Choosing to be part of the story : the participation of the South African National Editors’ Forum in the democratising process
This study aims to locate the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) within South Africa’s transformation from apartheid to a nonracial and constitutional democracy. This entails first examining the potential for participation demonstrated by editors’ societies at different democratic stages and defining the ideal democratic roles of journalism. The recent political history of journalism in the country is summarised to draw out the particular obstacles to editors’ unity and the transformation needs in South Africa’s racialised context. Then the forum’s history from 1995 to 2000 is reconstructed in detail using documentary sources. This covers the formation and launch periods of Sanef, and the next couple of years of the forum’s existence. This study is described as a historical, qualitative inquiry from the inside, observing both the sequence of events and the motives related to the context and to concepts of democratic role. It is unusual in that it is a historical study of a journalism society and it uses journalism theories to guide the research and the analysis. The research shows that despite having to overcome divisive issues from their past, the editors chose to play their part across all democratic roles: liberal, social democratic, neoliberal and participative. Activities were mostly linked to the current democratic stage. Many involved the self-transformation of journalism and journalists, leading to the suggestion of a fifth role for journalism in emerging democracies. However, some Sanef projects were not completed despite their significance for democratic journalism and others had no strategic rationale. This study recommends that Sanef be more strategic in its activities and look to other emerging democracies for appropriate solutions to problems. It is suggested that failing to do so could result in more complex problems for journalism in South Africa in the future. Finally, it is noted that the existence of a stable and prominent forum giving editors, senior journalists and journalism educators a united voice in areas of common interest in itself lends serious weight to their democratic participation.