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Media Files: On the Serena Williams cartoon -- and how the UK phone hacking scandal led to a media crackdown in South Africa

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Mark Knight’s cartoon in The Herald Sun has become a global topic of condemnation and debate because of its negative portrayal of American tennis player Serena Williams. It was widely described as racist.

The news of the cartoon broke last week while we were both at a conference in South Africa. We decided to show the cartoon to some local academics with expertise in the study of media, race and gender to gauge their reactions because few places have dealt with issues of racism more comprehensively than South Africa.

Listen in to this episode to hear the responses of Dr Shepherd Mpofu of the University of Limpopo and Dr Julie Reid and Dr Rofhiwa Mukhudwana of the Department of Communication Science at the University of South Africa.

And Associate Professor Glenda Daniels of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa speaks with Matthew Ricketson about how the African National Congress government reacted to the phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom.

Erupting in 2011, the phone hacking scandal had many ramifications, for the victims of course but also for publisher of the newspaper at the centre of it – News Corporation, whose reputation was heavily tarnished.

The UK government set up a wide-ranging inquiry led by Justice Brian Leveson. In Australia the then federal Labor government followed suit, setting up its own inquiry. It was headed by former federal court judge, Ray Finkelstein QC and assisted by Professor Matthew Ricketson, then at the University of Canberra, now at Deakin University, and a contributor to the Media Files podcast.

The recommendations of the Finkelstein inquiry were rejected by the news media industry even though they were nowhere near as draconian as the news media reported them to the general public. In England, the central recommendations of the Leveson report were rejected by prime minister David Cameron within hours of the 2000 page report being tabled in parliament.

What is less well known is how in South Africa the African National Congress government used the phone hacking scandal to initiate its own efforts to tighten control of the press, as Glenda Daniels, a prominent journalist and academic, recounts in this interview recorded in Johannesburg last week.

Media Files is produced by a team of journalists and academics who have spent decades working in and reporting on the media industry. They’re passionate about sharing their understanding of the media landscape, especially how journalists operate, how media policy is changing, and how commercial manoeuvres and digital disruption are affecting the kinds of media and journalism we consume.

Media Files will be out every month, with occasional off-schedule episodes released when we’ve got fresh analysis we can’t wait to share with you. To make sure you don’t miss an episode, find us and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, in Pocket Casts or wherever you find your podcasts. And while you’re there, please rate and review us - it really helps others to find us.

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