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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


BOTMA, Gawie. Spyfly and confessional: The fight against racism in the post-apartheid South African media. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.4-1, pp.736-751. ISSN 2224-7912.

In the title, "Spyfly and confessional: The fight against racism in the post-apartheid South African media", the first two metaphors are introduced as a description of noticeable tendencies in the interaction between media and society. The two descriptions have their roots in the work of Foucault and refer to the nexus between power/knowledge and the role of the media in the struggle between competing discourses for hegemony. Foucault refers to different forms of power, concerning surveillance, discipline and modern society as a confessional space. It is argued in this article that the media play a role in setting and patrolling some boundaries in society as agents of power in their own right. Power and the control of knowledge are exercised through different mechanisms, of which the fight against racism presents one such an example. While the white-owned media in general often played an active part in the perpetuation of colonialism and apartheid, the post-colonial media in South Africa are involved in fighting racism, at the same time endeavouring to support efforts by government and civil society to "eradicate" racism. While racist discourses take place on social media, most if not all of the mainstream media are involved in active anti-racism campaigns. The mainstream media also quickly pick up on incidents of alleged racism when these go "viral" on social media, thereby contributing to the cycle of often sensationalist coverage. A range of media texts of alleged racism were examined for this article. The aim was to describe the coverage of incidents of alleged racism in the media, widely defined to include social media and contributions by other citizens, including so-called citizen journalists, in detail and considered in context against the backdrop of the metaphors "spyfly" and "confessional". The first part of the analysis focusses on an incident at a playschool for children in Pretoria in 2016, when a seemingly innocent photo distributed by the school on social media caused a furore because of accusations of racism and marginalisation. Authoritative persons, with the help of the media, also using social media, played the role of spyfly while the case was still in progress, and political parties became involved when legal action was instigated against a provincial minister who had allegedly compromised the safety of the children. Besides being covered by various print and online publications, the national broadcaster, the SABC, also included the incident in a news bulletin in which a list of "outrageous" racist events were summarised and condemned. The second part of the article takes a closer look at how the media provide a confessional space for racists who wish to repent and make amends. While the majority of the most prominently covered cases featured white people, the media also responded when a black man encouraged black South Africans to "do to whites what Hitler did to the Jews". The perpetrator apologised and confessed, as did the famous and generally unrepentant cartoonist Zapiro when he was accused of racism for portraying a black person as a monkey in one of his cartoons. This points to one of the interesting features of the dynamics described here: how the media police themselves and their peers. Other members of the media, such as the commentator Gareth Cliff and the sports journalist Dan Retief, were also forced to confess and apologise after statements made by them on social media had been perceived as being racist. One television news anchor was disciplined after criticising the English pronunciation of the minister of education on air. The concluding argument is that the two central descriptions enable media researchers to describe the often contradictory and very complex role of the post-apartheid South African media. Despite the diversity of the media in general and the many differences between mainstream members of the post-apartheid South African media, they tended to follow similar patterns in the coverage of alleged racism. This often led to sensationalism, seeing that the coverage often was not presented in context.

Palavras-chave : boundaries; confessional; critical discourse analysis; discipline; Fairclough; Foucault; media; post-apartheid; racism; social media; South Africa; spyfly.

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