‘Don’t abdicate your citizenship’
- Published on Friday, 17 October 2014 16:59
- Anthea Garman
Songezo Zibi, Business Day’s new editor, is an unusual business journalist, he has a powerful political awareness and a keen interest in how our democracy is working. He also has some critical things to say about capitalism (which needs an overhaul in his opinion). He visited the School of Journalism and Media Studies in September at the invitation of Reg Rumney, director of our economics journalism programme, to speak about his new book (Raising the Bar) and his ideas about journalism and citizenship.
Zibi, who didn’t study journalism because it was too dangerous to do so in 1992, opted for a BCom, which he hated. But as he was also studying public relations (which he loved) he then worked in this capacity for Volkswagen and Xstrata (now Glencore) and then came into journalism via a relationship with the Financial Mail for which he wrote columns.
His attitude as an editor is that journalists cannot be “passive observers” of the way our democracy is unfolding, because “those in power do not like [explaining] why” they have made certain decisions and taken certain actions. “Our role is to illuminate, to show what it means. Our role is to say why, and to provide knowledge and context.”
Zibi is scathing of the kind of journalism that Allister Sparks called “stenography” — bland reporting of the immediate events and statements. Zibi, as an editor, demands a journalism that “joins the dots”, makes the connections, tells us what from the past we ought to know to interpret the present.
He’s particularly concerned that right now those in power are putting extreme pressure on the media and the legal system and that most actions taken against the government for access to information or for keeping the public space open are being taken by journalists without sufficient back-up by other organisations. “There is an abdication by citizens of responsibility to the media,” he said. This allows the government to characterise the media as their particular enemy and “it isolates journalism”, he said.