Source: The Presidency
Title: SA: Mbeki: South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) News International launch
Address delivered by President Thabo Mbeki at South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) News International launch, Monte Casino, Johannesburg
Master of ceremonies
Deputy Minister of Communications, Roy Padayachee
Your excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Chairperson of the SABC Board, Mr Eddie Funde
CEO of Sentech, Dr Mokone-Matabane
Group Chief Executive Officer, Advocate Dali Mpofu
The Group News Executive of the SABC
Staff of the SABC News and Current Affairs and staff of SABC News
Ladies and gentlemen
For far too long we have relied on others to tell us our own stories. For that long we have seemed content to parrot the words and stories of others about us as if they are were the gospel truth.
This is not a lament about some dim and distant past but the contemporary reality facing Africa and all its citizens. As a result of this, most of the time we are unable to tell our own stories; we are afraid to sing our own songs and are thoroughly intimidated to respect our cultures and honour our true heroes and heroines.
We become incapable of articulating our own reality and celebrating our own achievements because we are told that the few setbacks relative to our many successes, should forever define our existence.
Colonial and apartheid legacies abound. A telephone call from Ghana to Nigeria may have to go first to Europe before being rerouted to its destination in the neighbourhood. Often, the news and stories in our publications seem to be following the same colonial routes even if not physically, at least philosophically.
The international broadcast news landscape is not only dominated by a few resource-rich channels, but even when African broadcasters participate in the dissemination of news it is always in the context of stories filed by foreign news agencies, with headquarters in Atlanta, New York, London and other major cities of the powerful nations.
Accordingly, we trust that the new SABC News International will tell the African story in as much depth and contextual detail as possible and physically get around the continent identifying the successes and reverses so as to reflect what is really happening on our continent.
In this way, the work that this channel will produce would also provide a more balanced picture of the reality in all parts of our continent.
I understand that the SABC News International will become the first African 24-hour news channel. This, in itself is a great achievement. The question we should answer is whether this news channel will ensure that Africans tell their story or this will merely be an African conduit of foreign views, stereotypes and prejudices presented as facts.
Will this channel be a tool used to perpetuate the incorrect typecasting of Africa as a continent that is represented by nothing except conflicts, death and everything that is negative? Or, will we see a refreshingly new approach to reporting on Africa, whose greater part is characterised by peace, stability and progress?
We warmly welcome the launch of SABC News International. We do so because it can serve as one of the critical building blocks that should help us to realise the vision of the African Renaissance.
Indeed, the SABC should be our dependable mirror reflecting to us our African actuality and which, through its high quality journalism, news-gathering operations, pursuit of truth and correct contextualisation of events and processes liberate us from those who, for too long, have told half-truths and lies that have served to magnify a negative image of Africa.
I am saying that SABC News International needs to ensure that it is a firsthand witness to events as they unfold, that the stories it runs are not merely event-driven but informed by the context, perspective and memory of the deeper historical background.
All of us know that in the international arena of news reporting the media has not been a neutral arbiter above on-going contestations and struggles. However nuanced and sophisticated the media presents itself, it has proven time and again that it tends to be an active protagonist in the ideological battles over power relations.
The current distribution of resources in the media is representative of the global divide that exists between the developing and developed world with this skewed distribution dictating, in most instances, that the story is told, mainly, from the perspective of the powerful.
Necessarily, large investments required to produce international television news means that this is an area where the impact of those disparities is most acute.
Covering news from across the entire continent, and doing this in a variety of languages as the station proposes, shows once again that the channel will be taking a critically important step towards fulfilling the dream of the African Renaissance.
It promises to be an invaluable tool in reaching all Africans. Accordingly, the poor, the worker, the toiling rural peasant, the intellectual and the business magnate, should all have an interest in the success of the SABC News International.
The SABC has a huge challenge ahead of it. We know of the astonishing lack of knowledge about Africa even among our own people. Even among many of the most worldly elsewhere, Africa is probably the least known and the most misrepresented of the continents.
In most instances, news reporters have created a curiosity out of Africa and its people in the psyche of their readers, viewers and listeners to which they feel obliged to feed the expected images and stories of aberrations and abnormalities.
It is therefore essential that African media practitioners understand and deal with the ways in which Africa has been and continues to be misrepresented to, and imagined in the minds= of, many in the developed countries.
Some entertainment media perpetuates negative images of helpless primitives, backward and irredeemably tribal people happy in their state of nature.
In this regard, we have a duty consistently to wage a relentless struggle for some sense of symmetry in media discourse panning out in global news coverage.
When individuals are continuously fed a type of image or misrepresentation, the results is the congealing of the images to form stereotypes or generalisations.
In turn the recipients, international consumers of news about Africa, develop meta-contexts that frame perceptions about the continent in a vicious cycle that spans generations.
Generalisations and stereotypes, once deeply entrenched in the minds of consumers of news, as is the case currently, invariably create general conditions that spawn explanatory constructs that are used to interpret events or evaluate the behaviours, including the cultural practices of Africans.
The SABC News International can therefore not shy away from the challenge of purposefully confronting stereotypes and misrepresentations of Africa that are popular in the imagination of especially the Western consumers.
We are less than three years away from the biggest soccer event ever to grace African shores, the 2010 Federation International Football Association (Fifa) World Cup competition.
Already, some of the doomsayers, Afro-pessimists, detractors "human beings who cannot fathom anything of this magnitude coming out of the African continent" have told many lies about some scary stories on South Africa's state of preparation and, indeed, our ability to host this historic tournament.
This clearly illustrates the challenge facing SABC News International.
Again, SABC News International should continue to play the role of promoting and entrenching global democracy, accountable governments, a culture of human rights and popular participation in the system of governance.
Let us use our resources to educate and empower ourselves, strengthen our cultures, develop our countries and make information available to millions of our people so that these masses of our people are able to make informed choices about their future.
Let us celebrate our many successes - enduring peace after decades of conflicts in places such as Mozambique, entrenchment of democracy in countries such as Namibia and Ghana, economic successes in Mauritius, Botswana, Tunisia and others. The good stories from Africa are indeed numerous and inspiring.
In his poem, "Stammerings on Bedrock", Ben Okri says:
I have seen lies grow from
Seeds of twisted dreams
They shoot up in ordinary nights
They gorge themselves upon our hunger
We feed ourselves on their poisons
Upon these times smash our lies,
Bare us to our naked highways,
Thundershine lights the fields;
We can reclaim our live
We sincerely hope the SABC News International will light our fields like the thundershine, to enable us to reclaim our lives. I wish the SABC success in this new and exciting venture.
Issued by: The Presidency
21 July 2007