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Newspapers must 'inspire reading'

By unknown | Mar 26, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

AS conscientious South Africans commemorated the Sharpeville massacre last Sunday, I found myself pondering the words of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, whose name is synonymous with that eventful day.

AS conscientious South Africans commemorated the Sharpeville massacre last Sunday, I found myself pondering the words of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, whose name is synonymous with that eventful day.

"True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness and above all a consuming love for one's people," Sobukwe said.

Of course, one needs to read books to know that, which is something that, unfortunately, can be daunting to some.

Rose Francis, chief executive of African Perspective Publishing and Matome Seima, publishing editor of Dinkwe Productions, have complained that Avusa newspapers are not doing much to promote reading. This is a serious accusation, considering that newspapers view education as one of their main reasons for being - along with providing information and entertainment.

"You hardly find a book review in your papers, especially reviews of South African literature. There are no book reviews at all in Sunday World. Your newspapers don't even have reviews of books written in South African indigenous languages," Seima said.

Francis took umbrage at Sowetan having discontinued its Tuesday book review section. This, she charges, betrays the newspaper's credentials as "a nation-building newspaper committed to education".

I agree that the newspaper has to rectify this urgently, especially given its constituency, the priority the country has placed on human capital development and the perilous state of black education.

Sowetan editor-in-chief Bongani Keswa said the newspaper was in the process of replacing its discontinued books section with an improved offering.

Sunday World editor Charles Mogale pleaded poverty.

"We would have loved to publish a section on books and many other issues that could be of benefit to our readers. But the economics of our market makes it impossible," he said.

"We had to sacrifice a very popular section of the paper (showbiz) to make way for the Lifestyle section. Showbiz was popularbut if it does not attract advertising support it becomes vulnerable."

Seima's damning accusation does not hold true for other newspapers in the Avusa stable - at least not entirely.

Sunday Times,thanks to its size, has the biggest books section: The Times runs a small weekly review and extracts from newly launched books; the Daily Dispatch reviews books every Saturday in Saturday Dispatch; and The Herald does so in the Friday entertainment supplement - even though its "half-a-tabloid-page-when-space-allows" approach is not satisfactory.

It is by no means perfect. It can, for example, do with more African writers - even if it means reviewing indigenous language books in English. The excuse that it does not get review copies from publishers is feeble. Nothing stops it from buying the books if it really wants to review them.

Acting editor-in-chief of The Herald, Jeremy McCabe, said they regularly used book reviews by South African authors, "including entertaining black authors, but there are also many South African books at the moment of poor quality and we receive more and more of these".

Tymon Smith, books editor of Sunday Times, said most of the book-buying market is adult and speaks English.

The output by early teen groups and in indigenous languages has found little success despite claims to the contrary by especially the ministry of arts and culture.

Smith said the newspaper does more than any other publication to promote local English language fiction and non-fiction through the Sunday Times Literary Awards.

Much as I bemoan the inferior status accorded indigenous languages, I too doubt the appropriateness of burdening English-language newspapers with their development.


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