David Bullard’s back!

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Oudtshoorn. 1 March 2012. 08h40. The first edition of David Bullard’s new column (in politicsweb)
is published below.

For those who do not recognise the name, here’s a quick introduction to the man:

On 10 April 2008 Bullard was fired as a Sunday Times columnist after the publication, the previous Sunday, of a column (Uncolonised Africa wouldn’t know what it was missing) the newspaper subsequently described as racist and insulting to black people. On 13 April Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya apologised for publishing the column, saying that “by publishing him (Bullard) we were complicit in disseminating his Stone Age philosophies”. The same issue of the paper carried an entire page dedicated to letters regarding the column and firing, roughly equally divided between support for the paper and support for Bullard. (From wikipedia)

The controversial column is published after the latest column, should you wish to form your own opinion on the polemic.

Trust me, I’m a journalist
David Bullard
01 March 2012

David Bullard asks why on earth anybody would rely upon the media to police itself

Why on earth would anybody trust the media to self regulate?

Trust me, I’m a journalist. Whenever I’ve said that to people (usually in jest) it predictably gives rise to a snort of derision. Given the dismal state of journalism in SA it’s hardly surprising that many South Africans think that the last people who should be trusted to self-regulate are journalists, who rank slightly lower than tow truck drivers in the public’s estimation.

The great self-regulation debate has been gathering momentum ever since the ANC mooted the idea of a media tribunal and introduced the Protection of Information Bill (POIB) which would make it a criminal offence for journalists to make public certain sensitive information.

 Not surprisingly the print media see this as an attempt by an already corrupt government to gag them and prevent them from spilling the beans on any future venalities. The passage of the POIB through parliament has been portrayed by the media as heralding the end of freedom of speech as we know it.

All very emotional stuff and a great excuse for hacks to take to the streets with placards in protest at what they clearly perceive to be a threat to their livelihoods. What the knee jerkers seem to have conveniently ignored though is that the POIB has always been up for discussion. If this were Zimbabwe it would have been made into law overnight.

But more importantly, no-one in the media (to my knowledge) has yet had the balls to point out to the ANC that the POIB might have worked twenty years ago but in the age of the internet there isn’t a bat’s hope in hell that “sensitive” information won’t find its way into the public domain.

It is dangerously naïve of the ANC to think they can keep their grubby little secrets to themselves by threatening newspapers. In fact, it shows how out of touch with reality people like Gwede Mantashe really are.

The side show to the POIB was the issue of media self regulation. Certain members of the ANC’s hierarchy would like the media to be regulated by government but the media believe they should be allowed to regulate themselves. Neither is the perfect solution although the reason for the ANC wanting to control the media is transparently obvious while the media’s ever shifting agenda is always more murky.

Newspapers are going through a very bad period at the moment and it’s mostly their own fault. When the internet started up they decided to give away their content for free which is, you would have to agree, a pretty dumb business model.

It’s rather like Pick n Pay giving you the option of driving to one of their stores and paying for your groceries or having them conveniently delivered to your home at any time of day entirely free of charge. The massive drop in revenue that has resulted from readers moving from printed newspapers to the free electronic version has meant that SA newspapers can no longer afford to pay for quality copy. Freelance rates are now at levels last seen 30 years ago.

To an extent the much abused intern system has come to the rescue. A journo school graduate will join a newspaper and either work for free or be paid around R5500 to do the job of a full time journalist.

At the end of the internship the monthly remuneration rises to a whopping R8000 a month. The intern is expected to produce maybe eight to ten stories a week of around 500 words and work long hours. This is where the problem arises though because stories don’t just pop up, they have to be sourced and that requires experience. So the young intern either resorts to the news wires and rehashes a story that will appear in all the other newspapers or makes something up.

For example, if I ask John Smith if he has ever stolen from charity and he answers no then I can quite legitimately write a story with the headline “I’m no charity thief says John Smith”. The fact that there was never an accusation of theft in the first place is immaterial and will be of no consequence to the readers. The important thing is that the story sold that day’s edition of the paper. John Smith’s life is ruined forever but if he has around R3 million for legal fees he can sue the paper in a case that may take years to come to court.

Or he can complain to one of the drinking buddies of the newspaper editors (officially known as an ombudsman) and hope for an apology, in which case he waives his legal rights. Meanwhile, the journalist that created the slander has nothing to lose.

It is not in the public interest for the media to be allowed to self regulate. Like any other profession they will close ranks and lie to protect one another. There are too many conflicts of interest for people to be convinced that media self regulation could possibly protect anyone other than the media themselves. If the media in this country want to rebuild credibility and readership they’ll have to come up with something better than this.

And here’s the column that caused all the trouble:


David Bullard
08 April 2010

Uncolonised Africa wouldn’t know what it was missing

Imagine for a moment what life would be like in South Africa if the evil white man hadn’t come to disturb the rustic idyll of the early black settlers.

Ignored by the Portuguese and Dutch, except as a convenient resting point en route to India. Shunned by the British, who had decided that their empire was already large enough and didn’t need to include bits of Africa.

The vast mineral wealth lying undisturbed below the Highveld soil as simple tribesmen graze their cattle blissfully unaware that beneath them lies one of the richest gold seams in the world. But what would they want with gold?

There are no roads because no roads are needed because there are no cars. It’s 2008 and no one has taken the slightest interest in South Africa, apart from a handful of botanists and zoologists who reckon that the country’s flora and fauna rank as one of the largest unspoilt areas in a polluted world.

Because they have never been exposed to the sinful ways of the West, the various tribes of South Africa live healthy and peaceful lives, only occasionally indulging in a bit of ethnic cleansing.

Their children don’t watch television because there is no television to watch. Instead they listen to their grandparents telling stories around a fire. They live in single-storey huts arranged to catch most of the day’s sunshine and their animals are kept nearby.

Nobody has any more animals than his family needs and nobody grows more crops than he requires to feed his family and swap for other crops. Ostentation is unknown because what is the point of trying to impress your fellow citizens when they are not impressible?

The dreaded Internet doesn’t exist in South Africa and cellphone companies have laughed off any hope of interesting the inhabitants in talking expensively into a piece of black plastic. There are no unsightly shopping malls selling expensive goods made by Asian slave workers and consequently there are no newspapers or magazines carrying articles comparing the relative merits of ladies’ handbags.

Whisky, the curse of the white man, isn’t known in this undeveloped land and neither are cigars. The locals brew a sort of beer out of vegetables and drink it out of shallow wooden bowls. Five-litre paint cans have yet to arrive in South Africa.

Every so often a child goes missing from the village, eaten either by a hungry lion or a crocodile. The family mourn for a week or so and then have another child. Life is, on the whole, pretty good but there is something vital missing. Being unaware of the temptations of the outside world, nobody knows what it is. Fire has been discovered and the development of the wheel is coming on nicely but the tribal elders are still aware of some essential happiness ingredient they still need to discover. Praying to the ancestors is no help because they are just as clueless.

Then something happens that will change this undisturbed South Africa forever. Huge metal ships land on the coast and big metal flying birds are sent to explore the sparsely populated hinterland. They are full of men from a place called China and they are looking for coal, metal, oil, platinum, farmland, fresh water and cheap labour and lots of it. Suddenly the indigenous population realise what they have been missing all along: someone to blame. At last their prayers have been answered.

(“Digitally re-mastered” byMoneyWeb

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2 thoughts on “David Bullard’s back!

  1. I did not buy the sunday times for over a year after Bullard was fired, in essence I think the article ( and I discussed it with a number of African friends) explains (roughly) how life was in Africa many years ago but loosing the kid part was very insensative and should have been left out although when I see 6 and 7 year old kids wandering on the roads and freeways on there own I get very upset at the lack of adult supervision! Were people less sensative about race in the Uk in the sixties? I played football in mixed teams in Manchester and we all took the mickey out of each other over our pale or dark skins as it worked both ways and if an opposing team whitey insulted one of our coloured players he got a smack in the mouth from them we all cheered and that was it, all to the pub after and a handshake. Are we not making it worse by keep highlighting every insult ( black and white)? Anyway keep on writing Bullard we need decention in the ranks, it generates discussion!

  2. I have n’t bought the Sunday Times since David Bullard was fired.! The problem is a lack of humour and intelligence in certain portions of the population in South Africa! I think he talks the truth and I think of all the columns that he could have written since 2008.

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