these forms of favouritism are omnipresent. By means of this strategic splitting. While “genuine” racism is seen as a “serious problem” that “we must deal with”. denial is done by dislocating “genuine” racism and situating it outside the media. or the racism may be unintentional slips (Extract 2. innocuous. Although favouring „whites‟ over „blacks‟ may seem like a continuation of a longstanding tradition of racism in South Africa. similar to supporting “one rugby team over another” or showing “sympathy for one or more political parties” (Extract 5). the moral value of this racism is downgraded by drawing comparisons with non-racial forms of favouritism (Extract 5). 19 . and in arguing that. 4). In addition to servicing the defensive rhetoric of denying or excusing racism. and thereby “merely devalues the struggle against real racism” (Extract 3).
otherwise the media is not an accurate reflection of society”. We need to look at who reads newspapers. This includes an understanding of the pressures of publishing a newspaper or operating a broadcast station in SA today. about lack of training for journalists. power and media) Extract 7 While admitting South African society was in many ways still racist. at a particular historical moment. and an historical gesture of looking back. the production of news is not always about power – it is about deadlines. about editors acting as business managers. the creation of markets. Racism is not under every bed. In other words. define as racism. 26 November 1999. the media-as-mirror metaphor. the LSMs they‟re located in and how the advertising industry works in determining content. It includes the importance of markets or readership and the constraints on publishing or broadcasting in a competitive market. audiences and the role of advertising. more concerned about circulation figures. and suggest positive steps to break down the way the media industry works at the moment. (Financial Mail. What we need is a debate on race. It has become „naturalised‟ in the structures of the media. 14 April 2000. Are halcyon days of free speech over?) 20 . (Cape Times. The primary concern or dispute is about what we. That is why the commissioners and the journalists who came before it [the commission] struggled to find this racism – it cannot be seen.Three discursive tactics are used to accomplish this: the use of passive voice. the Cape Times said: “This will be reflected in the media. Extract 6 Racism takes different forms at different historical moments.
given SA‟s history … (Business Day. 23 November 1999. Hence it is often said that we get the media we deserve. Racism – dilemma for media) Extract 9 The media has a complex relationship with its society. Die Burger editor Mr Ebbe Dommisse objected to being accused of racism. „Die Burger has changed. What does happen is that the media can and does reinforce already established ideas and notions within society. among other things. 10 March 2000. That was the cornerstone of the research that the Media Monitoring Project undertook for the Human Rights Commission.‟ (Sowetan. Why facts are sacred) 21 . 27 February 2000. 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.Extract 8 On the other hand. But the media can support or challenge racist ideas by. 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. (Sunday Times. our predecessors will turn in their graves to see that we cover areas of people who are not white. In fact. The media can dictate society‟s thinking but it is society which determines the media. reinforcing stereotypical depictions and attitudes that are all of our inheritance from apartheid. He said. „I am offended by the Media Monitoring Project for accusing my newspaper of suffering from xenophobia on the basis of a „half-baked‟ report.
The active voice is predictably paired with positive actions and the passive voice with statements from which the media wishes to distance itself. by admitting that “the media can support or challenge racist ideas”. agentic phrasing. 22 . Extract 10 uses the passive voice to distance itself from racism by locating racism in disparate and undefined “newsrooms”. Extract 7 states that racism “will be reflected in the media”. the newspaper‟s fight against racism – “this newspaper has fought racism” – is spoken of in the first person. Agency. the use of the active voice serves to highlight the agency of the media. Extract 5 characterises the media in the passive voice with the phrase “those whom it mirrors”. For example. however is immediately denied by blaming “racist ideas” and “stereotypical depictions” on the “inheritance from apartheid” or on society.Passive voice is used when talking about benign racism in the media. whereas passive voice portrays the media as a subject of broader forces of racism. Extract 9 appears to provide an exception to this rhetorical pattern. such as fighting racism. 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”. Extract 8 states “Die Burger has changed”. In all of the above extracts. while denying agency and responsibility for potentially negative actions. employing active voice to claim responsibility for positive transformation. in contrast to a possible active. which the media simply „reinforces‟ and is „not responsible for‟. such as “the media reflects racism”. The same contrast can be seen in Extract 6. Superficially. However. In this way the media is able to claim agency for positive actions.
and if society is racist. The media simply re-presents and reflects social views and biases. 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”. audiences and advertising. and allow the media to justify its own racist practices whilst nominally opposing racism.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. The real cause lies elsewhere. says that it is the empirical nature of the world. However. rather than the preferences of the [speaker]. in society. This strategy of denial “in effect. 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). reproduce and redefine racism. The mirror metaphor is often implicit. the mirror metaphor is drawn on to neatly sidestep media responsibility for racism. It is argued that the press are merely reflecting industrial constraints and the pressures of competing in the South African media market. 1991: 131). Such arguments re-locate the origins of racist media representations to society at large. instead of using this awareness to focus on the power of the media to produce. the task of the media is to represent society accurately. and operates under market 23 . 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. 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. In all these cases. According to this line of thinking. which has led to the conclusion” (Billig. the mirror metaphor works to construct the media as a passive agent in the reproduction of racism.
and in locating genuine racism in the past. The assertion “This newspaper has fought racism” (emphasis added) locates the fight against racism in the past. the past becomes a convenient repository for racism. 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”. By means of discursive gestures of „looking back‟. allowing the writers to distance themselves from the evils of apartheid. imply that the racism of today is merely a lingering remnant of apartheid. Extract 10 argues that “It would be surprising if there was no hidden racism in news rooms. In all of the above examples. responsibility for change is shifted from the media onto other social agents. thereby dislocating racism from the present. The third tactic for dislocating racism from the media involves drawing a strong contrast between post-apartheid and apartheid society. Given the secondary role of the media in reflecting racism. by stating that “genuine racism remains a serious problem” and that “South African society was in many ways still racist” (emphasis added). In Extract 5 racism is spoken of as something “worshipped by the government for four decades”.“constraints”. and found to be hardly racist at all. 24 . given SA‟s history”. Similarly Extracts 3 and 7. 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. In a more forthright example.
white racists… This is not purely a South African disease but is to be seen in every country in the world. making use of the mirror metaphor. This section discusses rhetorical strategies that take the moral and political sting out of accusations of racism. There were a number of instances in our data corpus where the writers went further to depoliticise current practices of racial favouritism. and contrasting present racial practices with the crude racism of the past. 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. the media portrayed itself as engaging in benign racial practices. but there is hope) Extract 12 Well. brown racists and. 25 . denying racism while justifying racist representations. the media could (dis)locate racism from itself. (Cape Times.By portraying themselves as passive. This is far from the truth – there are black racists. These strategies may be interpreted as ways in which contemporary media practices are constructed as benign. Upbringing may make us racist. rendering them a-moral. 26 November 1999. of course. This is South Africa. of course there is racism in the media. Relativising and trivialising racism In responding to the HRC‟s accusations of racism. regardless of colour. Extract 11 Our backgrounds make racists of us all.
are equally important. In the extracts above. 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. And still the scavengers rummage in the dirt for scraps. the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of choice – all of these things. (The Citizen. media racism is relativised by comparing it with violations which writers claim are equally bad. Tolerance. the stench of political correctness hangs heavily in the air. into evil and benign forms.(The Star. (The Star. parties tell press) Extract 15 We have no doubt there is racism in the media. In fact. but most journalists are painstakingly cautious about not causing offence. attitudes towards gender differences. 24 November 1999. Waste of time) Earlier. Here we extend this discussion by suggesting that splitting is the basis for more general strategies of relativising and trivialising media racism. Ignore Braude slurs. we discussed the strategy of splitting. at this time. 23 November 1999. 23 November 1999. as in many facets of South African life. 23 November 1999. 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. (The Citizen. and many more. an appreciation of criticism. but which they 26 . whereby the field of racism was split in a self-serving manner. Instead it is hunting for violations of constitutional rights in the wrong place.
describing racism as “a disease” implies that individuals are helpless victims of an invading pathogen that somehow causes racism in unwilling hosts. Given the omnipresence of racism and the history of racism in South Africa. Racism is thus treated as an inevitable and benign residue of history and circumstance. the writer in Extract 12 concludes that it is therefore obvious that there will be racism in the media today. including tolerance and democratic values (Extract 13). First.imply are worse than media racism. relativising serves two functions: firstly. Secondly. it serves to equate the oppressors with the oppressed by suggesting that people of all races are guilty of racism. This serves to dislocate agency even further – victims of a disease are not generally blamed for their condition. racism is relativised by contrasting the value of anti-racism with other values in society. and politeness (Extract 15). According to her. it is possible to deflect attention away from media racism by pointing to other values that the media upholds. Two strategies of relativising racism are apparent in the extracts above. Siedel (1988) suggests that the racism of a particular agent may be trivialised or made less important by relativising it. 27 . While recognising racial bias in media reporting. drawing attention away from specific instances of racism and suggesting that such practices are commonplace elsewhere. Furthermore. the universal “disease” of racism is naturalised as its origins are to be found in “our backgrounds”. a diversionary function. These strategies of relativising racism serve to minimise the importance of media racism by juxtaposing it with other forms of racism and other values. In Extract 11. 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). Secondly.
which merely 28 . refusing to take any action in response to the racial bias pointed out by the HRC. the findings of the HRC are dismissed as unexceptional. In Extracts 13 to 15. the “furore” over the HRC‟s “controversial” report is constructed as a disproportionate response to a patently obvious finding. harmless and enthusiastic spectator. This allows the media to maintain the status quo. the existence of racism in the media is taken as self-evident in the light of the South African context and history of racism.The statement that racism is “not purely a South African disease” (Extract 11). This transforms the meaning of a “racist” media from an unacceptable violator of human dignity and rights to an innocent. A similar strategy of relativising and trivialising media racism is evident in Extract 5. In Extracts 12 and 15. by the statement that “non-racialism is not the only democratic value that needs nurturing”. inconsequential and thus not deserving of serious consideration. discrimination or perpetuating racial inequalities in power and resources are specifically ignored. media racism is reduced to the important but minor issue of causing offence. Racism is trivialised in Extract 13. the value of anti-racism is downgraded as attention is diverted to other (more) important values. In this way. The consequences of media racism are trivialised as more serious consequences such as human rights violations. serves diversionary functions. 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”. Consequently. By stating that “journalists are painstakingly cautious about not causing offence”. lessening the importance of the „white‟ racism of which the media is accused.
Since all people in South Africa. equating the oppressors with the oppressed. The racist perspective is trivialised as simply being one in a “range of perspectives”. and that certain actors (e. and on maintaining the value of media freedom. and there is only space for one story. are racists (Extract 11). by relativising the value of non-racism against the value of tolerance (Extract 13). Deracialising racism Extract 16 So if an elderly black state pensioner in Soweto and Harry Oppenheimer are mugged on the same day. the media) are in a better position to challenge racism than others.. which demonstrates intolerance with its accusations of racism. when it should be focussed on serious problems of racism elsewhere. a platform is laid from which to relativise the agents of different practices and values. The HRC investigation is thus reduced to an activity of looking for “scraps” of offence or favouritism (Extract 15).g. people of all races are equally responsible for racism. and they must choose to leave 29 . turning antiracists into the true racists. “regardless of race”. 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. Likewise. This is Siedel‟s (1988) second function of relativising discourse. Thus. and compromises democratic values. the moral status of the racist press is equated with that of the anti-racist HRC. critical attention is diverted from the fact that racism advantages a racial elite. By drawing attention to other instances of racism and other values.supports a particular “team” in its choice of people and issues to reflect.
and a bus carrying middle-class overseas (white) tourists crashes.the other out. which will attract more media attention? Are the values there based on race? (The Star. There are countless examples of how „race‟ and class intersect under concrete conditions in this country. 1988) suggest that contemporary forms of racial expression combine anti-black affect and 30 . 17-23 March 2000. 23 November 1999. we mean the symbolic process whereby potentially racist practices are divested of racial significance. racism depends on a symbolic process of racialisation. has [sic] been a growing social phenomenon since 1994. and attributed to non-racial causes. Which is more likely to run? Most editors would choose Oppenhemier – not because he is white. Another example that springs to mind is the recent spate of bus crashes. A number of observers have described similar practices. but because he is famous. and how class has been reflected and refracted through the prism of „race‟. (Mail and Guardian. Race not necessarily a chief factor in choosing news) Extract 17 In a society where class distinctions. but that is how traditional news values in newspapers work. By deracialisation. Let us liberate the revolution) According to Miles (1989). I‟m by no means saying that this is right. Proponents of the theory of symbolic racism (Sears. And it is no different in South Africa than in any other country throughout the world. whereby social significance is attributed to human difference. If a busload of working class (black) South Africans are killed. cutting across „racial‟ identity. nothing was said of the inseparable connection between „race‟ and „class‟ and how it manifests itself in South Africa.
However. Extract 6). Just as sports fans and ballroom dancers may be offended by media favouritism. and in a second example. Lecouteur & Soyland. Augoustinos. and the consequences of racism are reduced to the causing of offence. so may „whites‟.traditional values (e. Wetherell & Potter. 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”. and the overseas tourists‟ foreignness. „blacks‟ or Muslims (see Extract 5). thereby sanitising racist discourse (cf. the reader is invited to understand that this is not racism. where racism is reduced to nonracial favouritism. 2002. In a first example. Billig (1991) suggests that prejudice may be justified by referral to traditional values such as equality and fairness. rather than overt racial themes. 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. This constructs a passive media whose attention is directed to the more newsworthy event by social interest (cf. the newsworthiness of the mugging of an “elderly black state pensioner” is compared with the mugging of Harry Oppenheimer (a South African tycoon).g. Deracialisation is illustrated in Extract 16. individualism). Likewise. Here we undertake a more detailed investigation of the discursive strategies used in deracialisation. In both cases the news of „black‟ misfortune is deemed less newsworthy than „white‟ misfortune. and these racial assumptions are apparent in the activity of 31 . 1992). The media‟s racial bias is motivated by non-racial factors – Harry Oppenheimer‟s fame. but by rational decisions about the newsworthiness of stories. Deracialisation is a reaction to and depends upon the racialisation of human differences.
Why compare a rich. famous „white‟ man (Oppenheimer) with a poor. but raises a fresh charge of classism. commonsensical and rational choice. This serves to deflect the accusation of racism. This kind of categorical shift allows racial prejudice to be expressed without ever mentioning „race‟. given “the countless examples of how „race‟ and class intersect under concrete conditions in this country”. while in Extract 17. 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 example is loaded in favour of the media representing „whites‟ lives rather than the lives of „blacks‟. which is not treated as a problematic position. making this seem like an obvious. 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. 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. It is implied that discrimination on the basis of class may be mistaken for racism. class is suggested as a non-racial 32 . or working class „white‟ South Africans? In Extract 17. Why not tourists from another African country. through the euphemistic use of „class‟. deracialisation is performed by arguing that we should view SA society through the prism of class not race. By admitting to the possibility of classism. In Extract 16. newsworthiness is advanced as a non-racial explanation of discriminatory racial reporting.
outcome of how things are. 23 November 1999. 23 November 1999. Discrimination is justified by explaining racial discrimination in terms of non-racial factors. 2000). but the furthering of racism…There are worrying hints that not furthering racism may involve suppressing the facts. „White‟ lives are represented in the media because they are newsworthy (Extract 16). Reversing racism Extract 18 The consequence of all this is to make it more difficult to defend human rights. It is now time for the commission to do its job properly. (The Star. if somewhat unfortunate. These non-racial factors are used to make racial discrimination appear as a necessary. Right now. arrived at somewhat reluctantly. the choice of which story to print is a pragmatic one. the populace is baying for the blood of criminals and wants to brush aside their rights. Since the media simply provides a reflection of the world „out there‟.category that serves to divide people along racial boundaries in South Africa. Why facts are sacred) 33 . and accusations of prejudice can be further avoided by representing the view as being arrived at reluctantly (Edwards. 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. not involve itself in political agendas. as is illustrated by the statement “I‟m by no means saying that this is right” (Extract 16). (Business Day.
34 . Several major newspapers have criticised the HRC on these grounds. 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. Claudia. 5 December 1999. each with its own agenda and differing power base. Jaap Marais. 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. but are also very significant on a practical level – not to mention the leverage applied by a variety of interest groups. Thanks. objectivity and reason.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”. you‟ve done the press in SA a huge favour) Extract 22 Leader of the Herstigte Nationale Party [a right wing party]. 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. 12 March 1999. (South African Jewish Report. These are not only complex philosophical issues.
the old technique of shouting “anti-Semitism” as the argument to end all arguments. The first way of reversing racism depends on relativising the value of anti-racism. often quite viciously. They were portrayed as inter alia irrational. the media was able to position itself morally within the broad field of racial practices. 26 November 1999.” Mr Marais said it was. it also positioned itself with reference to other social agents. as discussed earlier. In so doing. Anti-racism is to be tolerated only to the extent that it does not interfere with the 35 . as representative of “antiSemitism” in Die Afrikaner. charging agents of racial transformation with racism (see van Dijk. There were many instances in our data corpus where the HRC and the primary researcher were attacked. 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. and racist.“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. on the one hand. (The Citizen. relativising and deracialising racism. but to give a suspect meaning to them thus attacking the other side and putting it on the defensive. it was a way of not defending the statements made. the HRC. Not only were writers able to equate the oppressors with the oppressed. They could also reverse racism. 1992). politically motivated. Here we scrutinise some of these arguments. “Media-Racism” author anti-Afrikaner: Jaap) By splitting. most notably. On the other hand. misguided.
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. but criticised specific initiatives for obstructing the struggle against racism and other human rights violations. fighting racism “may involve suppressing the facts” (Extract 19). When “the “racist” label is used as a substitute for serious debate on important issues”. Similarly. racially relevant values have been presented. it is suggested that anti-racism should not lead to “unwarranted interference with press freedom” or the introduction of “Orwellian „thought police‟”. racism is reversed by arguing that the anti-racist initiative undermines these other values. instead of protecting free speech. The media maintained the moral high ground and 36 . anti-racism is only one of a string of values including “attitudes towards gender differences. As Extract 13 says. “is to make it more difficult to defend human rights”. Once competing. causing “unwarranted interference with press freedom and even…introducing Orwellian „thought police‟” (Extract 20). the HRC “merely devalues the struggle against real racism” (Extract 3). writers were able to argue that particular anti-racist strategies were misguided without rejecting all anti-racist initiatives. the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of choice…and many more”. Furthermore. and pointing to other important human rights values. an appreciation of criticism. In their arguments. the media conveyed support for a narrow and vaguely defined anti-racist agenda. The consequence of all this. Similarly. and is then to be deemed racist.defence of other “democratic” values. There were a number of ways in which this was done in the extracts. as Extract 18 says. the HRC “is hunting for violations of constitutional rights in the wrong place (Extract 14). in Extract 20.
in Extract 21. and the ability to recognise competing democratic values – the media could criticise the HRC for focussing on trivial issues. the anti-racist project of the HRC is undermined by highlighting the nominal racial exclusivity of the groups that initiated the accusations. 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. and acting to ultimately hamper the fight against genuine racism. the media knows what genuine racism is. the existence of racism is deemed obvious – even banal – both because it is a 37 . thus undermining the proper fight against racism. Mr Jaap Marais claims privileged knowledge of the true intentions of the authors of the HRC report. and knows when anti-racism should be tempered or overshadowed by other competing values. more powerful. Similarly. acting irrationally. misreading the facts. the writers create an inverted wonderland where the HRC becomes the agent of racism. this strategy naturalises and universalises racism (Durrheim & Dixon. A second. This is shown in Extract 20. This strategy reverses racism by an epistemological positioning. Here. 2001). a knowledge of what constitutes genuine and benign racism. and accuse them of a sinister racist (“anti-Afrikaner”) agenda in criticising Die Afrikaner for anti-Semitism. In contrast to the HRC. In contrast to the relativising tactics of epistemological reversal. From this position – having a clear view of the facts. objectivity and reason”.projected reasonableness by embracing the value of anti-racism and showing how the HRC undermined this anti-racism and other democratic values. strategy of reversing racism involves claiming ontological high ground. In the convoluted rhetoric of Extract 22. By so adopting an epistemological high ground.
the HRC investigation could be constructed as prejudiced. Accordingly.consequence of our South African backgrounds. racism is reversed on ontological grounds. But there are also broader and more universal ontologies of racism. In both. the media used two strategies to reverse racism. “political agendas” (Extract 18). By relativising racism (and anti-racism). we can have “no doubt there is racism in the media. This is because “our backgrounds make racists of us all”. Conclusion: Racism in the South African media 38 . or an incorrect understanding of racism (Extracts 3. If benign racism is a natural and universal fact.” By such arguments. 18 and 21). isn‟t it?” (Extract 12. Thus. and because it is simply a universal phenomenon that is found all over the world. the media claimed privileged knowledge. Racism. “is not purely a South African disease but is to be seen in every country in the world”. of course there is racism in the media. irrational and ultimately racist. the source of this irrational motive is found in the “stench of political correctness” (Extract 15). Regarding the HRC. as Extract 11 points out. Racism is in our backgrounds – “Well. as in many facets of South African life” (Extract 15). To sum up. cf Extract 6). then any social agent opposing this form of benign „favouritism‟ is acting irrationally. This is South Africa. and by naturalising racism they claimed ontological privilege. Similarly. against nature. in Extract 16 we see that “it is no different in South Africa than in any other country throughout the world. writers claimed epistemological privilege. and is thus ultimately the prejudiced party.
locating it externally. deracialised. journalists developed three further strategies of denial: they relativised. By representing itself as a passive reflection of society and by means of historical distancing. 1992). we 39 .We have shown how the media response to the HRC report was to deny the charge of racism. The question that arises at this point is how the denial of racism is implicated in media racism itself. 1994. 1993). the media displaced „genuine‟ racism outside itself. into an evil. or as benign. and reversed charges of racism. reprehensible racism on the one hand. By so positioning themselves in this split field of racisms. while simultaneously denying racism. This was done by way of a series of interlocking discursive strategies. necessary or unintentional bias is „owned‟ – and enabled the charges of the HRC to be refuted. at the same time as doing the rhetorical work of mapping out the boundaries of reasonable prejudice (Billig. Although the media denials are explicitly oriented to disclaiming racism. The field of racist practices and representations was split in a serviceable manner. 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. ideological. In so doing. following the critical approach to media discourse (Fowler. journalists managed to „resolve‟ the dilemma of acknowledging their discriminatory racial representations. 1988). Billig et al. 1988b. More broadly. van Dijk. and an omnipresent and benign favouritism on the other. these constructions positioned the media as non-racist – only benign. The denial of racism served interests of self-presentation (van Dijk. necessary. socially acceptable or commonplace. and in tandem with these self presentational functions. On the one hand.
In the extracts cited above. is carefully scripted to „show‟ that „black‟ experience is not newsworthy. But. Moreover. in the activity of denying racism. Instead. which emotionally engage the reader in their misfortunes. working class. we should interrogate the discourse by investigating the functions that the discourse serves. whereas our finer sensibilities are protected in the description of the „white‟ bus. for example. We have already suggested that the denials in corpus of text serve self-presentational and rhetorical functions. Consider the way in which „black‟ people are represented in Extract 16. Crucially. we are told that the „blacks‟ are killed. we may ask: Newsworthy to whom? Clearly not to the privileged class 40 . the „white‟ people in both examples are afforded more human qualities. even though these are far lighter than the misfortune of „blacks‟. Famous. upper. („white‟) foreigners are considered more newsworthy than non-famous. the journalists were simultaneously justifying racial difference and perpetuating negative racist stereotypes. „black‟ experience was also marginalised in the media response. the writer contrasts a “busload” of „blacks‟ with a “bus carrying” „white‟ tourists. The „blacks‟ are categorised and dehumanised as a load – similar to a load of cargo – whereas the „whites‟ retain their individuality.or middle-class. which merely crashes. („black‟) South Africans.should not simply be satisfied with media explanations. In the second example to show that „black‟ experience is not newsworthy. Here we consider how such denials serve to perpetuate racism in post apartheid South Africa. In addition to such dehumanisation. 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. Extract 16.
unfortunately. whose interests and lives the media represents. Ordinary black life falls outside the ambit of newsworthiness. deflected and defused without confronting the practices that generated the criticism in the first place. 41 . We are left overwhelmingly with the impression that in the new South Africa. „whites‟ are the victims of „black‟ criminality. 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. 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‟.of „white‟ South Africans. For the media. the South African media today continues the racist traditions of the past. By means of the denial strategies discussed above. and so „blacks‟ are excluded from the means of representation. 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. accusations of racism can be discounted. and that by far the majority of crime victims are „black‟ South Africans. These strategies allow the media to respond to criticism without challenging the inequalities and racial bias that persists. 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. In dehumanising and marginalising „black‟ experience. The argument of this paper is that it does this by denying racism and developing „acceptable‟ arguments for reasonable prejudice. the misfortunes of these ordinary South Africans are deemed unnewsworthy.
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