Communicatio 24(2) 1998
Language as ideology in South African media texts and discursive practice: a need for critical language awareness
Against the background of the global expansion of the electronic communication media and the increasing importance of language, this article outlines the need for a critical language awareness. A framework for a critical discourse analysis is constructed and applied to a sample of South African media texts and discursive practices, demonstrating the ideological manipulation at work in these texts and discourses.
Many social situations are effectively controlled by the definitions of imbeciles. Indeed, the imbecility that defines the situation is part of the stuff of sociological analysis.
(Peter L Berger 1980:101)
For most people language is simply a means of communication and exchange of information. It seems as if almost naturally we talk our way through life; language is the most highly developed and most frequently used form of communication that we possess (cf Crystal 1974:239; Sapir 1957:1; Whatmough 1957:22). Mostly we use language in face-to-face communication (cf Montgomery 1986:x), but increasingly it is through the mass media that we hear and read more language than we do from direct interaction with other people (cf Bell 1991:1). As societies grow larger and more complex, government, industry, and business become dependent on the mass media for the communication of information. The mass media themselves have become important industries producing linguistic goods and employing a large number of people, such as journalists, editors, and advertising copy writers who work almost exclusively with language (cf McQuail 1987:3).
The importance of mass-mediated language is also increasing as societies enter the age of post-industrial information economy and cultures the postmodern stage. These rapid changes are the result of development in communication: infusion of new information technologies, computerisation of society, and the information explosion (cf Best & Kellner 1991:302). In such a discursive or communicational society language, information and communication have become primary factors in the economy, while communication through the electronic mass media is indispensable to the functioning of society. This new dependence on electronically mediated communication, termed by Poster (1994:173) the new mode of information, provides new linguistic experiences and restructures forms of social interaction. As a result the role of language is also changing, as is evident from the following trends (cf Fairclough 1992b:3):
- Power and social control are exercised more implicitly through common-sense routines of language practice rather than through the explicit use of force and coercion. For example, the police have moved away from the use of brute force to non-coercive methods of interrogation through the manipulation of language, communicating promises and threats to extract confessions from crime suspects (cf Kassin & McNall 1991:234).
- Language is gaining more importance in various types of work demanding efficient communication and new linguistic skills from workers, for example, an increasing need to improve communication with clients and acquire computer literacy. These imply that the quality of communication is now part of the quality of service.
- Language and linguistic practices become the target for change, for example increase in language planning, moves to enforce political correctness, use of non-sexist language, and eradication of hate speech and verbal aggression.
What underlies the above trends is a change in the nature of linguistic practices and communication interaction. The change is from the formal use of language to a more informal ‘conversational language associated with face-to-face interaction and group interaction in private spheres’ that is now increasingly used in public, and institutional spheres and in the mass media (cf Fairclough 1992b:4). Such conversationalisation of language in the forms of dialogue and horizontal communication are parallelled in the social and political arenas by demands for democratisation, participation and dialogue. However, the implications of the postmodern mode of information and changing linguistic practices are ambiguous: are these genuine democratisation and shift in power relations or new strategies for the exercise of power and social control? (cf Fairclough 1992b:4--5; Best & Kellner 1991:302--303).
Whatever the potential of the ambiguous postmodern condition, one thing is certain: there is a need for a critical language awareness (cf Fairclough 1992b:7--12). A critical language awareness would empower participation while providing the means to expose and oppose the operation of power through the manipulation of language.
A framework for a critical understanding of language would take into account not only the abstract structure of language (langue), but also its social use as discourse within a social and historical context and explain how the use of language and society influence each other (cf Ellis 1992:81; Fairclough 1990:20; Rossi-Landi 1990:62). Against the ahistorical Saussurian abstraction of linguistics of language (for example structuralism and semiotics) that neglects the linguistics of speaking (cf Saussure 1981:19--20) a critical language perspective -- a linguistics of discourse -- places language in historical and social contexts (cf Bourdieu 1992; Ricoeur 1979:80--88). Such an approach shows that language is not a neutral medium of communication but also a means for communicating ideology and an instrument of social action (cf Sonderling 1994). A framework for a critical language awareness and its application for a critical discourse analysis of a sample of South African media texts are sketched in this article.
LANGUAGE IN SOCIETY AND SOCIETY IN LANGUAGE
Like fish who do not see the water in which they live, so are we surrounded by language that seems a transparent and neutral means for communication. However, language is not simply a neutral medium for communication and understanding. Language makes it possible for us to understand and make sense of the world by providing a cognitive framework of concepts, and with such words and meanings we interpret the world, represent it to our mind, talk about it and exchange information with other people. Our knowledge and experience of the world are mediated by language. The way we organise and articulate our experiences is an interpretative process that takes place mainly in and through language. That is, language stands between us and our world and influences, shapes and distorts our perception of the world. For example, we know what things in the world are because they have names and meanings. Thus, philosophers have always suggested that language is the environment -- a symbolic universe -- in which human beings live. According to Sapir (1957:69) we cannot apprehend our world directly but are dependent on a symbolic universe of meanings, provided by language. It is only through language that all other forms of nonverbal communication can be understood and made meaningful (cf Whatmough 1957:19) and, as Barthes (1982:28) suggests, our ability to understand visual images is dependent on our ability to verbalise them, that is, we only see the things for which we have words.
There is a close interdependence between language and thought. Thoughts do not exist independently of language but are dependent on the fact that language makes our thoughts possible. For theorists such as Freud and Lacan our conscious and unconscious mental processes are primarily linguistic (cf Sonderling 1991; 1997a). Learning how to use language is part of a socialisation process through which we become members of society. It is through such a process that we acquire words and their meanings, and the values and attitudes of our culture towards the world. Language structures or shapes the way we see and understand the world and society and reflects the beliefs and ideology of a society and a culture (cf Ellis 1992:27; Hawkes 1985:31; Kress 1988:80; Kress & Hodge 1979:5). The close relationship between language and thought can be seen in the fact that some ideas and interpretations may exist in one linguistic or cultural community, but not in another. According to Sapir (1957:69) we are at the mercy of the particular language that has become the medium of expression for our society as ‘we see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation’. McLuhan (1969) even suggests that the dominant Western forms of linguistic communication such as writing and print have created a distinct literate mentality or logic for members of these societies that differ from those of oral societies of the past. Kochman (1974:92) reports a distinctive difference between the behaviour of people whose social environment is a predominately oral one when compared with those who are socialised through education into a literate culture, and that such differences are the causes of intercultural misunderstanding and conflict.
As language is a particular way of looking at the world and interpreting our experience, our reality is socially constructed. But it is not language as an abstraction but language-in-use and in practice as discourse. Indeed, language exists only as a social practice and as such reflects the social relations of power, domination and ideology. Ideology is the ability of a powerful and dominant social group to impose its interpretations and particular meanings of social reality on other groups in society through language (cf Thompson 1990:4). As Bourdieu (1992:37) puts it: ‘the relations of communication par excellence -- linguistic exchanges -- are also relations of symbolic power in which the power relations between speakers and their respective groups are actualised’. Indeed, in its everyday use, a purely communicative and informative function of language is quite rare; rather words and utterances are also signs of wealth to be evaluated and appreciated and signs of authority intended to be obeyed (cf Bourdieu 1992:66).
FROM LANGUAGE TO COMMUNICATION: IDEOLOGICAL IMPLICATION OF LANGUAGE IN TEXTS AND DISCURSIVE PRACTICES
The use of language is a complex social activity. Even the most simple use of language demands that we bring all our knowledge and assumptions to bear on communication. For example, when I say ‘Good morning’ to a person passing in the street, I presuppose that it is the early part of the day and that the person I address will understand my expression as greeting and not as a description of the weather. Consider the following simple sentence:
We went to a small place on Nelson Mandela Street; the wine-list was impressive.
The knowledge necessary to understand such an utterance is not included in the utterance itself. To understand the utterance we need to know the particular mode of talking -- ‘a small place’ can refer to ‘a restaurant’ and is used by a certain group of people at a certain time in history. We also need to know that a restaurant is a place that sells food to anyone and that people also visit a restaurant for special occasions (cf Kress 1983:4). The ability of language to communicate is therefore influenced by the speaker-listener relationship and extra-linguistic factors such as the social contexts within which communication takes place and the knowledge available to the speakers (cf Ellis 1992:80--81).
The language we encounter in verbal communication is not simply the raw syntactic material in the form of sounds or single words; communication takes place through articulated language, that is, language organised into the form of verbal messages (cf Kress 1983:3; Kress 1988:86). Messages are made up of linguistic signs that have already been selected and organised into meaningful sentences and paragraphs. While messages are made up of individual signs, verbal communication depends on the ability to understand the meaning of larger segments of verbal expression. People do not interpret the meaning of single words or even individual sentences but look for messages in the global structure: such as the underlying theme of a paragraph or the overall story in a newspaper article. Similarly, when we speak or write we always have a message in mind (cf Kress 1983:4). Therefore, verbal messages are the basic units created, exchanged and interpreted during any communication encounter. Message exchange and the communication interaction have the following characteristics (cf Ellis 1992:41--42; Hodge & Kress 1988:5; Jakobson 1964:353):
- Messages are not found in isolation. In any communication event multiple messages or clusters of messages are produced, exchanged and interpreted.
- Messages are directional as they are produced by a communicator, exchanged in social interaction directed at a recipient and have a purpose.
- Messages have meanings as they say something and are about something, for example a referent that is either a real object in reality or a more abstract idea.
From the above characteristics it appears that every instance of communication and message exchange can be regarded as having three dimensions (cf Kress 1983:3; Hodge & Kress 1988:5--6; Fairclough 1990: 20--25; Fairclough 1992a:3; Fairclough 1992b:10):
- Text: the linguistic and formal aspects of the verbal message; a message is constructed from written or spoken language text.
- Discourse/discursive practice: the exchange of messages is an interaction between people that involves the use of language -- a process of producing, circulating and interpreting texts.
- Orders of discourse: both text and discursive practice are socially situated and part of social action. The social contexts of text and discourse are non-discursive social conditions such as class and power relations within a society that influences the production, circulation and interpretation of texts and are in turn shaped by them.
LANGUAGE AS IDEOLOGY IN TEXTS
Text is composed of many signs and has a formal structure, coherence and organisation. The word text comes from the Latin textus, meaning something woven together (cf Hodge & Kress 1988:6). For example, a look at any printed page such as a newspaper or a book creates the impression of a tapestry made from words. Texts can be spoken or written segments of language, thus texts are material products of a particular discourse. Different discourses produce different and distinct types (or genre) of text (cf Fairclough 1990:20). For example, the discourse of literature produces novels and poetry while the discourse of journalism produces news reports. However, one type of text may be used by different discourses and for different purposes. For example, the text of the Bible can be used as a document of divine revelation within religious discourse, while for the discourse of literary criticism it is an example of poetic style.
The formal structure of a text reflects the process of its production. For example, the text of a newspaper is characterised by a particular style of presenting the information. The text of the news story printed in a newspaper has a particular form, traditionally known as the inverted pyramid. Text written according to the inverted pyramid format begins with the climax of the story and presents all the important facts in the first paragraph. The following is an example of a first paragraph of a news report:
City runner Simon Mamabolo, who was shot twice by a policeman before the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town on Saturday, is back in Pretoria with his friends -- but unable to run and in great pain
(The Pretoria News 19 April 1995:1).
In such a paragraph the facts are arranged to satisfy the readers’ curiosity regarding whom, what, when, where, why, and how of a newsworthy occurrence. While such a formal presentation is considered self-evident, it originated in the American Civil War period when journalists used the telegraph for the first time. Fearing that their stories would not be transmitted all at once, the journalists crowded as much information as possible into the first paragraph. Subsequently, such a practice has become institutionalised and a formal requirement for journalistic writing (cf MacDougall 1969:50). Indeed, the form of presentation or style is an important aspect of media news reporting. Media news reporting is regarded as an objective (re)presentation of facts, as if the reporter allows the facts to speak for themselves. Such a mode of writing is thought to have a zero-degree signification by itself, as if language were a transparent form that did not influence the content it communicated (cf Barthes 1984:5--6). A belief in the objectivity of language is still prevalent among mass-media workers, and in particular among television news reporters and their viewing publics, who believe that the medium can (re)present reality without mediation. However, content and form or the techniques of presentation are interrelated and do not exist independently. For example, realistic style of visual and verbal television news presentation has
... one main object: to make the camera work and editing as unnoticeable as possible ... They aim to make the camera work and the editing invisible to the beholder so that nothing may come between him and his concentration on the subject matter ... The best technique highlights that which is important, eliminates that which is unimportant and obliterates itself by its own perfection.
The self-effacing nature of television news presentation techniques, and the style of written news reports, creates the impression of realistic recordings of reality. However, there is no escape from the distortions imposed by language or television representation techniques; realistic writing is still a form of mediation through language.
Some of the important aspects of language in texts that communicate ideology are vocabulary, grammar, cohesion and text structure (cf Fairclough 1992a:75; Van Dijk 1988:170).
THE POLITICAL VALUE OF VOCABULARIES
The writer or speaker needs a vocabulary before he can represent reality. In the most general sense vocabulary is wording and naming things; words are concepts or ideas we have about things in reality. In a more restricted sense vocabulary refers to the technical terminology, the key concepts, or jargon that has specific meaning and value within a certain type of formal discourse. For example, in the discourse of geography we cannot use the word north without reference to the corresponding words south, east and west (cf Williams 1993:345). The meaning of a concept is related to, and is dependent on, other concepts and their use, thus forming a network of related concepts.
Words or concepts represent categorisation of the world from a particular point of view as they exist within a system organised by ideological assumptions (cf Kress 1984:124--125).
Vocabulary can be regarded ... as a representation of the world for a culture; the world as perceived according to the ideological needs of a culture. Like a map, it works first by segmentation: by partitioning the material continuum of nature and the undifferentiated flux of thought into slices which answer to the interests of the community ... Use of each term crystallizes and normalizes the essentially artificial slices which are cut out of the cake of the world.
That is, the vocabulary of a language or a particular discursive practice is a map of objects, concepts, processes and relationships about which the members of the culture or discursive community need to communicate (cf Fowler 1991:80).
All writing, from personal letters to news reporting in the mass media, is an act of mediation, that is, an event is mediated through language from perceiver to someone who did not witness the event. However, perception is selective and directed by a theoretical framework or schema (cf Kress 1984:120). The writer or speaker who reports is just like a painter, who would scan the landscape and the sights that correspond with the schema will leap forward for attention. Therefore a writer, a speaker or a painter would be inclined to see what they write, speak or paint rather than write, speak or paint what they see (cf Gombrich 1986:73). For example, the words terrorist and freedom fighter may refer to the same person but we will not find both words being used in a single discourse. During the years in which the African National Congress (ANC) waged its liberation struggle against the South African regime the mass media were prevented by law and social convention from referring to the activities of the ANC as a liberation struggle. The ANC was named a terrorist organisation waging a terror onslaught.
Words or concepts can be regarded as labels that structure perception by classifying objects, people and situations, and such a classification depends on the ideological assumptions of the writer and not on any quality of the object, situation or behaviour being classified. For example, imagine having a conversation with a person and suddenly you notice that he or she is getting agitated. You could interpret and describe the agitation as an indication that the person gets angry or gets aggressive. Each description refers to the same event but implies a different evaluation and classification that carries different meanings and justification for subsequent responses. For example, if the person you are talking to is a psychiatrist, you would probably say that he gets angry, but if the person is a mental patient you would say that he gets aggressive (cf Edelman 1974:300). Indeed, such classification of activities and categorisation of people are performed by the practice, talk and writing of psychiatrists and other members of the helping professions who have constructed a vocabulary of concepts such as mental illness, deviance, help and therapy to label certain common activities as demanding professional intervention. Edelman (1974:297) deconstructs the logic behind the use of the concept therapy by psychiatrists. In psychiatrists’ discourse ordinary people may hold dances, but mental patients have dance therapy; engaging in sport is recreation therapy; group discussion is group therapy, and reading activity is bibliotherapy. The use of such a vocabulary has political implications, as Edelman (1974:297) puts it:
To label a common activity as though it were a medical one is to establish superior and subordinate roles, to make it clear who gives orders and who takes them, and to justify in advance the inhibitions placed upon the subordinate classes.
The use of the concept help is another example. According to Edelman (1974:295) psychiatrists often ignore the demands and requests made by mental patients, because to grant them would not be in line with helping but rather reinforce deviant behaviour and, in line with the helping ideology, demanding mental patients are sometimes punished. Is the psychiatrist’s action punishment or help? Or, for example, how should one interpret the following treatment of mental patients recommended by psychiatric texts?
[D]eprivation of food, bed, walks in open air, visitors, mail, or telephone calls; solitary confinement; deprivation of reading or entertainment material; immobilizing people by tying them into wet sheets and then exhibiting them to staff and other patients; other physical restraints on body movement; drugging the mind against the client’s will; incarceration in locked wards; a range of public humiliations such as the prominent posting of alleged intentions to escape or commit suicide, the requirement of public confessions of misconduct or guilt, and public announcement of individual misdeeds and abnormalities.
Depending on the specific professional ideological perspective, psychiatric treatment could be described as either help and therapy or punishment and sadism. For persons not trained in the perspective of the discourse of psychiatry such language would evoke the horror of torture and repression while for the trained professionals subscribing to the accepted ideology these are necessary means to achieve rehabilitation. Such ambiguity is also seen in response to the label mental illness that evokes various connotations: helping the sick person, or repressing the dangerous non-conformist, the former is based on sympathy and later on fear (cf Edelman 1974:298).
The language of ‘reinforcement’ and ‘help’ evokes in our minds a world in which the weak and the wayward need to be controlled for their own good. The language of ‘authority’ and ‘repression’ evokes a different reality, in which the rights of the powerless need to be protected against abuse by the powerful.
The professional and non-political classification and language of the helping professions fulfil a political function. As society becomes more complex and more people become discontented and more types of behaviour become labelled as deviant by psychiatrists, medical doctors and social workers gain authority and the power to apply such labels. These ‘professionals create and reinforce popular beliefs about which kinds of people are worthy and which are unworthy: about who should be rewarded through government action and who controlled or repressed’ (Edelman 1974:297). Indeed, the practice of psychologists has been often renounced as repression. The mass media are important in promoting labels that become ‘official vocable, constantly repeated in general usage, "sanctioned" by the intellectuals, it has lost all cognitive value and serves merely for recognition of an unquestionable fact’ (Marcuse 1970:84). The use of such technical labels prevents discussion and critical thought, as it authoritatively defines good and evil and communicates decisions, dictums and commands that must be unquestionably accepted (cf Marcuse 1970:89). Increasingly, the uses of technical vocabularies of experts in the service of government agencies come to dominate the political decision-making process and such a scientisation of politics (Habermas 1972:62), or the rationalisation and programming of society through the medical, psychiatric, carceral, etc, techniques of intervention (cf Foucault 1980, 1988) eliminates the open public debate on social policy characteristic of democratic politics, and replaces it with bureaucratic domination (cf Habermas 1972:62--80). The use of such vocabulary makes it easy to accept without questioning the fact that an increasing number of legitimate political activities are criminalised. For example, consider the concept unemployment. If in a large city one man or a woman is unemployed we would consider this to be the individual’s personal trouble resulting from some personal failing, but in a nation of 50 million people if 15 million are unemployed and living in poverty then this is no longer individual trouble but a public issue requiring economic and political solution (cf Mills 1978:15). Indeed, attempts by individuals to make political statements can be easily subverted by professional vocabulary. For example, a woman whose poverty makes her angry or despondent becomes a symbol of individual sickness rather than a victim of malfunctioning economy after a psychiatrist defines her as hysteric (cf Edelman in Fourie 1991:4). This way public issues of social structure over which the individual has no control are transformed by definition into personal troubles attributed to the private faults of the individual (cf Mills 1978:14). Indeed, political opposition from the powerless classes in South Africa during the era of apartheid was often classified as deviance, justifying violent reaction from the state. The helping professions have become part of the new social science police -- effective agents of social control and through their professional language they help ‘manipulate the discontented into conformity and docility and to isolate or incarcerate those who refuse to be "rehabilitated" ‘ (Edelman 1974:310).
Words and concepts are essentially metaphors that translate sense experience into vocal and visual symbols (cf McLuhan 1969:67). Metaphors are concepts that allow us to understand and experience one kind of thing in terms of another, and are a useful means of understanding a new or problematic situation in terms of situations that are already familiar. Metaphors are based on basic concepts that are derived from concrete or physical experience of the environment. As ideas and concepts become more abstract, metaphors are used to translate them into more concrete basic domains that are already understood. As such, metaphors influence and structure the way we think and behave (cf Lakoff & Johnson 1980:5). Lakoff and Johnson (1980:4) show how the metaphor argument is war influences our understanding and conduct of everyday arguments. In our everyday language the metaphor argument is war is common, for example:
Your claims are indefensible.
He attacked my arguments.
Her criticism was right on target.
I demolished her argument.
He shot down my arguments.
I have never won an argument with him.
Of course, arguments and war are different kinds of actions, but because of the prevalence of the metaphor in our everyday language, we tend to think of it and argue as if we were conducting war, rather than as if argument was a dance (cf Lakoff & Johnson 1980:5). The metaphor provides a limited perspective through related framework of concepts on the activity and has the ability to highlight one aspect while concealing other ways of thinking about it. As a result, we not only use the war metaphor to talk about arguments in terms of war, but we actually conduct our arguments as if we were engaged in real combat. Indeed, the war metaphor is a favourite in mass-media discourse when describing politics (cf So 1987:624; Chilton & Ilyin 1993:10). Identifying the various metaphors should make us aware of their influence on our thinking and acting.
IDEOLOGICAL MANIPULATION THROUGH GRAMMAR
According to Kress and Hodge (1979:7) ‘the grammar of language is its theory of reality’, because grammar provides models that describe the interrelation between objects and events and these models classify events in the world. Grammar provides categories for distinction between subject and object in a sentence, explaining causation by linking a deed and a doer. Indeed, the idea of grammar originated in ancient Greece where grammar was the first part of philosophy. For the Greeks it was part of their general inquiry into the nature of the world (cf Lyons 1977:4). Traditional grammar is regarded as ‘the art of speaking and writing correctly’, and the grammarian’s task is to identify ‘good usage’, which means the language of the educated classes who are considered to speak and write their pure native language, and to safeguard such good usage against corruption (cf Lyons 1977:18).
Nietzsche (1978:38) points to the ideological role of grammar when he states that ‘I fear we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar.’ That is, all our beliefs are based on our grammatical habits.
Words give us the illusion that we have described something or discovered some truth about it when we have merely named it, and the further illusion that the existence of the word guarantees the existence of whatever the word refers to. Because grammar of the language we have inherited is founded upon a relationship between subject and predicate, we cannot help think this subject-predicate relationship into the real world in the form of ‘thing’ and the ‘action’ of a thing, of ‘being’ and ‘doing’; ultimately we believe in ‘God-world’ only because we believe in ‘subject-predicate’.
The God-concept as a supreme subject had its fatal social consequences. According to Nietzsche (1978: 37), the God-concept is ‘the most general ... the last, thinnest, emptiest’ concept invented by man and consequently it ‘was placed as the first ... at the beginning as the beginning’, as the original cause for everything. And for centuries the God-concept was used for social repression, and in turn such repression manufactured the belief in the God-concept. Not only was God made by man in his own image, but the image was of a male God that justified the domination of women by men, relegating women to an inferior social status (cf Spender 1980:166--167).
In the production of text the writer or speaker makes choices and selects words and grammatical constructions and each choice affects the meaning communicated by presenting a different perspective of the world. A critical understanding of language should probe why a particular choice of linguistic construction was made rather than another (cf Kress 1984:125). For example, reporting on action a writer can present it from various perspectives: by using transitive or intransitive verbs or using the active or passive voice (cf Fowler 1991:70--78). Each choice transforms meanings and presents a different perspective that usually reflects an ideological commitment, as the following example of transitivity shows:
(1) Police kill prisoner in a cell.
(2) Prisoner found dead in a police cell.
While the two sentences have similar meanings, they imply different perspectives on the situation on which they report. In the first sentence the focus is on an actor/agent (‘police’) who performs a transitive action affecting someone or something, here, the action (‘kill’) is performed on someone -- the affected participant/object of the sentence (‘prisoner’). The sentence focuses on the actor/agent, providing an explanation and placing the responsibility on the actor. In the second sentence the point of view is that of the affected participant/object and the emphasis is no longer on the action or actor but on a state of affairs -- ‘prisoner found dead’. Such a transformation displaces the responsibility from the actor to the object. A similar transformation is done by a change from active to passive voice. Compare the following two newspaper headlines:
(1) Police shoot 11 dead in Salisbury riot.
(2) Rioting blacks shot dead by police as ANC leaders meet.
The active and passive voice have different characteristics that contribute to their meanings. In the first headline the emphasis is squarely on the agent performing the action, and identifying the police as responsible for the deaths. The use of the passive in the second headline places the emphasis not on those who did the act of shooting but on those on the receiving end. The change of emphasis displaces the responsibility for the action from the police to their victims (cf Montgomery 1986:186--187; Kress 1984: 127; Fowler 1991:78).
The grammatical choices made by the mass media could be explained if linked to the discursive practice of the particular newspapers, their assumptions about society, and their professional or institutional ideology (cf McQuail 1980:174--182), and their specific political ideology and position within the field of power relations in the social formation. Thus we may discover, for example, that headline (2) above is derived from a conservative and pro-government publication and headline (1) from an opposition newspaper. Such examples of grammatical manipulation underlined by ideological assumptions could be found in the use of language by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) television news broadcasts during the 1980s. Because South African television was controlled by the regime, all news reports on police activity were actively manipulated and reporting on police shooting of protesters were almost exclusively in the passive voice, for example ‘Nine people died and almost 200 injured’ or ‘Country-wide unrest cost the lives of two rioters last night’ (cf Posel 1989:264). By removing the grammatical acting agents of the sentence, the television viewer was prevented from regarding the police as the agents who were responsible for the death of protesters, and attention was directed to the abstract concept unrest as being responsible for death, and the protesters (presented as rioters) who paid with their lives.
Texts produced by scientists are also characterised by the passive voice and the absence of the reporting subject. For example, scientists report that ‘it was decided to use this method ...’ rather than ‘we decided to use this method ...’, or ‘the test indicates there is a significant difference ...’ and not ‘based on the test, we concluded ...’ (cf Gusfield 1976:20). The choice of the passive voice is a convention of the discourse of science and ‘implies that to be scientific is to exercise a definite form over language in use and to write in a particular way which shows the audience that the writer is doing science’ (Gusfield 1976:17). The impersonal style of scientific discourse when combined with a technical vocabulary becomes pretentious, obscure and unintelligible (cf Mills 1978:242). The dense and unreadable prose of scientific writing is a self-conscious convention indicating that this writing is a serious intellectual activity, while scientists writing in a readable style are scorned as being mere literary men or mere journalists. According to Mills (1978:242), such socspeak is unrelated to the complexity of the subject matter of science and serves only to establish a position of superiority and power for the scientist. As Mills (1978:242) puts it, such style is used ‘to establish academic claims for one’s self; to write in this way is to say to the reader ... "I know something that is so difficult you can understand it only if you first learn my difficult language" ‘, and to perpetuate the distance between scientists and lesser mortals.
PERSPECTIVES ON REALITY IMPLIED BY COHESION AND TEXT STRUCTURE
Text structure refers to larger segments of the text such as the topics, themes, perspectives and the overall meaning of the text (cf Fairclough 1992a:75; Van Dijk 1988:170). Words, individual sentences or sequences of sentences are organised into a coherent unity and form the particular text. Such a global framework or text structure gives us the overall topic or theme represented in the text. Selection of particular topics and the avoidance of others give an insight into assumptions, beliefs and systems of knowledge and ideologies of the discursive practice. For example, South African English language newspapers in the 1980s reported on an increase in the number of black children imprisoned by the authorities. However, almost none of the government-aligned Afrikaans media reported on such matters but instead deflected attention by setting an agenda for constructing a new social problem of sexually abused children (cf Sonderling 1993:17).
Rhetorical devices such as argumentative structure are another means to provide cohesion and provide an insight into the assumptions and ideologies of the communicator. For example, simple cohesive devices such as the conjunctions since, if, and, etc, may perform an ideological function by providing coherence and explain connections between different and unrelated things or situations that we would not usually perceive. Such a method is commonly found in advertising text (cf Fairclough 1992a:77, 176), as in the following example:
The road through life is full of bumps and unexpected twists and turns. Toyota has always been committed to making the journey as smooth as possible.
(Sunday Times 30 April 1995:17)
The advertisement makes a connection between life and a motorcar journey by using a metaphor to describe life as a bumpy road, followed by a statement that the car manufacturer is committed to making the journey through life as smooth as possible.
DISCURSIVE PRACTICES: THE USE OF LANGUAGE FOR PRODUCTION AND CIRCULATION OF MEANINGS
The use of language is an activity -- a speech act. For example, when we speak, we perform a number of activities: we move our lips and make noises, or when writing we produce marks on paper; we also do something with our language, for example give commands or ask questions (cf Austin 1984). Such use is termed discourse or discursive practice and is a particular form of social practice involving the use of language -- the production, circulation and interpretation of texts. As such, language use is a distinct social activity and can be distinguished from non-linguistic activities such as the production of goods and action.
Acts of speech (parole) are not simply subjective and individual expressions but are socially shaped. In other words, the type of language we speak and how we speak are determined largely by our social context, social role, identity, and membership of a social group (cf Fairclough 1990:21). Language is not homogenously and uniformly used by the entire linguistic community, rather, language is used in various ways. For example, the language spoken by South Africans is a particular national variety of the English language:
Let us resign ourselves to the fact that South Africans sound different, not to say funny, to the English. So do Australians, New Zealanders, Americans and the millions of other non-English people who are nonetheless Anglophone. We have a completely different idiom ... The way we speak English is part of the identity we seek ... We should not make excuses for sounding different. We should be proud of it.
(The Pretoria News 22 April 1995:6)
Further, within any large linguistic community there are different regional dialects, slang and formal discourses of social groups. A distinct dimension of discursive practice with its distinctive communicative behaviour is a distinction between social class-cultures that are predominantly oral as against more educated and literate. Such differences acquired by differential in socialisation and eduction result in their members showing different and distinct styles of communicative interaction and world views or mentalities (cf Botha 1991; Kochman 1974; McLuhan 1969; Ong 1982).
Besides national and regional varieties in language use there are also particular and specialised discursive practices such as science, law, religion, journalism and art, regulated by formal rules, conventions, and institutional constraints that determine which person may speak, and who is excluded, how a person may or may not speak, what should or should not be said (cf Sonderling 1994).
Scientific writing is an example of a discursive practice that has many formal rules and convention for producing text. Whenever a scientist has something to say about his subject of study, his or her way of saying it is determined by conventions laid down in style manuals and such conventions are learned during the process of entering the scientific community. The specific rules and convention determine the grammatical constructions, vocabulary and the general layout of the text. Thus, a scientist wanting to publish an article in an academic journal needs to conform to the conventions and style that the editorial board believes are appropriate (cf Crystal 1974:29). Orwell (1975:149) provides an example of how to transform everyday language into scientific text. Orwell takes the following biblical text:
I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet the bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to all.
The Biblical writer provides important observations on social phenomena, but the personal style and details do not conform to the requirements of scientific writing. For such an observation to be accepted as a scientific report it needs to be transformed and given a particular style, as Orwell shows by rewriting the sentence thus:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
By changing the personal style into an impersonal style and transforming concrete examples into generalisations, the biblical text is easily translated into the language of scientific discourse. Similar translations and rhetorical recodification of popular superstitions into scientific vocabulary are conducted today by the mass media, social psychology and other helping professions (cf Harré 1985:141).
The discursive practice of journalism in particular, with its formal and informal rules, has become important for constructing and communicating ideology in contemporary society. To understand how such ideological work is performed we can examine how journalists construct texts.
A news article that appears in the newspaper confirms the institutional assumptions and professional ideologies of the journalists (cf McQuail 1980:174--182). The selection of the topic is the result of assumptions regarding what is considered newsworthy. Events do not make their way into the news simply because they happen, but because they are recognised as fitting in with a category pre-defined by the media as news. To be accepted within such a category the event must fulfil certain criteria of news values before it is selected by the media. For example, for an event to be considered newsworthy it needs to occur frequently, take a short time to unfold, and its meaning should be quickly discerned. In addition, the newsworthy event also needs to be dramatic and involve many people; for example, an argument between neigbours is less newsworthy than a war (cf Hartley 1982:76).
Once the topic of the news article has been acknowledged as newsworthy, there is a further complex process of reporting, writing and rewriting. For example, a press statement from a government department is delivered to the news editor. The news editor assigns a journalist to the story. After reading the press release the journalist may consult other related reports on the issue to familiarise himself or herself with the background. The journalist then sets up interviews with people involved to gain more information and will then write his or her report. The journalist’s report is in turn handed to the news editor who may make some corrections or changes. The text is then delivered to a subeditor for ‘cutting’, tightening, clarifying, and making the text conform to the official style and policy of the newspaper. The edited version of the original story may again be read by the newspaper editor, who may suggest additional changes. Should legal issues be involved, the editor may obtain legal advice and make the appropriate changes to the story. The final version is sent to the printers and once printed the newspaper is delivered to the public. Thus a newspaper article is the result of a collective effort by journalist, editors, managers, technical personnel, etc, working within a complex institution.
ORDERS OF DISCOURSE: TEXT AND DISCOURSE IN THE FIELD OF SOCIAL POWER RELATIONS
Texts and discursive practices are socially situated and such social context provides the conditions for their existence. This explains why the discursive practice and the texts produced are as they are.
Texts and discursive practices are socially determined through the various formal conventions that influence the way we communicate. For example, the manner in which we conduct interpersonal conversations with close friends or family members differs greatly from the manner we communicate in formal contexts such as delivering a speech in public. Within a particular society the different and distinct types of discursive practice and the texts produced by them are given different values, prestige and authority. Such differences in values of discourse are termed orders of discourse (cf Fairclough 1992a:69). For example, slang is considered inferior to the official and correct language; the discursive practice of the law courts and judges are given greater prestige, value and power than the discursive practices of poetry.
The authority of the individual to speak socially and to be taken seriously is institutionalised throughout society according to gender/sex and according to membership in different discursive practices. It is evident that not everyone has the right to speak everywhere or on any topic; some people in society speak with authority while some only listen. For example, in our society medical discourse has acquired a privileged position and people such as doctors and psychologists are authorised to define health and illness, as Foucault (1986:51) puts it:
Medical statements cannot come from anybody; their value, efficacy, even their therapeutic powers, and, generally speaking, their existence as medical statements cannot be dissociated from the statutorily defined person who has the right to make them, and to claim for them the power to overcome suffering and death.
In many societies the words of men are usually taken more seriously than those of women because women are considered inferior to men. Consider the meaning of the word professional in the following two sentences (cf Spender 1980:19):
(1) He is a professional.
(2) She is a professional.
The word professional should by all accounts have the same meaning in both sentences. However, it is not so. Most speakers of English would conclude that in sentence (1) he refers to someone who is a doctor or lawyer or a member of the other professions while in sentence (2) they would assume that she is a prostitute.
In addition to ascribing value to people according to their sex or gender (linguistic sex), membership of social class, ethnicity and race are also important categorisation and valuation criteria. For example, Sonderling (1992) shows how the South African media labelled black minibus-taxi drivers as Third World drivers and such a label implied that by nature they were bad, reckless, murderous drivers responsible for most road deaths because as inferior drivers they were unable to master First World driving conditions. The use of this First World/Third World dichotomy conceals an underlying racist evaluation and devaluation (cf Janks & Ivanic 1992:326--329).
The orders of discourse -- the social hierarchy of discourses -- are the result of a long history of social and political struggles. From such struggles, particular types of discourse and the people authorised to use them are given privilege and authority to define social reality. The following is an example of a historical power struggle involved in establishing the value and power of different discursive practices in South Africa.
During the apartheid era the South African government enforced repressive censorship legislation. A government censorship body had almost a free hand to ban publications deemed undesirable to the government. However, many attempts by the government to censor and ban publications were frustrated because people could appeal to the Supreme Court which often overruled the decisions of the censorship board. Government ministers and ministers of the Afrikaner churches claimed that the discourse of the government-appointed censorship body should not be challenged by the courts because there is no one in South Africa, from the Chief Justice down ... who is better able to decide on these matters than the Publication Board itself.
Subsequently the government appointed a commission of inquiry, whose main task was to remove the Supreme Court from the censorship process. To justify the elimination of the Supreme Court from the censorship process, the commission stated that the right of appeal to the Supreme Court tended to involve the court in controversy because the court’s decisions differed from those of the censorship board. The main assault on the Supreme Court by the commission was based on the claim that the Supreme Court’s pronouncements were of no greater value than those of other authorities sanctioned by the government. The commission suggested that the Supreme Court expressed a subjective opinion and thus could be subordinated to the opinion of other authorities. According to the commission, both the Supreme Court and the Publications Control Board differed in their opinion because their decisions regarding undesirability were based on subjective evaluation criteria and in deciding an appeal against the decisions of the Publication Control Board, the court substitutes its opinion for that of the Publications Board. If the Court was just as competent as a board of experts to give an opinion on ethical norms, then it was also true that the board of experts is just as competent as the Court to give an opinion on ethical norms. In making the case against the courts, the commission also objected that the Supreme Court rejected the opinion of a bishop and a prestigious Afrikaner church minister:
To quote an example ... an attempt was made to lodge with the Court affidavits made by ... a minister of the Stellenbosch Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, (who was also) Vice-Chancellor of the University of Stellenbosch, has been the moderator of the Cape Synod of that Church since 1965 and was Moderator of the General Synod of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Suid-Afrika from 1966 to 1970 ... . Legally speaking, the Court was quite right in refusing to admit these affidavits and it proceeded to give an opinion finding which was opposite to that of the two clergymen. In the Commission’s opinion this kind of thing tends to involve our courts in controversy, since in cases such as this the public would attach great value to the opinions of clergymen and would not be able to understand why their opinions should be rejected.
(Kruger Commission in Sonderling 1996a:40)
Because the government had the ultimate power to substitute one discourse for another, and the right of appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision of the Publications Board was replaced with appeal to a prestigious body of government-appointed experts (cf Sonderling 1996a:38--41). These experts then legitimise their specialised discursive practice by making distinction between their superior opinion and knowledge and that of the lesser members of society, as the chairman of the Publications Appeal Board puts it:
[I]t appears unlikely that much value could be attached to evidence as to the opinions of laymen regarding the question of obscenity, since the latter is an intricate legal concept. To ask a man to state his opinion on a specific blend of coffee is one thing, to ask him for his opinion on whether something is ‘obscene’ is a far more complex question, one which requires some understanding of the legal issues involved.
(Van Rooyen 1987:47 in Sonderling 1996a:42)
The vocabulary of legal discourse used by the censorship body to dismiss public opinion corresponds to the judicial arrogance of the time enunciated by a Supreme Court judge who considered public opinion to be the irrelevant opinion of a bunch of faceless and uninformed people. Having legitimated its power, the Censorship Board went on to define its discursive practice, make policy and provide guidelines regarding the use of some trivial words considered potentially offensive:
After the few cases in 1980 in which the word ‘fuck’ was allowed in films with military theme it was also allowed in films whose settings warrant its use ... The main consideration in deciding whether or not to cut these words is their frequency, audibility, the identity of the person uttering them, the identity of the person to whom they are spoken, and the age restriction imposed ... Some expletives, such as ‘cunt’, ‘motherfucker’, and ‘cocksucker’ are decidedly risqué and must in most cases be functional if they are not to be cut. If terms such as ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’, ‘shit’ and ‘pussy’ are used in their primary sense stricter rules are applied ... In general the word ‘fuck’ is not allowed in films with an age restriction lower than 2--14 ... Occasionally, though never as a matter of policy, the expletive ‘fuck’ has been left in films with age restrictions lower than 2--14 ... Such instances were usually, however, barely audible ... Words less vulgar than ‘fuck’ are, however, usually left in films.
(Van Rooyen 1987:78--79 in Sonderling 1996a:42)
The ability of certain discursive practices to define our reality should make us aware of the close relationship between language, social relations of power and ideology (cf Thompson 1990:6). Ideology can be considered as meaning in the service of power (cf Thompson 1992:7), and refers to the ways in which particular meanings or significations serve to establish and maintain relations of social domination. Such meanings are constructed and communicated through the social use of language -- from our everyday conversations to the complex texts of the various discursive practices (cf Thompson 1990:5; 1992:7). Ideology operates most effectively when it becomes naturalised and achieves the status of a commonsense explanation for the ways the world and society operate (cf Fairclough 1992a:87).
Many examples of ideological assumptions are found in discursive practice of the mass media. For example, from a journalist’s point of view, a good interview is one that contains interesting opinion. To make the interview more interesting for the readers of a newspaper or viewer of a television show, a good journalist will attempt to introduce personal aspects or a human factor of the people being interviewed by asking for the interviewees’ first names, having them say something about themselves and asking for their opinion on the current topic of the interview (cf Mey 1985:68--69). This is evident in particular when journalists interview striking workers or their families, and questions such as the following are considered interesting:
Tell me what you feel about this situation, how does it affect you and your family, is there anything in it for you, why are you doing this, how come you and your children put up with all these hardships, what does your wife/husband say about it, how do you relate to the other people here, how about this particular strike and the union, do they help you at all, what do the bosses say, do you think the strike is going to be a success, et cetera.
However, while such questions are taken for granted by the discursive practice of journalism, they nevertheless reflect the ideology of individualism of our Western society. By adding such a personal touch the journalist manipulates and distorts the situation because the workers’ decision to go on strike and their motives are not the individual worker’s alone, but express the motives of the labour community as a whole and are based on collective consciousness of the labour situation (cf Mey 1985:69--70). Asking striking workers for their personal opinion is inappropriate, but such an individualist perspective is enforced by the mass media and propagated as the only legitimate position regarding labour disputes. This is further motivated by the rules of journalistic discursive practices that perpetuate such a perspective for news reporting on labour relations. In many instances reporters’ ignorance about labour issues is common (cf Burton 1987:192). Further, most reporting on labour disputes is biased in favour of big business, as the media usually strive not to offend this economic sector that pays good advertising money. The media’s insistence on quoting authoritative sources who are easy to reach for comment results in representatives of big business, employers, and management being first to be contacted by the media. By the time the media interview the workers the story angle has already been fixed (cf Burton 1987:193; Tomaselli & Tomaselli 1987:68). Story angles favoured by the media to represent labour disputes present them as unnatural activities that are not in the national interest (cf Burton 1987:191). With such underlying bias it is not unusual to find traces of managerial persuasive communication reproduced by the media. For example, statements by management that combine two or more imperatives connecting and purposefully conflating unrelated issues such as: ‘The employment, housing, health and feeding schemes are specifically for you’, so why strike?, or the use of unanswerable negative questions such as ‘Isn’t the security of employment and a pension fund more important than questioning new appointments?’ (cf Du Plooy 1995:25).
LANGUAGE AS IDEOLOGY: A CASE STUDY OF SOUTH AFRICAN MEDIA DISCOURSE ON DEMOCRACY
In this section the value of critical language awareness and critical discourse analysis is demonstrated by reading samples of South African media texts on democracy. In this critical analysis a text of an editorial commentary (see box below) from the Sunday Times of 18 December 1994 (cf Sonderling 1996b:107--110) is read within the larger context of other media texts, discursive practices and the sociopolitical context of South African journalism after the transition to democracy under the newly elected ANC government.
|We can all reap fruits of democracy
President Nelson Mandela’s call yesterday for the country to put itself on a moral footing strikes a deeply resonant note for many South Africans now caught in the half-light of doubt after the euphoria created by the miracle of political rebirth earlier this year.
The past increasingly emerges as a truly dark world, described by Mr Mandela as ‘a litany of corruption, self-enrichment and a lopsided skills base’, as a decayed edifice presided over by the National Party, as an apartheid mess.
So it was. But the task of dragging the country from that morass lies firmly with the ANC, the majority party in the government of national unity. In this awesome challenge it can expect little help from the powerful vested interests who benefited from the past. Its loneliness, to borrow Mr Mandela’s words, is part of the ‘thorny crown of leadership’.
The key to defending this very fragile democracy lies in good governance. That can only be achieved by, first, making all South Africans believe they are beneficiaries of that democracy and, second, forging a patriotism that goes well beyond flags and simple rhetoric.
There can be no half measures and Mr Mandela is right to warn his more clamorous supporters and allies that concepts like fiscal discipline, economic growth and stability are not luxuries -- they are critical to the success of the democracy.
If morality and good governance are to flourish it is crucial that South Africans drop the pernicious zero-sum view that blacks can only be advantaged by taking away from whites or, put the other way, whites must suffer to subsidise blacks.
A growing economy driven by good government would make the argument irrelevant: all will benefit. The current debate about whether the ANC is inclining towards ‘white’ interests at the expense of ‘black’ interests would then be exposed for what it is -- spurious.
In his speech to the ANC’s conference yesterday, Mr Mandela immediately grasped the point. ‘Reconstruction and development are not separate programmes directed variously at specific racial groups. They are mutually reinforcing tasks in the national effort to change South Africa for the better.’
The central challenge confronting the ANC, said Mr Mandela, is the deracialising of South African society.
It is necessary to keep this in mind because as the new government goes through successive crises of authority and delivery in the future, there will be an undoubted tendency by recidivists in the organisation to fall back on racial scapegoating to hide failure. This continued racialising of the country, similar to what is happening now in Zimbabwe, would be fatal to all hopes of reconciliation.
This raises the second essential element for good and moral governance: the need for a broader national patriotism.
There is, sadly, little evidence of it at present. Too many private agendas, too many lobbies, too much special pleading whether by truck drivers, wildcat strikers, public servants, rebellious soldiers and policemen, magnates (black or white), teachers or spokesmen for single-issue interest groups.
It is the successful accommodation of these narrow, sometimes excessive, sectarian interests within the new democracy without damaging the society as a whole that will require a toughness of mind, a steel in the belly, that has not been abundantly in evidence in the ANC’s stewardship of the country in the last seven months.
The generous view is that it is still a period of settling in and that as government confidence grows, so will authority. The less generous view is that the ANC is attempting to govern the country as it does its own vast and diverse organisation -- by trade-offs and deals, compromises and diversions, all aimed at ducking rather than solving problems.
The ANC needs to take heart at its 49th conference. It has a leader who enjoys unchallengeable moral authority here and abroad and, if recent opinion polls are anything to go by, presides over a deeply supportive electorate which genuinely believes that a better life is within grasp.
The ANC can afford to be decisive, even tough.
The Sunday Times (1994) editorial is an example of a particular type of text or genre, known as an editorial opinion, that can be contrasted with a news report which is considered factual and objective and has its own particular formal structures. An editorial opinion clearly presents the newspaper’s own view of reality and the newspaper’s ideology. That is, editorial opinion mostly takes the form of moralising as it puts forward what the newspaper thinks reality ought to be rather than what it is (cf Braham 1982:269--270). Characteristically such opinion is presented in an authoritative style of a lecture, claiming to represent social consensus, exhibiting definitive knowledge regarding what is good or right, common sense wisdom, and offering rebuttal of other peoples ideas (cf Fowler 1991:211, 221). The editorial commentary reproduced above is an example of the discursive practice of most white, English-speaking South African journalists and their mainly white English reading public. Economically, the newspaper depends on advertising money derived mainly from white enterprise that traditionally enjoyed a position of privilege in South Africa. Politically, the Sunday Times claims to express a liberal view.
The headline of the Sunday Times (1994) editorial directs the reader’s attention to the topic of the article: democracy. Democracy is presented in terms of an organic or natural metaphor -- as if it were a tree or plant that needs nourishment and it bears fruits that everyone can reap.
The first two paragraphs present politics as a morality play by defining good and evil, darkness and light/half-light, mess and order. The article’s moralising is clear by the repeated use of the word morality: a call ‘for the country to put itself on a moral footing’ ... ‘if morality and good governance are to flourish’ ... ‘good and moral governance’ ... and ‘a leader who enjoys unchallengeable moral support’. According to the editorial writer, the newly gained democracy needs to be defended, and the key to defending this very fragile democracy lies in morality and good governance. But behind such frequent use of moral vocabulary by the editorial writer there is a basic misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the applicability of morality to an evaluation of politics (cf Niebuhr 1960:xx--xxiv). There is also an expression of self-serving interest: by claiming the moral high-ground, the media substitute themselves for the democratically elected politicians who are the true representatives of the public (cf Braham 1982:269--271). Indeed, the exercise of political power is mostly expressed in statements about values and talk about morality (cf Bell 1975:83). By moralising public life there is a desire to place politics under a common moral rule -- under the control of a consensus -- resulting in all conflicts, contests and differences being eliminated, thus making politics unimportant and marginal. Such an outdated idea is essentially based on a desire to escape politics (cf Connolly 1983:213). Indeed, attempts to escape politics -- to remove politics from the political sphere -- was familiar to the old apartheid regime: escaping politics by enforced consensus, installing a powerful bureaucracy and keeping black South Africans disenfranchised. Such enforced consensus was also supported by press censorship and the use of moral and religious vocabularies in politics. The legacy of the apartheid discursive framework is used today by the South African media to report on the new democracy and leads to curiously distorted texts. For example, a headline in the Pretoria News (31 March 1994:3) surprisingly proclaims that ‘Politics sneak into council meeting’, and goes on to report that:
It was good while it lasted, but Pretoria City Councillors could not keep politics out of their monthly council meeting.
Councillors managed to keep politics out of main agenda debates, but when it came to the discussion of a management committee decision on holding a civic banquet to honour visiting heads of state attending the inauguration of the new State President on May 10, things changed.
What is curious in this report is the misrecognition that city councils are primarily political forums and councillors are representatives of political parties. Indeed, there is such a tacit acknowledgement of the council’s political nature when the newspaper identifies the councillors firstly by their political party affiliations and then by their names.
Not only do the media show a misunderstanding of politics but they also misrecognise democracy. With the elections in 1994 South Africa entered a process of democratisation. It is a process through which the exercise of political power by a regime or a state becomes less arbitrary, exclusive and authoritarian. Bargaining as opposed to command takes on increasing importance in public life and alternative power centres begin to emerge in society. There is an increase in the expression of opposing views and criticism. The people who hold political power begin to recognise that government must proceed through persuasion and reward rather than through coercion and threat. The political leaders also recognise that political, economic and social goals can be achieved by allowing different social groups greater autonomy and participation in decision making. Wider participation in political life by various groups enhances the legitimacy of the government and the state. A culture of democracy demands tolerance of opposition and willingness to compromise with political opponents. Thus, democracy does not demand a powerful government and an autonomous apparatus of the state but a government that can accommodate the demands of various sections of the population. Democracy means that groups of people organise themselves and demand their individual and group interests. At the centre of democratic politics we always find conflict between numerous groups with different views. Democracy is thus seen as ‘government by discussion’ involving public conversations, disputations and persuasions (Schudson 1997:297). In today’s democratic society politics is talk as most political deeds are built of and around words; politics more appropriately can be defined as who talks to whom, when and how (cf Bell 1975:10--12).
However, the South African media and the Sunday Times (1994) editorial writer see democracy differently. According to the editorial writer, democracy can be achieved by, ‘first, making all South African believe they are beneficiaries of that democracy and, second, forging a patriotism that goes well beyond flags and simple rhetoric’. It seems that for the editorial writer, democracy is a matter of creating an illusion, making all South Africans believe, rather than creating a reality. The important issue is not to democratise society but to create a fiction in which the majority of people will be made to believe that they are beneficiaries of a democracy. Of course, the daily reality of most of the people -- mainly non-readers of the newspaper -- contradicts such an illusion. With an economy dominated by white haves and a black majority of have nots, it is difficult to expect, as does the Sunday Times (1994) editorial that ‘a growing economy driven by good government’ will ensure that ‘all will benefit’. Here the economy is presented in terms of an organic metaphor in a similar manner to the way democracy was presented in the headline. The choice of metaphor is not coincidental but reflects an ideological position: the capitalist economy is the natural order of things. There are of course other metaphors for presenting the economy such as a building structure, or a performance (cf Nelson 1990:18--20). Indeed, in the financial and business sections of South African media the economy is presented in terms of the war or boxing match metaphors, for example (Pretoria News Business Report 2 and 3 July 1998):
Fight for full payout on your endowment policy
Big guns help rand claw back
Double blow puts rand on the canvas
However, by presenting the economy in organic terms the Sunday Times (1994) readers’ attention are distracted from the fact that an economy is a social institution dominated by the powerful interests of dominant social and racial classes. The South African economy based on a racial imbalance has not advanced the disadvantaged classes in the past. For all to benefit, what is needed is nothing short of a revolution -- in fact the ANC’s Reconstruction and Development Programme is a revolutionary levelling of the South African economic and social playing fields. However, powerful vested interests who benefited from the past still oppose the idea of democracy. It seems as if change is also accepted with some difficulty by the editorial writer who would like to see that black ‘South Africans drop the pernicious zero-sum view that blacks can only be advanced by taking away from whites or, put the other way, whites must suffer to subsidise blacks’ (Sunday Times 1994). In other words, it would perhaps be better if we were to retain the old status quo.
Seen against this background it may seem that democracy means something different to the South African media for whom free expression of plurality of opinions, free contestations, and conflictual verbal politics are unfamiliar features of the new society. Such unfamiliarity gives rise to paradoxical pronouncements such as the following headline in The Star (Brand 1996:3):
Verdict on constitution could usher in new era of democracy -- or more political wrangling
It is as if the concepts democracy and political wrangling did not belong to the same discourse. And indeed, for the writer of the above article (Brand 1996:3) democracy seems to exclude political wrangling and negotiations when he states that ‘political observers [ie journalists] have expressed fears that some parties may be tempted to reopen negotiations on clauses relating to the death penalty ...’. Such a conceptual framework direct the media to reject the free and open exchange of challenges between opposing parties by defining them disapprovingly as verbal brawls (cf The Star 7 November 1996:23), or war of words (cf Pretoria News 18 September 1996:11). In a headline for another editorial opinion a newspaper orders politicians to Stop the war of words and talk (cf Pretoria News 9 October 1996:11). Another headline for an editorial opinion in the Pretoria News (18 September 1996:11) condemns political contestations and demands that politicians End the circus, and goes on to suggest that,
deputy minister of environment affairs, Bantu Holomisa, now fully appreciates how his very public spat with the ANC during the past few weeks had degenerated into theatre ... Nevertheless, the war of words between himself and the ANC ... had dissolved into an ugly scene which was doing neither side credit.
The newspaper’s ideology and assumptions become evident when the editorial writer reports that the former deputy minister ‘wanted to see an end to the public confrontation and has now instructed his attorneys to act on his behalf in any further dealings with the ANC’. Such an escape from public debate is applauded by the editorial writer who proclaims that:
This is the correct avenue to follow. Airing of dirty linen in public only serves to get backs up and cloud real issues ... lawyers will know what to do. Meanwhile, it’s time for the circus to end
(Pretoria News 18 September 1996:11).
In similar manner the Sunday Times editorial (1994) misrecognises democracy but unwittingly presents the ANC as a democratic party when it reports that ‘the ANC is attempting to govern the country as it does its own vast and diverse organisation -- by trade-off and deals [and] compromises’. But such a democratic government is then rejected by the editorial writer, and by implication by white readers of the newspaper as being a ‘less generous view’ of the ANC government. According to the editorial writer, the ANC is simply ‘ducking rather than solving problems’. Democratic politics are further rejected by the editorial as having ‘too many private agendas, too many lobbies, too much special pleading whether by truck drivers, wildcat strikers, public servants, rebellious soldiers and policemen, magnates (black or white), teachers or spokesmen for single-issue interest groups’. The underlying assumption of the editorial writer seems to imply that democracy should be avoided because ‘successful accommodation’ of these interests cannot be accomplished ‘without damaging the society as a whole’.
The vocabulary of the Sunday Times (1994) editorial demonstrates the use of power words usually associated with the old dictatorial apartheid regime. Thus, while the editorial begins by promoting democracy, it ends up promoting the old status quo and paternalistic dictatorships; it sees democracy in ‘good governance’; in ‘forging’ unquestioning ‘patriotism’ and from ‘a deeply supportive electorate’; it demands ‘a leader’ who has ‘unchallengeable moral authority’; it prefers a government that knows ‘no half-measures’, is ‘decisive’ and ‘even tough’, and capable of ‘dragging the country’ to its destination in place of negotiation and accommodation; and it proposes ‘toughness of mind’ and ‘steel in the belly’ when ‘solving problems’.
The editorial writer of the Sunday Times (1994) shares a discursive framework and vocabulary with other white South African newspapers. Because South African journalists have lived for so long in a society that was neatly (literally) divided into black and white, they now seem confused when confronted with the complexity of democratic political talk. For the South African media the new democratic complexity, and social and cultural plurality are difficult to accommodate within the reductionist media discourse. The multiplicity of publicly expressed and contested political perspectives does not fit neatly into the schemata and conventions of media discourse that reduces complex issues to the two-dimensions, two sides of a story. This two-valued orientation ideology animates much of the media’s views on political life: the world is divided into two camps: good versus evil, right versus wrong, you are for or against the ruling political party, and the fact that there may possibly be a third neutral position is entirely ignored (cf Hayakawa 1973:230). Of course, such binary oppositions is a at the heart of language and originates in the primitive mind where quick classification of situations as fight or flight was imperative for survival. Similarly, such a situation is found in competitive societies, in politics and in physical combat where one party attempts to win victory over another, but in the complex modern society such dichotomous thinking is stifling (cf Hayakawa 1973:230--231, 253).
South African journalists, having lived for a long time under white dictatorship, have unconsciously absorbed an ideological position of the apartheid era and this position prevents them from seeing the new and changing reality. According to Janks (1997:340) journalists and other producers of text by their conscious linguistic selection attempt to represent the post-transformation discourse of democracy, but unconsciously the racial and paternalistic discourse of pre-transformation era speaks through the text and the writer. As Janks suggests (1997:338), while writers may consciously elect to avoid apartheid speak, nevertheless language and discourse speak through them, or they speak them more than they speak language.
The old apartheid frame of reference was much in evidence in the way media reported on a clash of opinion between the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC) government. This debate demonstrated the democratic character of South African politics and of the ANC government, but most South African newspapers presented the debate as if it were an attack on democracy and freedom of the press.
At its 1998 national congress the SACP voiced criticism of the ANC government’s economic policy. According to the SACP such an economic policy demonstrated that the ANC had abandoned the mass of the population. The criticism was an attempt by the SACP to position itself as the champion of the workers and the underprivileged masses in order to gain votes in the forthcoming elections. President Nelson Mandela, delivering a speech to congress delegates, rejected much of the SACP criticism and challenged the party to choose its position: either remain a partner in the government or leave. While the criticism was taken solemnly, some members of the audience were reported to have made insulting personal remarks about the president. Deputy-President Thabo Mbeki, who also spoke at the congress, took issue with the SACP critique and reportedly refuted each point of criticism. Following these exchanges, the SACP softened its critique of the government in order to preserve its position within the ANC ruling alliance, but nevertheless, the party reasserted its right to criticise the government’s economic policy. As Ronnie Kasrils, Deputy Minster of Defence in the ANC governing alliance and also a member of the SACP, put it (Paton 1998:1): ‘I feel a great deal of tact is required, but this doesn’t mean changing the party’s right to speak or form independent position.’
The South African media’s editorial opinion was different and the image represented on the editorial pages seemed as if the media were talking about a different reality. A headline for an editorial opinion in the Sunday Times (5 July 1998:18) proclaimed: ‘Watershed speech has changed our politics.’ Commenting on Mbeki’s speech at the SACP congress, the editorial writer claimed that ‘after years of suffering in silence’ the insults of the SACP and Cosatu, ‘Mbeki finally responded in kind’. Then the editorial cautions that ‘the speech also showed that Mbeki still clings to the unfortunate notion that all criticism, wittingly or unwittingly, plays into the hands of those who want to topple democracy’. According to the newspaper’s binary logic:
Mbeki’s frank address was a blast of fresh air that promised to push into the public arena the economic policy debate that has simmered behind the close doors of the alliance for the past decade. But this promise of open debate was undermined in the very same speech when Mbeki reverted once more to tarring the government’s critics with the brush of disloyalty
(Sunday Times 5 July 1998:18).
According the editorial writer, Mbeki’s attack on the critics was inspired by his assertion that ‘many of the forces we use to wage war against one another, including some members of the media, co-operate with us only because they want us to tear each other apart’. Mbeki’s statements were taken by the Sunday Times (5 July 1998:18) as a declaration of war against the press:
In these statements, Mbeki reveals a dangerous paranoia about the crucial role that civil society and the media must play to keep government from abusing its power.
He wrongly contends that all criticism is driven by the desire to bring democracy to its knees.
According to the Sunday Times (1998:18), Mbeki’s failure ‘to appreciate the role of criticism in democratic debate’ is a disservice to all because the ‘legitimacy and credibility of the government can only improve if its errors and weaknesses are publicly exposed’.
A similar interpretation of the debate was evident in the text of a more radical newspaper, the Mail & Guardian (1998:24). In an editorial article under the heading ‘Cracking down on critical allies’, the newspaper argued:
President Nelson Mandela’s comments at the opening of the South African Communist Party conference that the growth, economic and redistribution (Gear) strategy is the fundamental policy of the African National Congress and that he will brook no opposition to it is just the last sign of the ANC’s irritation at public criticism from its own allies.
This concerns us not because we see conflict within the alliance as a bloodsport, but because there are serious and valid reasons for questioning some of what the government is doing.
If the SACP can’t debate the government’s macro-economic policy, what is there to talk about?
According to the Mail & Guardian editorial (1998:24), the government’s policy is questionable but ‘Mandela insists that his critics should remain silent about’. Turning to Mbeki’s rebuke of some ANC activists’ protest about the government inaction at the arrest of Robert McBride by Mozambican authorities, the Mail & Guardian editorial writer (1998:24) contends that the ‘McBride saga is just a further sign of a leadership that appears determined to crack down on democracy within the movement’, and by implication on media freedom and democratic politics in general.
Meanwhile, within the ANC and the SACP the conflict of opinion was regarded as a legitimate political strategy in an effort to gain a position of power; it was an indication of the lively contest characteristic of democratic politics, whereby parties battle against each other, win, lose or compromise. Thus, according to the Secretary General of the SACP the ‘ANC is a contested terrain, with different strands fighting for supremacy’ (Gumede 1998:5). Peter Mokaba of the ANC sees the debate and differences of opinion as an indication of a thriving democracy, as he puts it: ‘At least now the differences are out there in the open and not under covers -- the whole world knows this can only strengthen the alliance partners’ (Gumede 1998:5). Even President Mandela in his critical speech at the SACP congress acknowledged that ‘each member of the alliance has the right to state his or her views’, because ‘we have won the right to state our views freely without fear’ after the demise of apartheid. But President Mandela cautions that an attack on and ridicule of a fundamental government policy by members of the same government are politically unbecoming (Pretoria News 2 July 1998:1). President Mandela reiterated his commitment to democracy during a reportedly ‘tough’ meeting with editors of the South African National Editors’ Forum in 1997. He voiced his criticism of the white media’s inability to reflect the aspirations of the black majority of people, and gave the media a ‘tongue lashing’ for their selective reporting and censorship when publishing the views of the ANC (cf Rhodes Journalism Review 1997:34). While President Mandela in his ‘gloves-off diplomacy’ criticised the media, he also accepted their criticism, as he put it:
I respect you. If you feel that I am wrong, you will say so, as you do in the press. But give us the latitude to say what we think too.
(Rhodes Journalism Review 1997:34)
Considered against this background, why do the Sunday Times (1998), and the Mail & Guardian (1998) editorials express fear and paranoia, as if the political battle between the SACP and the ANC was a war against the press? Why such an obvious misrecognition of democratic politics by the mainly white South African media?
One explanation is offered by Professor Kader Asmal, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, who argues that South African liberals, the self-appointed moralists and formerly self-appointed champions of free speech have become ‘increasingly soft with self-pity’ because the new democracy has brought forth uninhibited and open debate that is now the prerogative of all, and not the exclusive preserve of the media. According to Asmal (1998:28) ‘integral to free speech is the right to criticise the critic’, but liberal politicians and the media would deny such a right to others. When the media come under criticism they cry foul, and claim that such criticism is aimed at curtailing democracy. Thus, liberal politicians and the media pose as defenders of free speech in order, ironically, to curtail debate (cf Asmal 1998:28).
The misrecognition of democracy, the desire to escape politics, and the distaste for confrontational political discourse could partly be explained by refering to the rules and conventions of the discursive practice of South African journalists. Thus, the media’s fears and paranoia reflect their past experience of the apartheid regime’s reign of terror and suppression of opposition media. The media interpret the ANC government statements as attempts to restrict criticism and a possible move towards a one-party dictatorship. Such a view is shared by many white South Africans, who regard all African governments as heading towards dictatorship.
The discursive practice of Western journalism is also responsible for the South African media’s distaste and rejection of legitimate and open expression of conflicting political opinion. Thus, while news (as a textual genre) is traditionally considered dramatic and interesting when involving conflict and fitting within the media’s binary mode of the two sides to a story; the texts of the editorial opinion columns present a different image. If news reports claim to present news as it is -- based on conflict and drama -- the editorial opinion texts present news as they would like it to be -- an image of a calm consensus devoid of conflict (cf Braham 1982:270). Thus, the media claim to represent the wisdom of the commonsense view in society; they claim to represent consensus that is supposedly beyond and above politics; they represent a supposedly rational discourse of cool-headed practical men pronouncing the truth to politicians and other lesser mortals (cf Fowler 1991:49, 212).
But the desire to escape politics and eschew the conflicts and the hustle-and-bustle of the new South African reality is also motivated by another more covert influence deeply embodied in the rules of journalistic discourse. This unarticulated discursive convention operates behind the South African media’s backs and is the socialised attitude and disposition of members of a literate culture (or discourse) confronting members of a predominately oral culture. The clue to this literate/oral dichotomy is found in vocabularies, logics, and styles of media text and discourse, made visible by the critical discourse analysis above.
The cultural logic of literate South African journalists biases their perception of oral culture. ‘Many, if not all, oral or residually oral cultures strike literates as extraordinarily agonistic in their verbal performance and indeed in their lifestyle’ (Ong 1982:43). Communicative interactions in oral culture are agonistic, seemingly violent and antagonistic in nature (cf Ong 1982:45). Characteristic of politics in oral culture are the verbal combats, ‘reciprocal name-calling’ and stylised ‘verbal tongue lashings’; these are not real fights but stylised arts forms. However, these are misinterpreted by the literates as if they were violent fights or at best preludes to real combat (cf Ong 1982:44). Journalists, like other members of literate culture, are conditioned by education, and through the use of writing and printing technologies have fostered abstractions and distance from the arena where human beings struggle with one another. Their culturally ethnocentric bias and professional ideologies are propagated by them as the universal norm. Such bias determines their modes of thought and interaction and they insist on calmness, unemotional climate, cooperation and avoidance of dynamic opposition. However, within oral culture ‘confrontation, or dynamic opposition, is regarded as the appropriate means by which disagreements are expressed, issues developed and debated, and resolutions proposed’. In turn, such hot discursive interaction is rejected by the scribal logic of members of the literate culture who insist on calm, and unemotional climate for debate (cf Kohman 1974:101). In the loud, heated, and emotionally expressive confrontational modes of communication characteristic of oral cultures words are alternatives to actual fighting, and enmity is dissipated through verbal battles and real bloodshed is avoided (cf Farb 1977:107; Ong 1982:44; Kochman 1974:98). But such a mode of communication is misinterpreted by the literate as if it were real violence or as logically leading to real violence.
For members of the literate culture, democracy is ‘government by discussion’ or ‘government by rational and free public discussion among legally equal citizens’ (Schudson 1997:297). Accordingly, at the heart of democracy is the concept of conversation, based on the ideal model of the Platonic dialogic discussion, or rational discourse (cf Roelofse 1983:18). This ideal conversation, a ‘free and open discussion by reasonable people’, is thought to be a precondition for democracy, and needs to be safeguarded against the intrusion of other forms of discussion of the seemingly unreasonable people. Roelofse (1983:19), articulating such logic, puts it thus: ‘If people are to be excluded it must be because of rational considerations. If freedom has to be curtailed, it must be because it threatens freedom, choices, argumentation.’ Indeed, such rationality was taken in the past as the justification for the discourse of apartheid and motivated the permanent removal from society (that is, murder in apartheidspeak) of opponents of the regime who threatened to disrupt the rational discussion of the white minority. In turn, it was the rationality of apartheid practice that provided the conditions of possibility for South African rational discourse.
However, the insistence by members of the literate culture that democracy is dependent on the ideal of rational discourse, conceived by them as a sociable Platonic dialogue, is a distortion as it emphasises consensus, cooperation, and egalitarian inclusion in conversation. Such a distortion is a totalising theory of conversation and dialogue as it claims to represent the true essence and disqualifies alternative ways of conceptualising conversation and dialogue.
However, in practice democracy is characterised by public discussions between people of different backgrounds who hold different values, do not share the same views, and speak from unequal positions of power. This more appropriate model of democracy is full of risk, competitive, conflictual and profoundly uncomfortable because it is public (cf Schudson 1997:299). Schudson (1997:298--300) suggests that the conversation model of rational discourse is ‘not the soul of democracy’, as it only presents one aspect of conversation. A more coherent and realistic view of conversation would be to conceive of two aspects that are intertwined and in tension: the sociable, intimate and pleasurable egalitarian conversation of a rational discourse and the more utilitarian public and political conversation aimed at problem-solving and motivated by dissensus. Thus, in a democracy public discourse is both a discussion and a disputation, it is a tension between competition and cooperation, equality and hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, spontaneity and formality (cf Schudson 1997:299).
Democracy may sometimes require that your interlocutor does not wait politely for you to finish but shakes you by the collar and cries ‘Listen!’ ... We call these situations social movements, strikes, demonstrations. We call the people who initiate such departures from civility driven, ambitious, unreasonable, self-serving, rude, hot-headed, self-absorbed -- the likes of Newt Gingrich and Martin Luther King [and Nelson Mandela; ss]... All of these are people willing to engage in democratic conversation but also pugnacious beyond the point of civility, even willing to make their case to opt out of conversation altogether, at least temporarily and strategically
Political dialogue and public conversation are aimed at consensus and dissensus (cf Lyotard 1984:60--61; 65--66). Such an idea of conversation would regard politics more realistically as war conducted by other means (cf Foucault 1980:90), and the model of political conversation and dialogue as being based on the agonistic model of war and battle (cf Foucault 1980:114). Thus if politics is talk and word politics dominates world politics (Bell 1975:10, 98), political battles are battles fought in and through language and discourse.
Rapid social changes are transforming society, politics, and economic practices. In all these language and communication occupy the central position. These changes are also restructuring communication relationships by replacing the rigid, top-down authoritarian communication with a horizontal, interactive dialogue and informal communication. Such conversationalisation of language holds the promise for empowerment, participation and democratisation of society. However, new modes of electronically mediated mass communication are linguistically based structures of domination (cf Poster 1990:22), and provide new patterns of communication interaction that are strategies for symbolic violence -- the exercise of power and social control through the manipulation of language (cf Bourdieu 1992:51). Indeed, newspapers adopt a conversational style to create the illusion of informality and familiarity in order to manufacture social consent that benefits powerful social elites (cf Fowler 1991:47--62).
Mass communication and the mass media have become functional prerequisites for the operation of the economy and politics (cf Kepplinger & Köcher 1990:306). The news media, and television in particular, are now almost an integral part of the social policy-making process (cf Altheide 1991:3), providing the public arena for social groups to problematise issues, give a name to a social problem by presenting their claims and propose change (cf Sonderling 1993). However, the public arenas of the mass media are dominated by government institutions who monopolise the news (cf Bennett 1990:103). Such domination distorts the policy process because opinions of government officials expressed in public are then claimed to represent public opinion and are used to legitimise policy decisions. Thus the means of mass communication will remain inaccessible to disadvantaged minorities and the powerless masses who remain silent spectators.
A critical understanding of the ideological manipulation of language by the media is a requirement for informed and empowered citizens who may find new ways of participation in the various social discourses by using alternative means of communication. Yet even such a critical understanding of the ideological manipulation of language by the media is not enough. Most works in the field of critical language awareness focus on written text. What is needed is to include within this framework of critical language awareness and critical discourse analysis a consideration of interrelationship between the written/printed verbal elements and the nonverbal and visual elements of media texts and contextualise them within the oral and literate cultural contexts. Such a perspective is necessary because the new electronically mediated communication forms are creating a postmodern post-literate culture (cf Corcoran 1979:181), or a secondary orality (cf Ong 1982:3), and such new forms of communication could not be evaluated in terms of the traditional scribal logic of literate culture. The discourses and texts of the post-literate culture communicate more by their style of presentation and performance of the communicative act than by any meaningful content (cf Corcoran 1979:197). Traditional communication theories based on the logic of scribal and literate culture cannot properly comprehend the agonistic character of the new linguistic experience. To make sense of the new modes of communication the traditional model of dialogue needs to be replace with the dynamic model of war and battle (cf Sonderling 1994:13, 17--18; Sonderling 1997b:40).
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