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Author: Danny Schechter
Title: South Africa Now: filling the void
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: South Africa Now: filling the void
Danny Schechter

Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 3, pp. 6-7, 1992
Author Biography: Danny Schechter is an independent television producer and founder of Globalvision and South Africa Now.

South Africa Now: Filling the Void


An "autobiography" of the independent news program, this account was submitted to passages | the program's executive producer, Danny Schechter, along with an announcement that South Africa Now was closing down.

In the summer of 1986, while covering Jesse Jackson's visit to Southern Africa's Frontline states, on assignment for a well-known prime time TV network news magazine program, I spoke with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe outside his office in Harare, the capital city. I asked about the destabilization campaign that South Africa's neighbors said was costing them billions of dollars and millions of lives.

I asked Mugabe if he would welcome American military help as a way to protect his region from South African attack. His reply was immediate. First, he told me that I was the first American reporter to ask him that question. Second, he immediately took up the idea, explaining that a U.S. arms flow would enable Zimbabwe to divert its scarce resources from military expenditures into badly needed educational and agricultural efforts. Such a U.S. commitment, he said, would serve as a powerful signal to Pretoria. In a crisp response—what we TV people call a good sound bite—he appealed for Washington's help.

After confirming that this was indeed the first time such a statement had been made—and because such scoops are often the adrenaline of news organizations—I called our foreign news desk in New York to find out how I should ship the tape for consideration by our nightly news show. I explained the circumstances, why his statement was newsworthy, and that it had won Jackson's immediate endorsement. The response from New York startled me. The news editor on the other side of the line only had one reaction, a question: "Where is Harare?"

It was clear that not only would I have no sale, but also that the story, and by extension noncrisis news from Africa, was hardly a blip on the network radar screen. I could have been calling from the moon.

When It's Not on TV, It Doesn't Exist

It has become axiomatic that when an issue is not on television in the United States, it doesn't exist for most Americans who rely on TV news for most of their understanding of world issues. And for the most part, on an ongoing, regular basis, news and developments about Africa in general and Southern Africa in particular are not frequently covered. The exceptions are usually moments of high drama or when the video is particularly evocative in the case of the bloated bellies of Ethiopia's famine victims, an ongoing coup of civil war, violence in South Africa's townships, or when a well known personality—say a famous celebrity such as Nelson Mandela—is released from prison.

TV news for the most part is what the people who run TV programs say is news, although they are influenced by what's in the papers or on the wires. Few media critics or area specialists are happy with network news offerings overall, so it is not surprising that so many Africans, and journalists or scholars who follow Africa, are particularly distressed by the quality and quantity of African coverage.

In the case of South Africa, network news coverage has played an important role in bringing the apartheid issue to world attention. There is no doubt that graphic reports of police violence and township responses helped galvanize world opinion against apartheid, and fueled anti-apartheid movements and their demands for sanctions. To stop such images from getting out, the South African government imposed media restrictions between 1985 and 1986 that sought to, and did, limit what the cameras could see and transmit. Their rules were designed to intimidate and to encourage self-censorship. They worked.

A year later, the Canadian government commissioned a quantitative study of the effects of those restrictions and concluded that Pretoria has been "successful in driving images of violence, human rights violations and poverty in South Africa off the television screens of the Western world." The report documented a sharp fall-off in coverage, even though as those TV images decreased, the rate of detentions and human rights abuses inside South Africa increased. Just why the networks were so cooperative with those restrictions, so passive for so long, has become a matter of debate.

Media Appeasement

The argument started when a former senior level CBS producer penned a New York Times op-ed page article calling on the networks, his among them, to unilaterally withdraw from South Africa if they weren't able to do their job. "They've kept us from covering the story because of the fear that by breaking the rules, we'll get thrown out," wrote Richard Cohen. He charged "media appeasement" with apartheid. A congressional committee that deals with African issues took this issue so seriously that it convened hearings, inviting network officials to testify about their news coverage problems. The committee was startled when not one broadcaster agreed to testify. The hearing itself was not even considered newsworthy and no news crews except C-SPAN's were even assigned to cover it. Citing First Amendment freedom of press concerns, the networks would not even cooperate with an official inquiry intended to call attention to South Africa's effort to suppress the flow of news.

In their defense—when any defense has ever been offered—news managers claimed that they must agree to obey the laws in the countries in which they operate or they would not be able to operate at all. In any case, the argument continued, they had to protect their people, and guard against their expulsion. A few went further, explaining the decrease of coverage by claiming that the story in South Africa had changed, and was no longer as vivid. By that they meant that the street fighting—and the pictures it produced—had in TV parlance "gone away." One network foreign news editor told me he thought competitive pressures also dictated a cautious response. Everyone wanted to make sure they were there when a "big one," a story such as Mandela's release, broke. So for nearly two years, TV stories from South Africa were few and far between. And that is not simply because there were no stories to shoot, or that material could not be shot or acquired from many free-lance crews. In this period, many reports were shot, only to be put "on the shelf" rather than on the air in New York.

While it is true that major events were happening elsewhere in the world at this time—in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union for example—and that the traditional twenty-two minute newscast can't cover everything, it is also true, to quote a MacNeil/Lehrer report, that the networks were "tip-toeing around." They did not challenge a system of state-imposed media censorship of the type which would later be taken up by governments in Israel and China. Not one American TV correspondent was expelled from South Africa in this period.

Was racism a factor? Some critics thought so, charging that mostly American news coverage remains Eurocentric and that overwhelmingly white news organizations were not, at bottom, committed to covering a black freedom struggle. Kenneth Walker, former Nightline correspondent, one of the few black reporters ever assigned to that show, and to report from South Africa, told a TV interviewer that the reason for diminished coverage was that "news decisions in this country are made by about ten white guys who live within a twenty-five mile radius of Manhattan." Walker called the lack of coverage a "failure of nerve and a failure of will," even claiming that Nightline only went to South Africa for its first series of week-long programs in response to pressure from black staffers at the network.

Other media critics have contended that poor coverage of blacks in South Africa is not surprising in light of the "benign neglect" of black community issues in America. There is no question that America's newsrooms tend to be racially homogenous with few blacks in decision-making positions. Some who are, such as Les Payne, the managing editor of Newsday, have committed their newspapers to enhanced coverage of South Africa. TV Anchor Charlayne Hunter-Gault has done the same at PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour. Many individual journalists—black and white—are committed to the story. There seem to be far fewer broadcast institutions that are.

Constructive Engagement

Another factor which may be more central is political, rather than racial. Network news tends to march in lockstep with U.S. government policy, often sharing its worldview and Cold-War biases. The Reagan administration considered South Africa an ally, and practiced a policy of constructive engagement. Network news programs never dissented sharply from that view, for example, by looking at our South Africa policy as skeptically as they come to see America's Vietnam policy in the latter years of the war.

The opposition movements there, especially the African National Congress (ANC), were not taken terribly seriously in those years either. They were frequently tainted in our media the same way they were tainted in South Africa's pro-government white press as Communists, frequently labelled "Moscow-backed" without much background offered about their histories or political goals. Liberation movements in other parts of the Third World received similar treatment although dissident movements in Eastern Europe and the Soviet block were usually treated much more sympathetically. Perhaps that is because network news programs, like the U.S. government, have always been more focussed on East-West issues than North-South concerns.

Overall, most TV news editors cannot be accused of having too much intimate knowledge or interest in African liberation movements. When a story is perceived of as only of limited interest by those at the top of a news organization, it is given only limited coverage by the rank and file.

It is possible that network news managements would disagree with my assertions. They would probably point with pride to their coverage of Nelson Mandela's release from prison. And it is true that the three networks and CNN sent a small media army to South Africa to chronicle that event. Yet the monthly Tyndall Report, a trade publication that surveys TV news coverage, noted in the aftermath of that coverage in March 1990: "South Africa received 176 minutes of coverage in one month. The total for the previous 30 months (August 1987 to January 1990) was 412 minutes. Thus this month's coverage was higher than the annual coverage of South Africa (165 minutes) over the last two and a half years." In the period before Mandela's release, South Africa ranked 27th—next to last—on the Tyndall list of major news stories being covered on television.

The undeniable bottom line is that South Africa coverage levels are episodic and inadequate and, even when they aren't on such stories as the Mandela release, the levels of analysis and background contextual reporting is usually very weak. There have been some exceptions—and exceptional programs—including some hosted by Ted Koppel who cannot be accused of just parachuting over, in the manner of so many network superstars. What Ted Koppel had going for him was more extensive air time and virtually unlimited budget.

Enter South Africa Now

It is against this background, in April 1988, that former CBS reporter Rory O'Connor and myself started the weekly television news magazine called South Africa Now. We believed from our own experience that the networks respond more to competition than to criticism. We wanted to demonstrate that the story of upheavals in the region, and the aspirations of the people who live there, could be told weekly on American television, despite the censorship there and indifference here.

We recognized early that we would only have a running chance of defeating the censors by working with black journalists and video teams who were already in place in South Africa and looking for TV outlets overseas. Collaboration became our watchword—and training South African blacks in TV journalism part of our mission. Our staff now is multiracial, multicultural, and multinational, a mix of seasoned broadcast journalists and novices. We believe that the people closest to the news on the ground are in the best position to explain what is going on. Since Southern Africans are most committed to getting their news out, we have been seeking to equip them with the tools and skills to tell their own story. South Africa Now is a TV vehicle for Africans to report an African story, and for Americans to see and hear African voices.

Multiplier Effect

We hoped that South Africa Now's existence—and what publicity we could attract to promote it—would have a multiplier effect, keeping the issue of the suppression of news from the region in the public eye. We want to prod the networks to improve and increase their coverage by example. We were and are very aggressive in this respect and have been accused of being "guerrilla journalists" and advocates as a result.

We were able to start South Africa Now with a small grant from the United Nations. Most charitable foundations or corporate sponsors would not touch us initially, arguing that if the networks with their vast budgets—$1 billion dollars per annum—could not provide coverage, why did we think that our small company, Globalvision, could? They were skeptical and not without good reason.

So we had to get on the air first, to prove that it could be done. Then, we could refine our product as we went along. Globalvision has, as its credo, the view that regular on-going programs—weekly series, not occasional documentaries—are what's needed to reach and build an audience for the information that Americans are not getting elsewhere. We started transmitting the show on one satellite network, and soon found our way onto leading PBS stations. We had hoped that once we proved we could produce a quality program, other funding could be found. Fortunately that's what happened. Unfortunately, the funding has been at a subsistence level.

Where South Africa Now Is Seen

As of September 1990, South Africa Now had been on the air for two and a half years, adding new stations in the United States and overseas during each thirteen week season. At this writing the show is seen on leading public television stations nationwide, in the Caribbean, Japan and Southern Africa. Having the program seen in the region we cover has been very important in the sense that people who are making the news we are covering can now see and react to our work. We also contribute weekly segments to CNN's World Report sent by satellite to eighty-two countries.

Our budget went from $200 a week to a $15,000 cash outlay with many in-kind services provided by friendly PBS stations. To put this in perspective, our annual budget for fifty-two shows approximates the amount spent each week for network news magazines such as 60 Minutes, Prime Time Live, and 20/20. We were forced to rely on foundation grants to pay for the show, which we produce on a nonprofit basis, in association with the Africa Fund. Unhappily, we could find no corporations to sponsor or underwrite the show. One programmer at a PBS station in Dallas was quoted as saying that South Africa Now is considered "not corporate friendly." The lack of corporate interest in the show is no doubt linked to the fact that so many corporations have been on the firing line for their business dealings in South Africa.

Form and Content

We were concerned with what we would put on the air as with winning air time. We started with a determination to provide stories that were not covered. We also wanted to forge a style of presentation that might make the program more accessible to ordinary viewers. We wanted the program to be unique in both its form and content.

In form, we opted for a high energy presentation with many quick stories, flashy graphics, and grabby features. We decided on a magazine format with a diverse mix of elements rather than a talk show loaded down with experts. The idea was always to reach out to a large mass audience and not just talk to the small circle of the initiated. We did not want to become the TV show of the African Studies Association!

Our program mix was consciously designed to include news, background reports, and cultural segments. Because culture often leads politics in Southern Africa and is certainly an arena for the expression of ideas, values, and aspirations, we gave it a priority. Unlike traditional news shows that deal with culture as a second thought—in cutesy "kicker" stories at the end of the newscast or with "What's Hot" segments—we devoted a third of the program to substantive reports on musicians, film, theatre, and the arts. Many of these reports are lively and entertaining, produced to please the ordinary viewer.

We had serious internal debates over how to cover the news. That has been a major challenge. We wanted our news section to focus on the news of the black majority, not the white minority. So when the networks featured reports on the white elections, we focused on the black voter boycott and explained their unrepresentative character. When some reporters feted President de Klerk as the "Gorbachev of South Africa," we looked analytically at his record and at the limited nature of his reform vision. We emphasized the role that the mass democratic movements and their defiance campaigns played in pushing the government to that road of reform. Unlike the network cameramen that tend to shoot from behind police lines, we wanted our images to come from within the movements for change, looking the other way.

On one occasion we were able to compete head-on with network efforts. That occurred when we produced a prime-time special on PBS for Mandela's release that aired nationwide on February 11, 1990, the day of his walk to freedom. For that occasion, we had a professional budget and satellite access. So our show carried all the news the networks had but with a distinctly different frame. Our coverage of Mandela's release, for example, stressed two points conspicuously absent in most network coverage. First, that Mandela himself initiated the negotiations that resulted in his freedom, and, second, that he did so from behind bars. Later we reported on how he ended up in prison in the first place—a rather important dimension of the story the networks ignored—we spotlighted the role played by the CIA in tipping off the South African police about his whereabouts.

In our reporting, we also try to be careful about our use of language. We avoid such phrases as "black-on-black violence." The stories on this subject usually miss the political, as opposed to the racial or tribal, character of local conflicts. Violence against black township officials or fighting between activists of the ANC/United Democratic Front and the Inkatha movement led by chief Gatsha Buthelezi stem from ideological differences that must be explained. The role of the South African police and army in this conflict has been central, although you wouldn't know it from most TV reporting.

Getting the Story Right

We have tried to get the story right rather than have it first. We want to explain how and why events occur, and to look at the forces behind the scenes. To do that, we have investigative reporters looking into many controversial stories including South Africa's nuclear weapons program, its chemical and biological research, military efforts, sanction busters, and the like. Weekly, we seek out analysis and background from leading experts, analysts, and activists. We have always tried to get the broadest range of viewpoints as well, including that of the South African government. But its officials have refused to cooperate, denying us interviews, comments, and even access to the country by turning down, without explanation, our requests for visas.

Perhaps they hoped that we would go away once we were spurned or that public television stations would not carry the show because of alleged lack of balance. Thanks to our association with CNN, as a contributor to a program to which South African Broadcasting also contributes, we were able to use their material and so ensure that government viewpoints are represented on South Africa Now.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

The South African Government has done more than show us its displeasure. They actually attempted to compete with us by covertly subsidizing their own show, cloned after ours but riddled with government propaganda. Called Inside South Africa, it too was formatted as a half-hour news magazine with a black host. The show drew on a wide range of reports from government-controlled television and was produced by a company called Global News, which is headed up by a former SABC executive.

Despite the similarity of the names of the two producing companies, Global News and Globalvision, the shows were completely different. For one thing, Inside South Africa had a big budget for post-production, special effects, and satellite transmission. When South Africa Now exposed this look-alike competitor, and tipped off a South African newspaper which confirmed that it was being covertly subsidized with government funds, it soon became less visible. Perhaps it was unable to find a broadcast outlet in the U.S. I guess we should be pleased about this attempt: imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery.

South Africa Now has constantly sought to explain the character of apartheid itself since it is not understood by the American press and American TV viewers. Our reports tend to explain apartheid as more than a system of legalized racial domination; we view it as a framework for economic exploitation and ethnic division and manipulation. We believe that apartheid needs to be reported as a labor system as well as a tool for preserving racial privilege. Issues of class need to be covered as thoroughly as questions of race. We believe that the economic impact of apartheid—vast disparities between white wealth and black poverty—is as cruel as its racially discriminatory effects. South Africa Now seeks to give its viewers an insider's view of the struggle for majority rule and economic transformation, not just for civil rights under the current system. Our reporting reflects that understanding. South Africa Now carries a "Labor Watch" segment because trade unions are often at the center of the fight for economic justice. It is important to cover their demands and the highly concentrated economic institutions they are up against. That means also covering the international dimensions of the issue, the role transnational corporations play in propping up apartheid and the impact of sanctions. In an increasingly global economy, you cannot cover South Africa without also covering the countries that trade with South Africa. Thus, we have run many stories about how Pretoria has worked to evade sanctions, and the support they've received from Israeli arms dealers, Arab oil suppliers, and the country's own monopoly corporations such as Anglo-American and DeBeers. You can't cover apartheid without looking at its economic underpinnings.

From our first programs, we have decided also that our focus would be regional because apartheid policies have impacted on all South Africa's neighbors in such a devastating manner. As a result we frequently feature reports from and about the Frontline states. We have carried reports from Angola television and an excerpt from a Cuban film about the battle in Southern Angola at Cuito Carnivale that may have been the decisive factor in ending South African intervention and assuring Namibian independence.

At a time when no other regular reports were being aired on Namibia, we started a "Namibia Watch" segment hosted by Joseph Diescho, a black Namibian scholar; this segment ran every week from the implementation of UN Resolution 435 to that country's independence, which we covered on the spot. One of our Namibia stories aired charges of a massacre of SWAPO combatants by South African trained forces. It was given page one treatment in the South African press and led to a denunciation of the show by that country's defense minister in Parliament, a sign that we were being taken very seriously indeed. Diescho now hosts a weekly "Frontline Focus" segment reporting on events in Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe as well as Namibia. In 1990, we established a Zimbabwe bureau.

Finally, we also critique news coverage itself through a regular "Covering the Coverage" segment. Since filling the void in coverage is our goal, we often cover gaps, omissions, distortions, and disinformation in other media as a regular part of our program. This type of reporting is also unique on television where there is very little direct media criticism by one network of another.

Evaluating Our Impact

How can we evaluate our work? What have we achieved, and what do we hope to achieve? For starters, we have won recognition in our industry. An Emmy Award. A Gold Medal from a New York video festival. And a citation of "Excellence in Television" from Channels magazine. We have been proud of the kind endorsements we have received from journalists we respect in South Africa and overseas, from Allister Sparks to Bill Moyers, Gwen Lister to Anthony Lewis, Les Payne to Peter Magubane.

We have been called "indispensable" by the Village Voice, praised for "filling the void" by Time, called "hip and stunning television" by Vanity Fair, endorsed by Oprah Winfrey and featured on MTV and the "Today Show". Television writers around the country have sung our praises, too, from The Detroit Free Press ("puts the networks to shame") to The Los Angeles Times ("remarkable") to publications in Europe and Africa.

The point of citing this favorable attention is not just to pat ourselves on the back; it shows that TV programs about Africa do not have to be marginalized or ignored. They can become popular and respected. For years PBS stations have run expensively produced nature shows about Africa and specials on African animals. They have been big ratings boosters. Now we must do the same for the African people!

We are very mindful of our limits, problems, and shortcomings. Our staff is young and largely inexperienced. (Our salaries are probably the lowest in television, and not by choice!) Our reporters can be rhetorical or rely on too much file footage. Our lack of access to satellites makes electronic news gathering slower than it could be, making it hard to always be as timely as we want to be. It is sometimes tough also to transcend charges of bias, a frequent contention of the South African government which would prefer we didn't exist. Organizational rivalries also impact on us. For example, PAC members say we are too ANC-orientated, and ANC people hate it when we cover the PAC.

Perhaps the most public controversy around our work followed the program's cancellation by the Los Angeles public television station in October 1990 on the grounds that we lacked balance. The Los Angeles Times revealed that for some time, without our knowledge, South Africa Now had become the target of a campaign to drive it off the airwaves by a conservative media advocacy group, the Committee on Media Integrity. The group's chairman, writer David Horowitz, publicly claimed the station's decision as his own victory. The Los Angeles Times explained that he had "met with station executives a half dozen times and conducted a year-long letter writing campaign." His charge: South Africa Now represents "hard-line Marxist propaganda posing as news."

Many of the program's viewers rejected this characterization. While the station denied that it had been pressured, more than a thousand viewers flooded the station with calls and letters. Organizations threatened to picket the TV station and launch a boycott. City council members and congressional representatives spoke out on the program's behalf, so did two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists. Los Angeles Times television critic, Howard Rosenberg, praised South Africa Now coverage, calling the cancellation decision "bone-head[ed]" and publicly wondering if it represented the "intellectual sterilization of PBS." Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribune called South Africa Now "one of the most enlightening programs on television" and called the cancellation part of an "ominous trend." "President de Klerk's happy and soothing diplomacy," he wrote, "may be accomplishing what his government's onerous State of Emergency failed to do: silence important news and criticism of the South African government while the battle to end apartheid continues to rage. As a loyal viewer of South Africa Now, I think the bias excuse is bogus."

The Los Angeles station reconsidered after a barrage of pressure that the station's manager called a firestorm." But more insidious than right-wing attacks or decisions by conservative programmers was a larger problem, a growing view among many PBS stations that the show was no longer needed because the situation in South Africa was changing and that news was more accessible. The Boston PBS station took that view, canceling the program because it had "outlived its usefulness." "Conventional media are covering the story in depth now," contended Broadcasting Director Dan Everett. Researchers from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting responded with statistics to show that this "conventional wisdom" is way off base. Looking at the period between July 1 and October 15, 1990, they noted that the three network news programs devoted no more than 13 minutes per week to South Africa. In the first two weeks of October 1990, when the station's decision to cancel South Africa Now was being made, NBC ran one three-minute report on white South Africans, ABC had a twenty-second anchor mention of a change of law, and CBS aired nothing.

The trend seemed clear: whatever beachhead South Africa Now had established for coverage of African news was being eroded. The news business, on commercial and public channels, was once again limiting coverage. The deeper reasons were discussed by some of the country's top journalists who met at Harvard in May 1990 under the auspices of the Nieman Foundation in Journalism to bemoan the paucity of news coverage about the continent. Anthony Lewis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist who frequently writes about South Africa, explained the problem this way: "We have a short attention span. This is the age of ten-minute fame and the nine-second soundbite. After a week or two, Mandela dropped down to small type and left the screen, and with him Africa went out of American consciousness. As it happens, South Africa is only at the beginning of a profoundly important story, what could be a transforming process."

Some corporate executives have complained about our reports on divestment campaigns and one accused us of not adequately covering Chief Buthelezi. (He finally helped us get an interview with the Inkatha leader after we assured him that we wanted his perspective on the air.) Like other news organizations, we have had our share of gaffes and inaccuracies. You certainly can't please everyone and, as someone who has known the benefits of professional network production budgets, I'm not pleased by the quality of some of our footage. I've had to lower my expectations as well as the production budget.

Changing Television

South Africa Now has not achieved all of its goals, but it has gotten its message across. Although we know we haven't changed television, we would like to think that we haven't left it the same either. Hopefully the show's approach, its fusion of information and culture, and some of our experience in low cost production, will find its way into a democratic South Africa where the program's style, sensibility, and attitude could become one model for new television programs there.

The battle for more TV coverage of Africa here will be a long one despite the fact that millions of Americans turned out to welcome Nelson Mandela during his American tour, demonstrating their interest in the issue. If anything should have convinced the media gatekeepers that millions do care, that massive response in city after city should have done the trick. A survey by the Times Media Company at the time of Mandela's release indicated there was more interest in that story than the uprisings underway in Lithuania. Not all American news executives got that message, even after coverage of the Mandela events proved ratings blockbusters for local TV stations that went live to Mandela events.

A month after the trip, on August 8, 1990, The Wall Street Journal reported that the executive producer of NBC Nightly News had decided to ax a story filed by their South Africa correspondent on apartheid and its effect on the education of South African children, "insisting that viewers were becoming bored with the South African story." The segment, which was two minutes long and therefore considered practically documentary length, was screened for staffers who were reportedly enthusiastic about it and thought it should run. The executive producer said he would broadcast it only if they could "prove it was a piece that would interest a housewife in Queens."

Fortunately, one of the staffers had a mother in Queens who was actually invited to screen the story without being told quite why. Incredibly, when Mrs. Sonia Perez of Astoria, Queens said she liked it, NBC ran it. This episode is one more sign that the audience is more open to watching news from South Africa than media guardians are willing to provide it.

What Is To Be Done?

The challenge to American television is to respond to the interest that is there, and not to abdicate its responsibility to better inform Americans about the world we live in. The challenge to those who care deeply about Africa is to find ways to improve media coverage of Africa, especially on television, and to find ways to change the situation.

So what can be done? If you agree that the television media is too important to be left to its own devices, then there are efforts to be made by viewers and producers alike. For one thing, individuals and organizations can monitor TV news coverage to pinpoint inaccuracies or misinformation. Letters to the editor can be written and individual journalists can be approached with suggestions and criticisms. Organized efforts can be made to meet with network executives; letters can be sent to correspondents at African news bureaus. (None of the big three networks have African bureaus outside of Johannesburg!) Writing more about media issues, in the spirit of the essays in this book, can be useful in raising public awareness about media deficiencies.

And "if you don't like the news," to quote the legendary San Francisco radio broadcaster, Scoop Nisker, "you can always go out and make some of your own." South Africa Now is doing just that.

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