I received a message from Mhambi yesterday informing me that comments by both of us on the xenophobia currently raging in parts of South Africa featured on BBC News' website. The BBC piece, headlined 'SA bloggers want end to violence', quoted from ten blogs by South Africans. Inside South Africa (Xenophobia - images of shocking hatred) and Mhambi were included in the pool.
South Africa's "bad publicity"
Most people with any knowledge of public relations or journalism will be able to quote the mantra: "There's no such thing as bad publicity". While this is undoubtedly true in most respects, it certainly does not mean that anyone would crave such 'bad publicity'. In this particular case it saddens me that South Africa is, deservedly, getting a lot of bad publicity. While it is vital that the current events, and its underlying causes, get exposed and debated it is also true that it will result in lost investment and economic damage - in short diminished trust in South Africa. Yes, it may be a wake up call for Government and the ANC which may lead to concerted efforts to solve various pressing socio-economic and human rights issues. But should those gains materialise it comes at a cost. How much better would it have been if these issues received priority before this all blew up in our faces?
Article not that good
The second reason for my tempered enthusiasm at being included in the article is quite strange, considering what an impressive news organisation the BBC boasts. To be frank, I didn't find the quality of the particular article that good...
BBC's human angle
But let me rather focus on the good for a moment! I love the fact that the BBC goes to great lengths to get the human angle on stories in addition to their more 'hard-news', removed, 'objective', political and analytic reporting. Their stories very often end with an invite to people affected by a specific news story to relate their own experience of events. In the case of their coverage of the xenophobia incidents the standard invite resulted in a very insightful piece 'S African violence: Your stories'. A dimension of reality is added to a story when someone relates, in first person narrative, how a mob knocked on his door and the frantic scramble to get out of harm's way. It is because I appreciate that kind of angle that I included the aforementioned link in my post that was thereafter featured by the BBC.
BBC's sampling of bloggers' comments
Sampling bloggers' comments is another way to relate a more 'localised' and 'local' angle on a story. The strategy definitely has value. I put the two words in inverted commas because many of the writers are quite far removed from events. The 'local' or 'localised' element to sampling their views lies in their nationality (South African in this case), rather than their location. While nine of the bloggers seem to live in South Africa -it's difficult to be sure- I suspect that none of them has been affected directly by the violence at the time they posted their opinions (one is actually of English nationality, but living in Cape Town - as pointed out in the article). I believe, for instance, that none of them actually saw burning barricades, mobs roaming the streets and so on. That is, all of them provided opinions based on what they saw or read in the media (no different from anyone else). Furthermore labelling their opinions as representing 'local' opinion is obviously dangerous - as a sample of ten is by no means representative. But it is quite clear that they do indeed represent different 'local' schools of thought and as such relating their opinions have value.
Poor selection of blogs?
So where's the 'bad' in all of this? I'm disappointed with the quality of the BBC's selection (read 'the BBC employee's' / 'journalist's '...). Some of the blogs, such as 'Mhambi', 'Reggie' and 'In the news' seem to be of a good to excellent quality. However, a mere casual check of quality should, in my mind, have disqualified more than one of the selected blogs from inclusion in the article. I'm thinking of 'South Africa Sucks' and 'I love South Africa... but I hate my Government'. Both of these blogs feature explicit racism and clearly operate at the level of highly prejudiced propaganda.
I'm all for freedom of speech, in fact I'm passionate about it. But surely, when one seeks comments on developments in a country you look for people who at least represent a somewhat critical analysis of events? None of the ten blogs included in the article where dismissive of the extremely negative turn of events - rightly so. Thus I'm not arguing that the BBC should have looked for bloggers who sing the government's praises. In fact I don't believe any of the included blogs do that. However, the two mentioned blogs interpret virtually anything that happens in the country through thick racist lenses. As such any new development is not analysed or explained on merit and within a complex context. It is simply rolled out as 'evidence' to support a preconceived notion that 'everything is going down the drain in South Africa' because 'they (blacks) can only mess things up'.
To drive my point home, surely the BBC would not include 'The UK Sucks' or 'Keep the UK white' (fictional blog names) when sampling English bloggers' opinions on developments in the UK? Unless they're doing an expose on supremacist groups or the like, that is. At the very least they will probably qualify that these (fictionary) blogs represent an ultra-conservative viewpoint?
While the excerpts from the two blogs pointed out by me on their own don't necessarily relay overtly the racism prevalent on the blogs, they do include questionable statements. For example a quote in the BBC's article, attributed to Doberman on 'I luv South Africa... but I Hate my Government', reads:
"...for allowing millions of foreigners to invade our country illegally, to steal jobs, resources, to commit crime...".
I can't help but think that the mobs who are engaging in the sickening xenophobic violence will love this quote... It smacks of the prejudice that seems to be driving them. Note the use of the words 'invade' (not flee from economic hardship or oppressive governments), 'steal jobs' (sure) and 'commit crime'. Are we to believe that in our overflowing prisons foreigners vastly outnumber South Africans? Get real! I don't think this kind of rubbish should feature on a reputable news service's site, unless meant to illustrate prejudice.
On balance, the misgivings expressed above doesn't change the fact that I'm chuffed at the inclusion of this blog in the BBC's article. I'm thrilled! Hopefully, if in future the BBC is more circumspect about who's ramblings they quote this blog will still make the grade...