Defend Truth


The incredible ‘wokeness’ of being a modern journalist — whose voices are we hearing?


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

The question is, how did journalism become the side that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted? How do we fix this? No one trusts the media anymore. Must we not relearn to respect those who disagree with us?

Journalism has changed over the years and in attempting to remain relevant, it has adopted being ‘woke’ as the answer. In order to increase revenue, readership and viewership, journalists increasingly have to conform to the needs of capitalism, the neo-liberal agenda and not so much news and the ordinary stories.

And what is meant by wokeness is being politically correct, rising above the masses and the politicians, being more tolerant. Is this because increasingly our journalists of the modern day are no longer from the working class, instead, they hail from the petit bourgeoisie, they speak of white privilege, marginalisation and oppression? Are they not just bringing racism and marginalised communities’ plight to the fore?

In effect, what we are really seeing though, is a moral panic around race that has alienated the very communities on whose behalf they supposedly advocate.

It seems we have a situation where younger liberal journalists and employees are the ones setting the very woke agenda. Kowtowing to the middle and upper classes, after all, has been the reason for journalism, some argue. The working people don’t read and write, right? It seems we have lost the plot of who actually takes the risks for news stories.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the marketing guys through advertising revenue that sell stories, newspapers and television time, it is the newsworthy stories that do so. It is the journalist that goes and spends time in gang-ridden areas of Manenberg and Mitchells Plain, risking their lives to tell the real story. It is them and not the rich baron who is ducking bullets and teargas during the July lootings that got the stories out. So, you tell me, who brings in the money?

After the July lootings the petit bourgeoisie was more obsessed with the security of the country — but in effect, their own security — asking questions like, can the state protect us and our private property? Instead, the real question should have been, why are the black majority venting such anger and looting?

The latter question is too uncomfortable to handle because the truth is too painful. And so we concentrate on fixing the economy and increasing our security. The mission of journalism used to be to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted, hold the powerful to account, be the eyes and ears of the people. You are now seeing a lot of class solidarity among the left and liberal elites, and the abandonment of the working class of all races instead.

Journalists are increasingly using these specialised radical academic ideas and if you don’t hew to these radical, specialised ideas, you get thrown out, essentially, or you get cancelled. We are not talking about debate here, we are talking about the silencing of debates. This is according to Newsweek deputy opinion editor and journalist, Batya Ungar-Sargon in a new book, Bad News.

She asks, is there a disconnect between the public and the news? How do we get out of this woke stranglehold? Journalism is now a profession of the elites. Wokeness is undermining democracy in a sense.

Journalism used to be a working-class profession, but increasingly journalists have moved out of the townships and into the suburbs. The composition of newsrooms is very different from what it used to be. It does feel as if journalists are the praetorian guard for the billionaires and the capitalist class.

So the question is, how did journalism become the side that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted? How do we fix this? No one trusts the media anymore. Must we not relearn to respect those who disagree with us?

The above are all very good arguments, but when looking at the history of the terms “woke” and “stay woke” and when they were first used in the 1940s by black Americans to mean waking up to social injustice, to be woke was to be aware. Wokeness was originally associated with black Americans fighting racism. Some would argue that the word has been intentionally co-opted as a tool to undermine certain groups in the so-called culture wars that we are seeing play out in the political landscape, whether it’s Black Lives Matter or police brutality.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word woke as being “aware” or “well informed” in a cultural or political sense. But according to Natalie Morris, being aware and well informed are positive attributes, things that most of us are striving for. So, why then is the word so frequently used as a pejorative? Now, rather than signifying an awareness of social injustice, it’s instead used to suggest that someone is being pretentious and insincere over how much they care about an issue.

So, is wokeness a stronghold over newsrooms? And is wokeness undermining democracy? You be the judge.

All I know is that there is some truth in the fact that newsrooms, editors and journalists have changed in their basic duty, that of providing uninterrupted, unbiased and truthful news stories that not only hold up the powerful but comfort the afflicted.

One only has to look at the frenzy around who exactly is funding this or that media outlet. And who did this or that media house fund during the latest election campaign. These are all tell-tale signs of how our media and journalism have shifted. They are players and referees in the game of news and news creation.

And I don’t really want to comment on the political connections and influences of some of our media houses. Openly promoting anti-vaccination, lying about 10 babies, inventing SARS “rogue units”, defrauding the Public Investment Corporation, and so much more.

Whose voices are we hearing? You tell me. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Stephen T says:

    I think the trend of ‘wokeness’ is even older than the word ‘woke’ itself. The similarities to the cultural change in Western society roughly a century ago are too great to ignore.

    Western society used to have a Cult of Character, where things like manners, honour, duty, integrity, wisdom, merit, patience, and independence were highly valued. In the early 20th century this all seemed to suddenly change. Embodied by the works of Dale Carnegie, the new personal traits that people aspired to were magnetic, attractive, glowing, dominant, energetic. The Cult of Personality was born.

    This new culture placed far more importance on outward appearance than on inward fortitude. Perception was now more important than reality. This trend was, and still is, demonstrated in the kinds of people that gravitate towards politics, marketing, religion, and journalism. In short, it threw open the doors to let narcissism become a celebrated route to spectacular success and all of these professions were profoundly changed because of it.

    The result, of course, is the fractious society we live in today and I feel I cannot say it better than the following quote:

    • Stephen T says:

      [cntd] “Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”
      ~ Theodore Dalrymple

  • John Purchase says:

    These thoughts are like a breath of fresh air in a swamp. I am tired of having a woke agenda forced on me by the ” out of touch” scribbling class.

  • Tebogo Phakwe Phakwe says:

    That is because we want to have our cake and eat it too. Everybody has their own truth, opinions have become facts and the real truth is left unguarded. Thanks to the media. Control the media and you will control the levers of power. This was started by the communists and perfected by the capitalists. Western media is dominated by left or right leaning media houses and elections are not only won by what the politicians say but the optics plays a big role. In the past elections in South Africa, I’ve seen municipalities that I didn’t know even know existed. The media amplified the challenges faced by those municipalities and this, I believe, had a huge impact on the outcome of elections. Oscar you are right when you say we need to know who owns these media houses.
    As whose voices are we hearing? I would say it is the voices of those with a million rand reason to bring us the news.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    We know the answer to “why are the black majority venting such anger and looting?”
    Leaving aside the political mischieviousness, it is generally because they are living in poverty in a country that has it resources plundered, its institution destroyed, its economy restricted from creating jobs through damaging ideological legislation, and has an incompetent criminal leadership. In other words because of the ANC.
    No amount of social activism or academic papers is going to change their lives until the ANC is gone.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Oscar, I agree – your wishes are noble and morally fine. But in my perception your dreams are utopian. No press is able to be impartial. If that is what you seek then you will never find it in the news. To whit, social control has been around since people formed groups, and if anyone expects the press to be relieved of its power to manipulate then I strongly suspect that they underestimate the filthy agendas of social polity.

    I think meaning will be easier found in poetry, philosophy, art and music, and then by an eclectic approach. Was that how the enlightenment engaged ? Where individual thought and intellect informed the people whos lives were affected? The news can never offer freedom because it is an agent of control.

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