Globalized media betray democracy in developing world
Boesak comments on the effects of tabloid content in South Africa
The transnational mainstream media no longer serve the interests of democracy and instead protect an unjust status quo, said South African journalist Elna Boesak in her impassioned presentation to The Media Project's Media & Religion conference in Johannesburg.
Boesak, a 25-year veteran of TV news and documentaries, sees this as a major setback in the long-term struggle for human liberty, a struggle that goes far beyond just the right to vote in an election. She says that in post-Apartheid South Africa, the struggle for economic equality must remain an urgent journalistic priority for the media and for Christians working in media.
"The liberation of the media, as was the liberation of the nation, particularly the broadcast media, has been partial, haphazard and evolutionary rather than revolutionary," Boesak said.
The end of Apartheid in 1993 brought political progress to South Africa, and rights of citizenship were extended to all races. It remains one of the highest-income countries on the African continent and enjoys a free press. But South Africa is still a very unequal society, where wealth is distributed along racial lines.
Boesak roots her ideas about democracy, media and equality in Liberation Theology, which holds that God and the Bible demonstrate a preference for the poor. If God has a special concern for the poor, then media should do the same, Boesak argued. The Church's job is then to hold the media accountable in this freedom fight.
"When I say 'liberation struggle,' let's not get all up in arms and think we need to put on our army gear and buy guns," said Boesak. "As the Church, we are in a liberation struggle for the kingdom of God in this world." Apartheid birthed a "lost generation" of media deprived of its right to inform and educate the South African people, she said.
Journalists of this era could not serve democracy since governmental controls reduced journalists to justifiers of the regime. And while South Africa's government no longer represses the news, she says that South African media still fall short.
"For me studying the context in which South African media operates today, fifteen years later, is like looking into a two-way mirror," Boesak stated. "And in many ways it stirs up a deep sense of deja vu."
"We have won the battle on media-freedom legislation, but we are losing the war on democratic transformation within the media."