South African Press – Part One

South African news on offer in Woolworth checkout line

When I recently spent the night at the hospital with Jabulani and – sacrilege – didn’t have my Kindle with me (but who brings a Kindle to a soccer match), I broke down and bought a South African newspaper for the first time since living here.

How can you be such a snob, you will say, and spend a year in a country without subscribing to the local newspaper? Well – if you lived here and were privy to scanning the headlines every few days in the checkout line at Woolie’s, you would also turn into a snob. First off, every newspaper looks like a tabloid. I’m sure some of them are more serious than others, but judging by their looks, they’re all equally bad. The headlines typically scream some kind of crime, either something about police corruption or a horrid murder or perhaps a strange and hard-to-believe love turned kidnapping story. Is it any wonder, then, that everyone thinks there is nothing but murder and bloodshed happening here in South Africa, if that’s all you ever read about?

Secondly, there are never any international news.This point was evident when I read the Sunday Times while perched on those plastic chairs at Mulbarton Hospital. I patiently leafed through it (a giant specimen of a newspaper), story by never-ending story about the upcoming municipal elections (they were held, on May 18th, with gains by the Democratic Alliance over the ruling ANC, which is having an increasingly hard time justifying its disappointing service delivery after so many years in power), not finding even a shred of international news 14 pages in. Not even something about another African country. Finally, on page 15, there was one brief article about the bin Laden raid, and that was it.

I did some further research in today’s Star, one of the more reputable local papers, and this is what came up in the “World” section of the online edition:

Not exactly the kind of world news a snob like me who is hooked on the New York Times would be looking for! But I suppose it is like everywhere else: You get the kind of news that sells the best.

I’m not sure why South Africa is so myopic. This is usually something Americans are accused of, but I can assure you, even the smaller market newspapers of the places we have lived, like the Raleigh News & Observer, the Milwaukee Sentinel, and the Kansas City Star have much stronger world news coverage than what you can find here. Is it perhaps the result of being cut off from the world for so long under sanctions against the apartheid government? Or is it simply because there are more than enough domestic problems to report on and complain about?

Whatever the reason, as an expat I have been very slow to embrace the local newspapers. I think their quality leaves something to be desired. It reminds me of our years on Singapore, where the only thing worth reading was the International Herald Tribune because it was the only non-censored newspaper to be had (at a steep price). Newspapers here aren’t censored – yet. But that is a topic for the next part of this series.

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