I haven’t travelled to conflict countries nor do I rub shoulders with any of the rich and famous. Politicians don’t remember my name after I interview them and I don’t have a salary that comes with perks and allowances.
However, I’ve been on a township tour and mothers have cried in front of me because their children are drug abusers. I’ve seen the appalling conditions that people in informal settlements live in with their outside dilapidated toilets, and I have dodged rubber bullets while on a story in an attempt to be the “voice” for the people.
These are just some of the humbling experiences I’ve had as a journalist for a community radio station that has a bigger listenership than some stations that are said to be commercial. Yet, we (the community radio journalists) are overlooked, ignored and disregarded over and over again by politicians, the authorities and even our colleagues in the media industry.
The public cannot imagine the enormous challenges we face as a community radio station. We make a concerted effort to preserve our relationships with government officials, police officers, corporate companies and the like because in the beginning it is so hard to convince them that this station is one to be reckoned with even though the stigma of “community” is attached to it. We are patient when they say they can’t do an interview immediately even though we have a deadline to meet, as we don’t want to ruin our ties with them.
Spokespeople of Cabinet ministers as well as those of police commissioners don’t seem to think that our requests are important enough to make a priority. We could wait for weeks on end just to have them respond to an email. Bear in mind that they won’t even speak to us over the telephone because it is protocol to email your request. We have to deal with incompetent spokespeople who do not even make the effort to know the difference between our radio station and all the rest.
Most times it’s an uphill battle, but we have to smile and move on when we never hear back from them (after much persistence). Instead we find that very same minister or police commissioner on “commercial” radio stations speaking about the topic we had in our request weeks ago. They forget that these are the very journalists who misquote them and report their quotes out of context.
Commercial media journalists look down on us, almost with pity, as they seem to think we are not on the same level of journalistic experience and intelligence as them even though some of my colleagues have received awards for their work. Many times I have to refrain from laughing out loud when I hear the stupid questions they ask at media briefings. I sit and ponder…how did they get that job at the SABC, e.tv and Primedia and keep it for so long when all they do is spew forth ridiculous and inaccurate statements and questions?
The large media companies who carry columns and blogs wouldn’t easily consider us to write for them. It seems an unknown community journalist doesn’t have much to offer the broader public.
We make that extra effort to go into the communities and speak to people about the major challenges they face and the obstacles in their path. Our coverage is unique, because it is often not found in “mainstream” media.
While the focus is on the likes of Julius Malema, we risk our lives to tell the world out there that our people have huge social issues facing them that are not being addressed with the urgency it needs but is instead worsening – gangsterism, drugs, crime, poverty etc. However, it is rewarding and humbling to take that risk to tell the people’s story.
This article originally appeared here.