Television Access: Intersection of Race, Class and Politics: 2


…….that advertisers are not willing to buy a time-slot shortly before or after the transmission of “Playing Circle4” which is meant for low-income groups. This suggestion was in no way different from that provided by a television agent in 1954 (quoted in Todd Gitlin, 1987), explaining his station’s rejection of materials submitted by a scriptwriter: “We know of no advertiser of any importance in this country who would knowingly allow the products they are trying to sell to the public to be associated with the squalor and general down character of this play. The American consuming public is middle class, not lower class; happy in general, not miserable and frustrated…” (P. 521). Given the theoretical assumptions revisited in this section and the practical historical experience of Namibia documented in the previous chapters, one would not expect the poor, illiterate and rural residents to have television. When the content analysis data rank the respective social groups according to television appearance, the rank-list of the first 14 social groups consists of the following categories: TABLE 28 Rank-list of sources frequently used on NBC television Social group Frequency Rank-listing of use Ministers 42 1 Communal farmers 20 2 President Nujoma 16 3 Diplomats 15 4 Ordinary city residents 15 4 Trade unionists 13 5 Members of Parliament 12 6 Police officers 11 7 Student/youth 9 8 Vendors 8 9 Lawyers/judges 8 9 Business executives 8 9 NGOs 8 9 Regional governors 8 9 On the surface, it appears as if trade unionists, ordinary city residents and rural sources have a fair share of access, contrary to the main conclusions derived from the review of literature. Nevertheless, even if low-income groups appear to have access to television in Namibia, another post-hoc finding indicates that NBC reporters use differential newsgathering techniques for low and high-income sources. While they prefer formal interview settings for high-income sources, they mostly apply vox pop for interviewing low-income sources. For example, high-income sources are interviewed exclusively in the formal settings of their offices and conference halls, while low-income groups such as union leaders are interviewed in the streets during protests. For example, regional councilors, municipality officials, welfare officers and public safety officials in programs like Channel One and Public Eye are normally interviewed in the formal settings of their offices, while vendors and unemployed are “surveyed” on street-corners. Some of the sources are therefore given more time to prepare and appear more eloquently in front of the camera than others. Following here are some of the scenes in which the vox-pop interviewing style was used: The hungry-looking faces of the unemployed waiting for a prospective employer at the street-corners of Windhoek (Channel One); The ravaged rural faces of vendors on a rural market in Rundu swatting the flies from a carcass of meat for sale (Channel One); The tortured face of a child screaming in pain while being circumcised on camera which the reporter said was to expose this ugly practice (“NBC TV News”); A group of angry unionists swearing at management in front of a mining pit (Public Eye); A group of rural women dancing to welcome an official of a relief agency who traveled to Rundu to open a new market for vendors (Channel One); A happy polygamist proudly counting his wives and children in support of the outdated practice in the Caprivi (Channel One); A group of “street-children” eating from a hub of garbage in Rundu (Channel One). All these captions suggest that social class sometimes influences the newsgathering format adopted by the television reporters in Namibia. Although low-income groups appear frequently on Namibian television, they are captured in an informal way, which reduces the significance of their messages on television. This ad-hoc finding supports Sonia Livingstone’s claim that ordinary people are brought face-to-face with the experts in the media but only as part of the “managed show” to create the illusion of equal access (ibid.). This only reinforces a false impression that the poor and the rich are “joint authors” of the communication text. In Namibia, the relationship between the ruling party and the labor movement has greatly benefited the ruling class. Unlike in many African countries where trade unions are denied television coverage, the ruling class does not feel threatened by the increasing amount of access given to trade unionists on national television. The historical evolvement of the ruling party out of the labor movement (Gibson, 1978) has helped the SWAPO government to retain its support base among trade unionists in the post-apartheid era. Trade unionists have prematurely compromised the class character of their struggle in the hope of safeguarding a historical alliance with the ruling party that has only become a liability against activism. For example, the context in which the Namibian trade unionists appear on television is that in which their anger (frustration) is never directed against state bureaucracy, but mainly at the racism experienced by workers in the private sector. The physical location of the NBC television station away from the low income townships and away from the route designated for public transport has access-related implications for the poor. Again, this is an important ad-hoc finding that needs further research attention. However, its implication to the discussion of the relationship between television access and social class is evident. The physical distance has an impact on the relationship between the majority of the people in the black townships and television reporters. In fact, several white reporters on the NBC refuse to visit Katutura because apartheid has conditioned them to avoid contact with blacks. The cultural wall that exists between local white reporters and the indigenous people of Namibia will take years of serious efforts to redress before it is dismantled. The fact that black and white television reporters who are employed by the same institution continue to live in a separate world of color speaks volumes about the white-and-black social relationships in Namibia. The Warehouse (a nightclub in the city) is one rare spot where white and black NBC reporters often go for a live band. Even then, one hardly sees them mingling, talking, or taking the dance floor together. Apartheid has seriously divided Namibians and the policy of national reconciliation is too abstract to effect the needed change of hearts, even among professionals. Part of the tension at the corporation was caused by the pre-independence negotiations that guaranteed racist civil servants (including some NBC journalists) to retain their jobs in the new SWAPO government. According to Nahum Gorelick (1994), former NBC Director General, this policy resulted in a “volatile mix of SWAPO journalists trained in partisan reporting” to work side by side with non-SWAPO journalists trained under the apartheid doctrine of the South African authority. In fact, many of the SWAPO trained journalists who went to the NBC were confused about what their precise mission was. They thought that the party’s intention was to substitute His Master’s tool of propaganda with His Comrade’s socialist voice. According to Sackey Namukongo, an experienced media expert in Namibia who is very well-vested in liberation journalism, SWAPO decided instead to draw heavily upon the advice of pro-democracy legislators elsewhere in Africa to leave broadcasting in the hands of a civic society (board and management), outside the political arena. However, given the fact that the board is appointed by the minister of broadcasting and information before rubber-stamped by the head of state, the question always asked by the opposition is whether the state retains some measures of control. This cannot be empirically confirmed without further research. While the survey data suggest that government’s commitment to freedom information is only average, some of the in-depth interviewees felt that part of the blame results from self-censorship. For example, not many people are willing to risk their views against SWAPO, cabinet ministers and particularly the head of state (Diescho, 1996). In-depth interview sources generally felt that the independent press is very effective in keeping politicians transparent and accountable to the Namibian society. The paper that is always singled out for credit is The Namibian. Respondents who are known for their strong views against the opposition, actually praised the chains of private newspapers under the Democratic Media Holdings for their effective criticism of government on the issue of corruption. Some respondents were happy with the press for its investigative role in the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) scandal, in which the minister of local government and housing is indicted in an ongoing investigation. Taking all these factors into account, it appears as if the terrain for government control of the NBC is contested by four contextual forces. These forces are the following: A hyper-sensitive watchdog press that is always ready to bark against government officials; The country’s constitution (specifically Act 21) that makes provision for the protection of free speech; The parastatal ownership structure of the NBC that helps to keep government on a distance; The self-restraint on the part of government, to refuse the temptation of tampering with a Fourth Estate that is considered very central to a true democracy. Many in-depth intervie-wees did not think that government wants to take advantage of its funding of the NBC to control it. They believed that the most serious problem was self-censorship. This conclusion is consistent with the observations made by a group of panelists in an edition of “Talk of the Nation” on January 15, 1997. This study benefited from this panel in that “Talk of the Nation” is coincidentally one of the four television programs that had been selected for content analysis and this specific edition was broadcast during data collection in Namibia. Although every panelist’s contribution was equally illuminating, the following impressions of self-censorship cannot escape mention: Bob Kandetu (recently fired as presenter) kept the discussion to a very superficial level and he appeared as if he was not ready to permit discontent. While the focus should have been national, his questions dwelled upon press repression in other Southern African states. Namibia was discussed in comparative terms, which made the country appear relatively “more democratic” compared to some of the “undemocratic” states in Africa. Furthermore, none of the panelists was willing to delve deeper into the allegations and claims by the opposition that “government and the ruling party have been tampering with broadcasting in the country.” Kandetu’s guests were not willing to debate this issue apparently because the official capacity in which they appeared on the program had already imposed self-censorship. The MISA representative was not a Namibian citizen but a guest from one of the Southern African states and therefore might have chosen not to engage a “sisterly nation” on this sensitive topic. The M-Net spokesperson stated on the program that her company was not interested in politics. As for the NBC panelist: ‘the infant cannot always afford to bite the breast that provides milk.’ Instead of responding to questions concerning their relationship with government, he chose to articulate himself more strongly on trivial questions such as the one about “Namlish” (a term conned by conservative whites who initially refused to accept the African accent of black presenters on Namibian television) that Kandetu raised more than twice to “diplomatically” defuse the tension. The study did not support the theoretical assumption that the ruling class hegemony in Namibia is embedded in prime-time television. Prime-time television viewing in Namibia is normally the time-slot between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (Scheun 1990; Brand 1996). It follows then that of the five television programs analyzed for this study, “Talk of the Nation” (7-8 p.m.) and “NBC TV News” (8-8:30 p.m.) are the two prime-time programs. NBC TV News is the program that people like to watch compared to other programs. Its importance is seen in the way people are transfixed in front of their television sets…….

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