Guidelines for SA media essays:
      by Guy Berger, Oct 2001

1. All essays must be typed and properly presented, with cover sheet, abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, endnotes (where applicable) and bibliography. Three marks will be subtracted for any of these being absent.
2. Referencing style in the body of the essay, plus the bibliography, must be correct. Three marks will be lost in each section if this is not so.
3. Academic style: essays should be formal, not chatty or journalistic. 8 marks subtracted if this is not so.
4. Spelling: half a mark deducted for each mistake.
5. Essays must go beyond description, to show evidence of thinking about an issue, and marshalling evidence to support a position. Any essay that does not do so, will be - at best - somewhere in the '50s.
6. All essays should show evidence of readings. Extra readings outside of the Course Readers, should incur up to five additional points.
7. Ability to abstract from, and then synthesise, the ground covered - i.e. make links between periods - scores highly.
8. Logic and flow of essays is important: counts about 10 points.
9. Originality scores highly: add on 8 points.
 Advice on specific essays:


Jump to:

Essay 2: Lives and times

Essay 3: Drum

Essay 4: Press as opposition

Essay 6: Old and new

Essay 7: History and transformation

Essay 8: HRC significance

Essay 9: Investigative journalism comparision

Essay 10: Alternative press

Essay 11: Media diversity


Topic 2: Lives and times:

Lives and times: discuss the relationship between a prominent figure in South African journalism, and the historical period in he or she functioned. Eg. Donald Woods, Ryland Fisher, Peter Magubane, Nat Nakasa, Henry Nxumalo, Max du Preez.

a. Answers should explain why the particular individual was chosen.
b. The essays must go beyond mere description: they should try to explain the interaction of individual and social context.
c.  Essays should utilise points from the course as a whole, eg. the theme of race and journalism, media freedom and controls, press as opposition, resistance and pleasure, etc.


Topic 3. Drum

"Press as pleasure? The legacy of the Drum writers has no relevance to the role of media in helping to transform South Africa today." Discuss.

a. Essays must abstract out of Drum what the legacy is. This might be items like inter-racial harmony among staff; writing style, investigations, campaigns, making pleasure out of painful subjects, dealing with Racial Identity politics. There may be other negative legacies: sexism, excessive individualism and inattention to structural problems.
b. Essays must give some assessment of SA journalism in 21st century. (touching on some of the things like transformation, journalistic genres, continental challenge plus xenophobia, non-sexism, Aids, jobs, human rights, etc).
c. Argument is needed as to why the legacy is relevant. Is it present at all, are there areas where it should be present and why?
d. Essays that skip points b and c, will not answer the question properly. A regurgitation of Drum is not good enough.


Topic 4. Press as opposition

Critically discuss the "Press as opposition" thesis.

a. This essay must define what is meant by the "thesis", by reference to Elaine Potter's view that with the banning of the liberation movements, and decline of parliament, the English and Afrikaans press became the opposition (external and internal to the govt). NB: A distinction should be made between "opposition" journalism (by the mainstream) and "resistance" journalism (by the alternative press).
b. The essay touch on some examples of journalism by these media, and which examples give sustenance to the thesis. Eg. Prisons exposes, Muldergate.
c. The essay is supposed to include Critical Discussion. This means taking account of the radical and black journalists' critique, and the TRC conclusion.
e. Essays should weigh up the evidence in favour of, and against, the "press as opposition" thesis, and preferably make a case for which they believe was right.
f. Another emphasis in the essay might be on whether today the press is or should be "opposition". This is acceptable, but it should refer to the history and locate current debates in that context.  


Topic 6: Old and the new

The old and the new: contrast the key differences between the South African mediascape of the 1970/80s, with that of the start of the 21st century.

a. Essays should cover all media, even though understandably out of the course the emphasis will probably be on print. But some attention should be give to the differences in broadcast and online media between the two periods. Broadcasting is covered in for example the TRC.  Clearly, the internet did not exist in the 1970s/80s.
b. Essays should touch on the political/legal environment; range of ownership and diversity of outlets; race of owners and staff and audiences. Something about economics would be helpful.
c. An important theme that should run through this essay should be the question of media diversity. As such, information about the recent moves to set up the Media Diversity and Development Agency is important.
d. This essay is descriptive, but students must stick to the topic. The focus is on differences, not similarities.


Topic 7: History and transformation

How does an understanding of South African history help us explain media transformation today?

a. This essay will
need to explain what period/s of history it is concentrating on. It must be sure to answer the question: is the present explainable by the past, or is the past a really different country? Has there been a radical break with history, or are we still living with that history - in many facets of the media (ownership, content, etc).
b. Definitely, the essay needs a definition of "transformation". Marks will be deducted if the meaning is just assumed. A definition ought to cover a degree of complexity: eg. race and gender; ownership and staffing.
c. The discussion may concentrate only on one aspect, i.e. race in its manifestations in media content, ownership, staffing, etc,
d. The focus should be on the challenges of transformation today, and it ought to make reference to the HRC hearings, which revealed that the history of racial divisions is still alive and well in media. The essays could well try to answer the questions: Why did white journalists prioritise Media Freedom, and black journalists Racism? Why did white press people feel unfairly attacked, and why were their black counterparts still angry? The answers need to refer to the history - especially on the establishment "opposition" press, which fed these two emotions and associated perceptions.
e. Broadcasting should not be ignored in this essay.
f. Essays could go further than transformation in terms of race, and discuss transforming the paradigm of journalism (eg. To include voices of the poor, etc).


Essay 8. HRC significance.

What is the significance of the HRC Inquiry for journalism in South Africa?

a. HRC hearings should be summarised, with key points highlighted: subpoena issue, gender and racism in media issue, racial divisions amongst media people, etc.. This is not, however, enough to answer the essay question: it must be shown how these issues are significant.
b. HRC hearings should be located in history; i.e. at the point in SA journalism when they came along with regard to media transformation and media freedom issues. This is necessary if significance is to be really assessed.
c. Essay should consider, through informed speculation what the HRC hearings portend. In the aftermath of hearings, where does SA journalism go? Will editors unite, and if they stay divided, who might take advantage? Is there place for white journalists? Will journalism in general change to focus on Human Rights (including right to dignity) a lot more? What is the impact going to be on reporting race in terms of political role of the media? What coul
d be the impact on audiences?


Essay 9. Investigative journalism

Compare and contrast investigative journalism in any three of the following periods: Drum, Opposition Press, Alternative Press, Post-apartheid Press.

This essay title speaks largely for itself.  The periods need to be identified and summarised. Points of both similarity and difference should be noted. These should be explained in terms of the context and in terms of historical continuity or discontinuity.

Essay 10. Alternative Press race 
and racism.

Critically discuss the role of the Alternative Press in terms of race and racism.


a. This essay needs to define clearly what the writer conceives of race and racism in general. With this definition given, and motivated, the essay's argument can proceed.
b. The key point here is to analyse the role of the Alternative Press through the lense of race and its distinct, but related, concept - racism. This requires looking at the Alternative Press in terms of its journalism and impact, but also in terms of its journalists and its readers.
c. The essay would do well to analyse and comment on the fact that the Mother of the Alternative weeklies, i.e. the Weekly Mail, ended up accused of racism at the HRC inquiry.


Essay 11. Media diversity

“Media diversity is the biggest challenge facing South African media today”. Discuss.

a. This essay refers to the developments around the Media Diversity and Development Agency.
b. It should paint the backdrop of current outlets, ownership and staffing, and comment on these in terms of their appropriateness to South Africa.
c. It should analyse the way in which the MDDA might address diversity, and it should deal with some of the debates around funding the agency, the political independence question, and what diversity really means in South African conditions.