Contested ground – farm attacks and the growing media war

President Ramaphosa’s recent remarks in an interview given to the Bloomberg financial news service sparked much controversy back home in South Africa. Ramaphosa, referring to President Trump’s infamous post-Tucker Carlson Tonight tweet, claimed that:

[It] was clearly misinformed. Whoever gave him that information was completely wrong. There are no killings of farmers or white farmers in South Africa. There’s no land grab in South Africa. We are engaged in a process of discussing land reform. Land was the original sin in the history of South Africa.

Whereas the President’s words were a direct response to Trump’s tweet, they implicitly also addressed its source – Tucker Carlson. On 15 May 2018, Ernst Roets appeared on Carlson’s nightly show, which the host opened by saying that current events in SA “were all but ignored” by the media. Acquainting an American audience with expropriation without compensation and farm murders, Carlson again looked at SA during a 22 August segment, and then again on 23 August.

Competing media narratives

However, between Lauren Southern’s Farmlands, Katie Hopkins’s Plaasmoorde: The Killing Fields (released by Rebel Media on 25 September 2018), Tucker Carlson Tonight, Ramaphosa’s Bloomberg interview, the reported presidential spokesperson’s statement, and the local mainstream media’s commentary defending Ramaphosa, it would seem that the battle of competing farm attack narratives is reaching boiling point.

One of the primary claims made by Southern, Hopkins, AfriForum and Carlson is that, at least up until now, mainstream media has displayed staggering double standards, under-reported on farm attacks and avoided in-depth investigative reporting owing to political affiliation and a generally disinterested public.

“Negative stereotyping” – Roets on double standards

Roets, for example, while acknowledging that, “no individual, including journalists, can ever claim to be truly objective”, nonetheless continues:

What should, however, be pointed out and vehemently combated is when media institutions claim to be independent or balanced while clearly expressing double standards in its reporting…

 

Unbalanced media coverage leads to false narratives, negative stereotyping, misdirected public policy and, in extreme cases, justification of violence directed at communities that are targeted.

In his conclusion to a media analysis examining bias by online news sources*, Roets goes even further, stating that prejudicial reporting has actively promoted a narrative that vilifies Afrikaans/white farmers in order to achieve political and ideological goals:

There are also very particular stereotypes and narratives regarding white South African farmers. White farmers are frequently depicted as thieves and criminals, and they are regularly accused of abusing others (particularly their workers) and of inflicting violence upon black people. This perception also feeds into political claims and policies such as the ANC and EFF’s claim of ‘expropriation without compensation’.

To support this claim, the report argues, as but one example, that the English media mentioned the tragic Coligny debacle nearly exactly as many times as all farm murders in 2016 and 2017 combined. AfriForum’s research – which we have not replicated – also showed that farm attacks (including murders) received an average of 6 mentions per incident while “vigilante incidents” (e.g. the Parys Killings and the Coffin Case) received an average of 100 mentions per incident.

AfriForum cites unbalanced reporting in terms of media mentions per incident. Source: Complicity – A Critical Evaluation of the Mainstream Media’s Reporting on Incidents of Violence on South African Farms.

Katie Hopkins and Plaasmoorde

Upon exiting SA, Hopkins was detained and her passport confiscated. Could this suggest that freedom of press may possibly be curtailed in the near future?

In Plaasmoorde: The Killing Fields, the controversial Katie Hopkins echoes AfriForum’s criticism of the media’s reporting on farm attacks. Hopkins, whose political views have earned her many detractors in Britain, states:

The editor of one of the biggest online news outlets admitted to me that she isn’t interested in South African farm murders because they just don’t do that well for the paper: no click-throughs.

The editor Hopkins refers to, on a recording, notes,

Farm attacks where people are attacked and tied up and things are taken and they leave… we usually don’t cover, because it’s just not – it’s not newsworthy. No one is gonna read it… Maybe if someone’s hurt a bit, or, you know, we would maybe cover it if it’s easy enough to get it.

Never-ending violence in SA

Whereas the above remarks may seem extremely insensitive, it could well be argued that, as awful as this is, in a pervasively violent society, only an incredibly small portion of crime will see publication of any sort. And this is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all – the most extreme and inhumane of violent acts, committed with unremitting regularity in SA, have become so common place that they’re mundane, nothing more than an everyday reality.

*View full PDF here: Complicity – A Critical Evaluation of the Mainstream Media’s Reporting on Incidents of Violence on South African Farms.

Watch AfriForum’s video summary of Complicity – A Critical Evaluation here

  AUTHOR
Caxton Central

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