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By Beauregard Tromp and Sapa
The Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ) has told the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that black reporters have the right to form an exclusive organisation that can determine its own path forward.
The hearing on Wednesday comes after Talk Radio 702 lodged a complaint with the SAHRC after one of its white journalists was barred from attending the relaunch of the FBJ.
Separately, Yusuf Abramjee, group head of news and talk programming for Primedia Broadcasting, which owns 702, and talk show host Kieno Kammies have also complained to the commission after being referred to as "coconuts" by veteran journalist John Qwelane.
Qwelane was unapologetic about calling Abramjee a "coconut", defining the term as someone who aspires to be white while denying their blackness.
In explaining the need for the FBJ to remain racially exclusive, Qwelane said: "We need to discuss these things by ourselves and find solutions by ourselves without asking madam or baas."
The FBJ's relaunch on February 22 was marred by controversy after white journalists who had arrived to hear ANC president Jacob Zuma speak were asked to leave.
Once the organisers made it clear the function was only open to black journalists, a few white journalists showed up at the event to test the waters.
The FBJ said it defined the term "black" under the principles of Black Consciousness, which - it claimed - included all previously disadvantaged people.
Being "black", FBJ interim chairperson Abbey Makoe said, was a "very cerebral thing" - it was not necessarily the colour of a person's skin, but their state of mind.
He believed this included Indian, coloured and African people "minus the coconuts".
"Should membership of an organisation like the FBJ be open to all people seeking to advance the objectives of the organisation or should it be determined simply on race?" asked SAHRC chairperson Jody Kollapen.
Makoe said the organisation couldn't be classified as racist.
"You can't deny that black journalists are part of the broader black community and have the right to associate without being blackmailed," said Makoe.
He said the physical changes - in terms of race ratios and job position - in newsrooms across the country in the past 14 years were not enough.
There were psychological, spiritual and cultural aspects that had to be recognised and the FBJ provided a home to black journalists to do that.
Black journalists wanted to be able to submit a black view without white sanction, and their rights were protected by the constitution, he said
The FBJ's aim was to position black journalists as a changing force in the media industry.
He suggested the brouhaha surrounding the rebirth of the FBJ had less to do with race and more to do with reporters getting an opportunity to interview with Jacob Zuma.
Journalist Alameen Templeton berated 702 for its "black baiting" on the issue of the FBJ. He called it a "structural and systematic response".
702 news editor Katy Katapodis said: "Black journalists could still be facing challenges in the industry that their white counterparts do not face.
"But can only black journalists advance their cause or can such a cause be advanced by any journalist?"
She argued that white journalists had clearly been discriminated against and, since Zuma was a public figure, what he had to say was of importance to all journalists of all colours, even if the session was off-the-record.