Ido lekota

Ido lekota

Following the raging debate around the recent relaunch of the Forum of Black Journalists, the Human Rights Commission yesterday held public hearings to deal with the issue.

The hearings followed a complaint lodged with the HRC by Talk Radio 702 and Highveld Stereo - in which they argued that the FBJ had acted against the spirit and the letter of the country's Constitution when it excluded white journalists from its relaunch.

The blacks-only relaunch had ANC president Jacob Zuma as guest speaker. White journalists who tried to gatecrash the event were driven away. Some black journalists walked out in solidarity with their white colleagues.

In her submission, Talk Radio 702 news editor Katy Katopodis said the Constitution of the country expected all South Africans, including organisations, to conduct themselves in a way that did not discriminate against anyone on the basis of race.

"In essence, what we are saying is that an association such as the FBJ, which limits its membership on a racial basis and excludes persons from any of its activities on a racial basis, has to be able to justify such exclusion since discrimination on the basis of race is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair - (Section 9(5) of the Constitution) ", said Katopodis.

She went on to say that given the history of this country, black journalists could well be facing challenges in the media industry which their white counterparts did not face.

"However, the question which has to be posed is whether only black journalists can advance their cause or whether such cause can be advanced by any journalist who is committed to the achievement of equality."

Katopodis also said by excluding white journalists the FBJ was erroneously suggesting that every black journalist was committed to equality and the advancement of human rights and every white journalist is "by virtue of his or her race alone, opposed to the achievement of such ideals".

In response FBJ steering committee chairman Abbey Makoe said that accusing the organisation of being racist presupossed that its founders had the express intent to oppress members of a different race.

"The mischief behind this charge is calculated to make black people ashamed of taking the step to alter their circumstances and to champion the cause for their own relief on the basis of their common experience," said Makoe.

Makoe also argued that it was disingenuous to argue that because most media organisations now had black editors there were no issues that continue to class black journalists as a group that has been and continues to be victims of racism.

"The desired changes are not limited to job descriptions or ranks that may be similar for black and white journalists within the newsrooms. They extend to the psychological, spiritual and cultural aspects in the reconstitution of their own re- humanisation - a task which cannot be delegated to those outside black experience to lead."

Makoe said the FBJ should be seen as a platform for black journalists to enter the marketplace of ideas on an equal footing "with those that care to solicit a black view without it being subjected to white sanction".

He said the FBJ was for the first time launched in 1997 with the full understanding that it was a black platform not only limited to "an expression of a black view to things but also founded on a firm experience, whose unchanging circumstances places an obligation upon the affected to act in the direction of redress".

He also pointed out that the FBJ made a contribution to build non-racialism in this country when it made a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing on the role of the media in the apartheid era.

"In March 2002, the FBJ made an appearance in an inquiry meant to investigate racism in the media. The FBJ made the submission that led to the SAHRC coming to a finding that there exists subliminal racism in the media," said Makoe.

He said the meeting with Zuma was part of forums previously organised by the FBJ for black journalists to interact with politicians.

Such meetings happened without the fracas that surrounded the relaunch, he said.

"The notion that black journalists can only organise, assemble and associate contingent upon their white counterparts not only smacks of paternalistic arrogance but also undermines the ability to determine their redress options," Makoe said.