10 Nov 2010
Nic Dawes, Editor in Chief of the Mail & Guardian newspaper speaking about how the media reports on the economy in South Africa. Dawes delivered this presentation at a roundtable discussion co-hosted by SACSIS and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung South Africa Office (FES).
Dawes started of by saying that the media is not very good at covering the economy. He conceded that there are indeed deficiencies in how the media treats issues that relate to the lives of the poor and the policies that affect them. He raised the concern about the economy being expressed in a weary, standardised way.
Since 1996, there has also been a dichotomy between the politics of the left and the right.
Dawes reports that one version of the story goes like this: the African National Congress made a break with its progressive socialist history that left the poor worse off than under apartheid with declining social indicators to confirm this. The other version of the same story goes something like this: Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel backed by Thabo Mbeki and the best team of civil servants abandoned the ideological shibboleths of the ruling party and replaced them with pragmatism and basic economics, dramatically reducing government debt and creating the fiscal space for expanded public spending.
This convenient opposition is what characterises and shapes the media’s analysis of South Africa’s political economy.
The media is generally interested in policy and those who promulgate it. For example, when the recent COSATU economic development policy document was released, the M&G got some views from the left and some views from the right and set up an easy oscillation between these ideological poles. The same thing happens at budget time and at the moment the media are doing the same dance around the discussion of the nationalisation of the mines.
The following questions were put to editors that participated in the discussion: Is the economy on the right growth path? What are the prospects for making it more inclusive? How does the media report on the economy? Does the media have a vision for South Africa's economic development?
Other media speakers at the SACSIS/FES event included, Mondli Makhanya (Editor in Chief, Avusa Media/Chairperson, SANEF), Alide Dasnois (Editor, Cape Times) and Reg Rumney (Head of the Centre for Economics Journalism in Africa, Rhodes University).