Red Lines: Israel in South Africa’s Media

By Iqbal Jassat

South African media has shown exceptional tenacity in its ability to probe and uncover many startling details in relation to shady operations by powerful individuals and groups. Many of the daily and weekly papers have made remarkable strides in pursuit of exposes, matched at times by the electronic media, resulting in shocking disclosures.

No politician is spared, neither the President of the Republic nor any of his cabinet ministers. Indeed, the message inherent in these revealing accounts of the high and mighty is that there are no ‘holy cows’ as far as the media is concerned.

Yet, it can be argued that despite their reluctance to admit it, media do have ‘red lines’ which determine their levels of coverage or analysis on such ‘untouchable’ subjects. For instance, The Star under Moegsien Williams’ editorship has an unwritten policy not to touch Israel. Thus by conferring a ‘holy cow’ status upon Israel, Johannesburg’s leading daily denies its consumers access to critical analysis and debate on Israeli policies as well as conduct vis-à-vis Palestinians under its occupation.

Radio 702 too has been accused of protecting Israel. Many regular callers to its daily talk shows have complained about being denied access whenever they attempt to raise issues critical of the Jewish state. Yet, they point out, that Israel is discussed though only by ‘kosher’ analysts or spokespersons of the Olmert regime or some or other pro-Israeli academic.

The SABC’s lack of substantial depth in its coverage of Israel and at most times to completely ignore the suffering experienced by Palestinians as a consequence of policies best described as inhumane, is further evidence of a ‘holy cow’ syndrome.

A snap survey of the print media conducted by the Media Review Network shows that there is a general disinclination to get to grips with brutal facts – warts and all – of Israeli violations, settlements, checkpoints, tortures, detentions, abductions, etc. To its discredit, SA press coverage of Israel remains in the archaic realm of ‘cut & paste’.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s recent trip to undertake investigation of the Israeli massacre of a Palestinian family in Gaza provides a critical indictment of shoddy neglect by SA media. The expectation that a UN probe of a ghastly crime led by an icon of this country would warrant reams of space filled with pictures and commentaries did not materialize. Instead, coverage of Tutu’s visit was confined to a few centimeter columns mainly sourced from agencies such as AP and AFP.

Not a single paper provided any editorial comment. And neither did any print journalist attached to SA media interview Tutu on his experience and observations.

What does it say about ‘holy cows’?

Is it not ironical that the Cape Times header for one of its AFP-sourced reports read: “Tutu slams the world’s silence on Gaza’s plight” when in fact it and other SA media remain silent on Israel’s atrocious conduct?

While there exist notable exceptions, the unfortunate truth is that unless media practitioners are able to confront this demon of selective critique, their ability to take a critical view of Israel’s destabilizing role and service of America’s imperial interests will remain questionable.

– Iqbal Jassat is the Chairman of South Africa’s Media Review Network – He contributed this article to

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