Thursday, May 22, 2008

BBC News (online) exposure for this blog - the good & 'the bad'

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.

For a list of all the blogs, and links to all of them, go to the article and you'll find it under the heading 'Related links' in the right-hand menu (you'll need to scroll down a bit).

I'm delighted! However, this elation is somewhat tempered and needs some qualification.

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...


Wessel said...

Mike, nice post, but I think you need to relax.

Have you tried blik yet?

Anonymous said...

The BBC News site seems to follow - sometimes slavishly - a principle of representing contrasting opinions. Certainly in the science and technology articles, you'll often find a quote at the end from some 'expert' trashing the main theme or at least expressing caution.

I think the two blogs you mentioned were probably included for this reason ... and 'Keep the UK White' would very likely be included in a similar article on the UK!

ZeroTolerance said...

It's not a preconceived notion, South Africa really does suck and every is going down the tubes, it's true, blacks can only mess things up. The evidence is all around us. The ANC government is, through the eyes of the world a joke, there's nothing you or I can say or do to hide or change that, sorry to say it but thats a reality. Its very sad, but unfortunately true. I advise you spend some time on blogs such as 'South Africa Sucks' and 'I Love South Africa'. You will find a world of information that will enlighten you on the facts about the 'new' South Africa and the true horror of the "rainbow nation" under the repressive, Marxist, socialist, black-nationalist, racist regime that is the ANC.

CaN-d-AcE said...

I would say 5 million foreigners constitutes an invasion.....
And how else would you like to interpret 'stealing jobs' - it's obvious either they are 'stealing jobs' or they are 'stealing', how else are they surviving? 2 + 2 = ?

Sherrin said...

Thanks for your posts about South Africa. I came to your blog via BBC, and agree that some of the blogs they gave exposure seem like unfortunate choices. I am Australian but last year I married a white South African, who moved here to do a PhD, and we are currently living in Tasmania (Australia). I have become much more interested in and gripped by the state of South Africa than I ever expected to be. I'm sad that these incidents will only reinforce the perceptions here of South Africa "as-fear-and-violence", which I wrote about in this post on my blog recently.

Mike said...

A all-in-one response to some of the comments left lately...


I admit I'm a little serious! I try to smile now and then though... No, I haven't tried blik yet. Had a quick look at it and will consider it. I tried to subscribe to the feed reader (for blik) but just couldn't figure it out. I've bookmarked the site and will return there in future. I read Andries' column on the funeral in 'Lebowa'. Had a similar (non-funeral) experience when I visited our domestic help's house in Bosbokrand some years ago and agree very strongly with Andries' sentements expressed in his column (both in experience and conclusion).

Thanks for the blik link - will follow up.

I've deleted your comment because I think the particular site sucks :-)

Interesting comment, thanks for that. I agree strongly that different views should be reported in news stories. I'm just not convinced that adding those kind of 'fringe' views really achieve anything.

Another thing, why not post a bit more on that Wordpress blog of yours? I've been a bit slow myself (see my 'archive'), but after I've picked up pace this year (more posts) I find I enjoy it a lot. Go for it!

Thanks Zero. I think your comment basically sums up what I will get to 'learn' on those two blogs. The post headings will differ from day to day, but they're all basically hooks on which to hang the message you're pitching.

Once again, I believe strong criticism, where it is due, is very important in any democracy. Calling a spade a spade is the way to go. That is corruption, crime, mismanagement, nepotism, etc. should be condemned and put under the spotlight - irrespective of who perpetrates it. My problem is with the racial 'sauce' that's poured over everything in the two blogs in question.

Lastly, if you've made up your mind that South Africa is a basket case, why bother any further? Move where-ever you believe Utopia to be and forget about the country. Why waste your time any further? I suspect you're answer will be that alerting the rest of the world to this (as if they do not yet know about our problems & challenges) may cause international forces to press for change. That's all good and well, but if what you're hoping for (as by implication the two blogs under discussion do) for a white supremicts state all I can say is dream on.

"I would say 5 million foreigners constitutes an invasion....."

I'm not disputing the fact that the number of (mostly illegal) immigrants in our country is huge - even if no one is sure exactly what the figure is. My problem is with calling it an invasion. If an army, a 100th the size of your proposed 5 million, crossed our border that would constitute an invasion. Accusing such an army of wishing to take over the country, plunder our resources and so forth would be justified. But immigrants mostly flood into our country for different reasons - very similar to the reasons causing the huge 'foreign' migration into Europe. These reasons include economic hardships at home, dictatorial regimes, persecution, etc. Such people are not invaders, they're migrants or refugees. There's a huge difference.

"And how else would you like to interpret 'stealing jobs' - it's obvious either they are 'stealing jobs' or they are 'stealing', how else are they surviving? 2 + 2 = ?"

mmm... Obviously there will be criminals amongst the immigrants, as is the case in our population in general. Yes poverty doesn't help. That I don't deny - but you're grossly stereotyping. Furthermore no one steals a job. You either apply successfully for a job or you create one through entrepreneurship. It's clear that many of the victims of xenophobia fall into the 2nd category. You keep your job by being productive and trustworthy. Good for you. This off-course doesn't justify employers ripping off immigrants by underpaying them - but I suspect that's not really an issue for you. It's not like you wake up one morning and find, 'oops, someone's stolen my job'...

Thanks for the comment Sherrin. How lucky you are being married to a South African! Do you manage to watch rugby and cricket together in good spirits?! :-)

I had a quick look at your blog and enjoyed it. I share your faith although I do have a lot of hangups with fellow Christians. I'm contemplating starting a blog grappling with those matters, but I'm not convinced that I can do so in a constructive manner. Very briefly I experience a lot of my fellow christians as being completely out of touch with everyone else (non-christians) and being very good at preaching love but (intentionally or unintentionally) judging non-christians in their daily lives. It's like saying 'I love you, but by the way nothing you do has any value as you're going to hell anyway...'. I fail to see the love in that.

I'm not accusing you of this, as I don't know you. In addition a christian friend recently warned me not to write off christians in the same way I accuse them of doing to other people - there's some merit in that. I do very strongly support your focus on love though. I believe christians will get much further focussing on the 'fruit of the spirit'* - i.e. positive values such as trustworthiness, love, peace, tolerance, hope, joy, etc. - than by judging others. How do you love fellow human beings if you can't appreciate what they have to offer, but simply write them off as being unconverted and there not being any 'eternal value' to their actions? Ooohhh, if I get started on this I can continue for a very loooong time :-).

Bottom line is I think that love, such as expressed in 1 Corinthians 13*, is the way to go.

Enjoy life down-under sister!

* = I'm Afrikaans speaking and in translating my local language my christian terminology / bible book names may be slightly incorrect!

Sherrin said...

I agree, I am very lucky! We hardly watch TV, and so it is not much of a problem :). I'd probably decide to go for SA!!!

Thanks for your comments about my blog, and for the link you sent me to your fiend's blog. I like it very much.

If you met me you would quickly note that I have a lot to learn about loving others and loving God. My blog topic is as much a challenge to me to stay focus as it is to anyone else! I think I particularly fall short with loving other Christians . . . and since I have few non-Christian friends, that is a shortcoming as well.

You are right that many things that non-Christians do have value. However, I think a case can also be made that it is loving to let someone know that unless they repent they will face judgement and all their works will be shown to be worthless. In some cases, if someone does not know the gospel, this is the most loving thing that can possibly be said to them. The greatest need of every person is eternal life. That being said, we also need to appreciate people simply as human beings and to value the things they do that are good.

Your blog seems to implicitly acknowledge the fact that sometimes it is loving to "judge" between right and wrong, corruption and honesty, exploitation and empowerment . . . and I'm just making a case that it can also be loving to judge that someone is in need of the gospel.

I like the way you respond to the comments you've got . . . I just received a comment from zero tolerance as well, accompanied by a number of racist links, which I'm considering how to respond to . . . an item for another day, perhaps!