Given that expert economic forecasts seldom have any predictive value (the 2008/2009 crash was forecast by almost no-one), most average news viewers look for the little green and red arrows and ignore the linguistic tomfoolery that constitutes an economic report. Has the rand gone up or down against the dollar, euro and pound? Has gold gone up or down? A glance at the arrows does the business. You can chat to your kids while sub-consciously clocking the daily economic trajectory, and then focus on the sport.
Green and red indicator arrows are ubiquitous across global economic media because of their functional utility. It’s as simple as that, really. Which makes the fact that the SABC3 have quietly removed the arrows from certain portions of their prime time business news broadcast all the more odd. Look carefully next time you’re gazing blankly at the SABC3 business news (at around 6:45pm). Note the listings for currencies and commodities. The arrows are gone. Yes, they exist in the annoying and barely legible ticker thing at the bottom, but the two primary categories of the main business news segment now show nothing but the price and a silver gradient fill.
It’s a subtle elision. You have to re-focus with considerable effort to even notice it, but once you do, there can be no denying the absence.
Initially I thought it must have been accident. Maybe some stoner layout artist on the production team literally lost the arrows. Maybe they slipped off the layout interface and into the grey stuff on the sides of the screen. I have lost many boxes and rectangles this way in Photoshop. It happens. And they can be very hard to find once they’ve slipped down there. Maybe no one at the SABC noticed they were gone, because, well, it’s the SABC.
I gave it a few weeks, then a month, but nothing. No arrows.
By now I was properly intrigued. The more you think about it, the harder it is to guess at how a decision like this can come to be made. Somehow I just couldn’t picture Jimi Matthews striding into the editorial meeting room and saying, “Right, before we get going, about those indicator arrows in the currencies and commodities sections…”
I thought I’d contact the SABC to find out. I started naively, by asking – via Twitter and the email form on the SABC News web site – who I should contact with my question. I realised, duh, that our national broadcaster’s communication channels exist to create the general impression of a willingness to communicate, rather than to facilitate actual communication. There was no reply.
Eventually I got hold of contact details from a journalist friend for Jimi himself, and for Kaizer Kganyago, SABC spokesperson. I couldn’t bring myself to call the acting head of news with such a seemingly flippant question, so I called Mr Kganyago, who assured me he was in any event the only person able to deal with the query.
Three weeks, two emails and an SMS later, I was no wiser. Mr Kganyago offered only silence.
Now, in the thick of rampaging power cuts, the whole thing has begun to feel a little Orwellian. There can’t, surely, have been any complaints about the arrows’ functional performance. Which leaves only one option: the SABC has decided that it would be ‘better’ for the public not to be able to assess the country’s basic daily economic performance at a glance.
It’s a conclusion I would rather avoid, but now it seems close to inescapable. Someone in Auckland Park (or beyond) is worried our strength as a power cut, politically and socially challenged, soon-to-be-economically blighted country may be waning. Someone, in other words, doesn’t believe in the inherent resilience of the South African green arrow. Someone feels like it’s probably better for all of us not to look to this particular slow motion car crash. Someone is putting a plump hand over our eyes.
Personally, I quite like looking. Indeed, I have come to realise over the last few months that I really value that little moment every evening when I think, ‘Ah good, we’re on the up’, or, alternatively, ‘Oh shit, here we go’. It’s a moment I’ve had all my life, and now it’s gone.
If someone at Auckland Park could be kind enough to give it back, I swear I’ll stop thinking about what happened in the first place.
Asseblief man. Pinky swear. DM
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