Andrew Kuper on the South African Media

Question: What is your experience in the media industry?

 

Andrew Kuper: My mother and I started a firm called Kuper Research that looked at sociopolitical and media search and strategies. And it was particularly interesting post-apartheid because the media was not very good to serving low income and the majority of the Black population.

Much of the kudos goes to Jos Kuper who saw profound opportunity in the South-African landscape where there was a very large group of people who were not reading but could read, in other words they were alliterate and this is South Africa’s problem, alliteracy not illiteracy.

And we were told all sorts of things, like there’s no culture of reading in Black homes, we’re told this by Black and White people and all sorts of other dubious propositions but that were widely held and we challenged that conventional wisdom. People were consuming media, they were consuming radio, we believe that globally people will consume newspapers and print media, if it’s in a form that makes it interesting for them. Why should people from African be different from anywhere else?

So, a visionary entrepreneur called Deon du Plessis developed a newspaper called The Daily Sun and we helped design that newspaper and The Daily Sun started where the first half is all tabloid and the second half is all knowledge skilling, how are you going to learn from a land bank, what is the interest on your money, how you deal with HIV, key knowledge practical skills. People buy the newspaper for the tabloid and they come back to the newspaper and become repeat consumers because of the profound impact it has on their lives and their ability to control their lives.

Amazingly, this newspaper is now the largest newspaper in Sub-Saharan Africa, in 5 years, it has gone from 0 to 500 million daily readers and two million of those were not reading before. So it’s actually had a macro effect on literacy in the country and Deon du Plessis and Jos Kuper I wade in a few ways but Deon du Plessis and Jos Kuper really are the heroes of this stories, that it had a profound impact on a lot of people and I believe it can be replicated globally.

 

Question: Why must the media ‘speak softly’?

 

Andrew Kuper: After apartheid ended in South African, many people believed that the media who have been fundamentally been in favor of the NC because it lead the liberation struggle should give the new government a little bit of a break, should not be too aggressive towards the new government, give them a chance to prove themselves but of course, this runs profoundly countered to some other tenets of journalism which is whoever’s in power hold them accountable and do it extremely firmly and don’t pull your punches which is a fundamental aspect of a successful and vibrant democracy.

And so we looked at what the South-African population thought and what the appropriate mix was in terms of; or approach for journalists to take and we found that it was not the kind of trade off that was posed in general in the media and when people speak colloquially, that in fact, the South-African population was extremely keen to have their media aggressively investigating, exposing, talking about etc. but it needed to be framed in a more general approach of we believe that the new government must be given a chance.

We believe that there is a fundamental effort being made here by the government to create an entirely social structure and economic regimen that includes the majority of the population, the Black majority. So as long as it is imbedded in a more understanding frame, you could be as intense and aggressive as you like, this is profoundly important in the year of Obama, of course, many, many people want to see the new president succeed in a world where there is a recession, where there are intense financial and political and military and all sort of other challenges.

So people want to support, certainly no one wants to; well, very few people want to see the failure of these attempts, we’d rather they succeeded, nonetheless, no one is going to agree with all of them and many of us agree/disagree with a few and many more disagree with many of the policies.

Now, as long as it’s embedded in a framework of we want them to succeed in general and we believe in many of the same ultimate values and finding those commonalities, I’m all for very intensive contestation and I think the South-African population, I think this is true of the United States as well really favors it.

 

Recorded on: May 1, 2009

 

The president of LeapFrog Investments talks about the changing role of media throughout the world.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.