Karima Brown says she got into journalism “by default”. She spent the bulk of her journalism career in broadcasting as a radio producer and executive producer of current affairs on television. Brown switched to print “because my son (Mikhail, 17) doesn’t like reading”.
“I was thinking maybe if I worked in newspapers I could get him excited about reading and watching less television and working less on the computer. I’m kind of old-fashioned in that way. My favourite thing to do is to get the Sunday Times on a Saturday evening – I feel ahead of the world!”
Brown (41) doesn’t seem to discriminate when it comes to reading – or other entertainment for that matter. “I can read the Economist, Vanity Fair and heat and enjoy them all…
“I’m a news junkie. And I watch E! Entertainment.” The news junkie herself became the subject of news reports when it was discovered that her former employer, the SABC, had blacklisted Brown.
“I was very disturbed because I didn’t want to be the news. It wasn’t a happy period for me, because it put me in a position that I didn’t want to be in. “I also felt sad about the public broadcaster because I really believe in it. I just felt awkward,” she says.
According to the report of the Sisulu Commission of Enquiry, the instruction not to use Brown as an analyst was based on a Business Day report she co-authored, which stated that President Thabo Mbeki had clashed with supporters of (the current) ANC President Jacob Zuma at a National Working Committee meeting of the ANC. It turned out Mbeki had not been present at the meeting.
“I think we all make mistakes and we did make a mistake. And our editor took the position that we had to apologise on the very page where we had made the mistake – which is the front page,” Brown says.
“I think it was a really sobering moment for me as a journalist. It was a humbling experience. We were dealing with an ANC that was deeply divided and the lesson was here: Check, check, check and check again.
“I think in an atmosphere where things are deliberately distorted, mistakes are inevitable. But the challenge is how you respond.” She believes there is a “silver lining” to the “sorry state of affairs in the ANC”. “The kind of political subtext that was always there, particularly during the heydays of the Thabo Mbeki era, was that if you were critical of government, and you happened to be black, you were unpatriotic; you were considered as disloyal.
“I think the media, particularly black journalists, felt very conflicted,” she says. “For me, the silver lining about the divisions is that we have broken this hold from the political elite over ‘getting on the team of reconciliation’ and ‘getting on the team of building South Africa’ and ‘getting on the team of not being un-African’.
“We are (now) able to do battle along political and ideological lines without having our integrity questioned and our points of views mistrusted even before we make the point.”
Brown believes the divisions also allow for a “genuine debate” about “genuine transformation” to take place – “a debate that includes race, but is not reduced to it”. She says it has, at times, been difficult for her to write about politics because she had been politically active. “I often write about people I know well, whom I grew up admiring or grew up seeing in a particular way. It’s not always pleasant. “But, don’t get me wrong – I love my job.”
- This profile first appeared in The Media magazine (August 2008).