"Unmasking TFP's media maneuver"

Research project commissioned by New Nation, 1988. Undertaken by Centre for Cultural and Media Studies, University of Natal, Durban, South Africa.

Coordinator: Ansuya Chetty. Researched and written by: Keyan G Tomaselli, Ruth E Teer-Tomaselli, Ansuya Chetty and P. Eric Louw. Research assistance: Sipho Dlamini and Thumida Maistry.


New Nation started life in March 1986. In May 1987, Tradition, Family, Property (TFP) advertised its glossy booklet, The ‘New Nation’ and Liberation Theology. New Nation was banned by the apartheid government for three months at the beginning of March 1988. Following the banning, TFP announced that nowhere in its study was a request made "to the Government for the application of State laws against the paper". In a remarkable contortion of illogic, TFP attempted to absolve itself of complicity in the government’s censorship by implying that the South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) had the power to prevent the banning of New Nation:


«We regret that a newspaper owned by Catholic Bishops, should find itself in a situation which according to the country’s civil courts, no case existed to prevent the enforcement of press laws suspending the publication»

(TFP Newsletter, No 30:2)


This statement is typical of TFP’s innacurate, mischievious and totally wrong interpretation of the South African ‘press laws’ at the time New Nation was banned and this statement issued. First, New Nation was not banned under any law applied by the "civil courts". The government suspended the rule of law with the first state of emergency in 1985, and from mid-1987 to February 1990, had ruled by proclamation. One of the reasons for this arbitrary rule which ignored the courts was that the state had rarely won its cases against newspapers and treason trialists, despite the extensive battery of laws it had created since 1948 to deal with ‘subversives’.

 Second, cases that would have been tenable in a "civil" court of law, were not tenable in terms of the government’s various proclamations as the procedures enacted to facilitate bannings of newspapers rested solely on the Minister of Home Affairs’s subjective opinion. No court of appeal existed whereby his opinion could be tested, or indeed, the ‘opinion’ of any state functionary (Government Gazette Vol 276 No 11342 10 June 1988). Third, if TFP were itself to annoy the Minister, it too could be shut down, no matter how watertight its case. As we point out below, TFP was useful to the government at that moment as both had coincident aims vis-a-vis New Nation.

 Various TFP bulletins, both South African and foreign, carried extensive self-serving publicity on the ‘study’, and congratulated their organisation on the "favourable coverage given to the campaign in prestigious Italian journals", and those of other countries. TFP cavalierly dismissed criticisms of its study published in the media worldwide stating that some "of these have predictably denounced the work of the TFP in the characteristic way with recourse to worn-out, persistent and negative cliches" (TFP Newsletter, No 30, 1988:2). This was another tactic used by TFP - the sarcastic denegration of counter-arguments which deflect TFP from addressing the central issues.

 The study that follows was commissioned by New Nation in May 1987, soon after publication of the TFP document. At the time we hypothesised that the TFP report, if not published clandestinely in conjunction with the National Party government, would nevertheless be used to legitimate its clampdown on what cabinet ministers at that stage derisively labelled "the so-called alternative media". An intensive study checking the accuracy of quotations taken from the pages of New Nation and reproduced in the document was undertaken, as was a search of communications research methods textbooks to identify the source of TFP’s methodology.

 Commenting on the banning of New Nation, TFP stated in The Citizen that "At no stage after publication of the New Nation and Liberation Theology did the hierarchy of the church, the Southern African Catholic Bishops conference — heading 4 million Catholics in Southern Africa — react." This statement may have been intended to bring the SACBC into disrepute — that is, the SACBC’s silence was thought to indicate that it had no response to the TFP accusations because they were ‘true’. This is not so. The shadowy nature of TFP and accusations of its use of violence and fraud to attain its ends elsewhere, including its willing aid to the brutal rule of General Pinochet’s regime in Chile, and co-operation with repressive monopoly capital in South America (Lernoux, 1982, pp 293-304; Sandford, 1975, pp 112 ff; Hirsch, 1974 pp 39 ff), called for an in-depth research project to examine how TFP permitted itself to be co-opted in the interests of apartheid in South Africa. During the following 12 months we painstakingly collected information on TFP. Our and the SACBC’s silence was rewarded in the TFP’s own later admission that it "played a major role in influencing the banning" of New Nation (The Citizen). This admission validated our initial assumptions.

"What are the TFP’s" (p. 37) crusadors or destroyers?

The Unit contacted numerous international human rights organisations on TFP and its publications. While many of our addressees were aware of TFP, few had clear knowledge of the organisation. Dr Michael Traber of the World Association of Christian Communication wrote that TFP

«appears to be a small, recent organisation, originally from Brazil. (?). It has no popular base within the Catholic Church, but is run by individuals wherever it springs up. It has no overt links with other organisations, and there is no indication who funds it»
(Letter, 7 August 1987)


We learned from Archbishop Dennis Hurley of Durban that while the Vatican had not denounced the TFP it had not endorsed its existence either (Interview). Further research in South Africa suggested that TFP had a following mainly amongst right-wing Portuguese-speaking South Africans who are a small, separate group within the South African Catholic Church.

 LADOC, the bimonthly publication of Latin America Documentation in Peru, provided some extremely disturbing information on TFP. The letter marked as Appendix 1 gives examples where the TFP has deliberately misrepresented its case and tricked church officials into publically supporting causes in a variety of South American countries with which they disagreed.

 TFP is alleged by LADOC to have opposed the authority of the Catholic Church, particularly the measures introduced as a result of the Second Vatican Council. More seriously, TFP was condemned in Venezuela for "mounting a plot to attack physically the Pope when he came to visit there last time". This allegation was also made by Southern Cross (13 January 1984). Earlier, the Brazilian magazine Manchette (February 27, 1982) had reported that TFP members used a picture of the Pope for target practice. This report was subsequently carried in a variety of international media. The Johannesburg office of TFP vigorously contested these accusations in a letter (8 January 1984) addressed to Southern Cross’s editor. In Brazil and Chile, TFP have also been "active protestors of democratic currents and not alien to the use of violence to defend their positions" (Ladoc). All this, of course, is absent from the TFP documents and their explanation of themselves. When asked from where their funding came, the Durban office claimed it was financed entirely by private donations (Interview, 1988). According to local sources within the Catholic Church, the feeling is that TFP worldwide may be funded by the CIA. We will present evidence to substantiate this claim.

 A direct mail letter posted via a marketing company mailing list offers the booklet to recipients. This method of sale, and the style and copy of the letter, is similar to Reader’s Digest marketing campaigns. With the letter comes a card appealing for funds. The letter ends thus "P.P.S.: Our dedication is totally voluntary. We rely on your generosity to fight on..." The letter is signed in blue by Bernard Tuffin, identified as one of the supervisors of the writing of the TFP document. However, it does appear that the document was published and advertised (in The Sunday Times) before any fund raising occurred.

 The document’s middle blue pages, "Petition by One Hundred Concerned Catholics ..." carries a box above this heading listing some of these signaturies’ affiliations. Most are extremely reactionary organisations like the Aida Parker Newsletter which transgressed norms of media usage. Parker, to whom we will return, was severely censured by the Newspaper Press Union’s Media Council for publishing unsubstantiated reports and lies as ‘fact’ with regard to another progressive organisation. This newsletter, like other signaturies of the TFP petition, for example, Signposts and United Christian Action, present allegations as ‘facts’, totally without justification. These are the sort of people — liars, opportunists and smear experts — who associated themselves with TFP. This being the case, there is little reason to trust motivations of the South African branch of TFP or those of the endorsing people and organisations. Besides, "One Hundred" signatures, most of them unidentified, is hardly representative of the Christian community in South Africa.

 Below, our analysis of media and Catholicism draws on Robert White, S.J. on "Mass Media and the Culture of Contemporary Catholicism: The Significance of the Second Vatican Council". Penny Lernoux’s Cry of the People (1982) provides the historical and politico-economic context within which TFP as an international exporter of repression from its base in Brazil can be understood. 

Sources of TFP philosophy: Ecclesiastical conservatism and class privilege

We argue below that TFP have mobilised anachronistic elements of Catholicism in stating its case against New Nation. In its many critiques of the modern world, TFP takes as its starting point the trilogy of the French Revolution: "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity." Plinio Correa de Oliverira, founder of, and arch-ideologue for, the Brazilian TFP, stresses this point in an early article "dissipating the current confusion about just what "right" and "left" means (TFP Newsletter 1:5, 1980):

«The perfect and finished leftist is defined in terms of the French Revolution as one who advocates total liberty, total equality, and total fraternity. In this conception, the final goal is an "anarchic" society in which all inequalities would be abolished»


Using this argument Oliveria, with another semantic sleight of hand, adds that "such a one is an anarchist in the etymological and radical sense of the word (from the Greek "an" - negative and "arch" - government) with or without the connotation of violence or terrorism". Oliveria thus makes the easy move from ‘left’ to ‘anarchist’ to ‘violence and terrorism’.




«Rightism affirms ... that in in itself, inequality is not unjust. That in a universe in which God created all beings unequal including and especially men, injustice is the imposition of the equality on an order of things which God, for the very highest reasons, made unequal.»

The right, it seems, is not subject to "the full rigor of logic" which would demand that "the greater the inequality, the more perfect the justice": Absurd extremes not applied to Right.


«To leftist thinking the antithetical affirmation (the less the equality, the less the injustice) is logical. The lack of symmetry between the leftist and the rightist position is glaring. ... But this standard of rightism is not an absolute inequality, symmetrical and opposed to absolute equality. It is as well for us to insist that it is a proportional inequality. The more a doctrine is contrary to the trilogy of 1789 and the more it approaches this standard of harmonious and proportional inequalities, the more rightist it will be.» (Ibid)


Several points are worth persuing here: firstly, the philosophy of the TFP is deeply anarchronistic, and dates back to a romantised conception of the period prior to the French Revolution. Secondly, In his critique of ‘liberty’, Oliveria equates the advocacy of liberty with anarchy. In order to combat this tendency, it is necessary to adopt a highly authoritarian stance, in which the support of the strong state is an urgent necessity. Thirdly, his denounciation of those, including some "rightists", who "made concessions to the egalitarian spirit", underscores the centrality of class privilege on which the whole of the TFP movement is based. (It is also worth noting that, although he attacks the "trilogy of 1789", no mention is made of the ‘sin’ of fraternity.)

 The philosophical approach of TFP is very much in keeping with the general ethos of the Church in the nineteenth century. The French Revolution (1789), with its trilogy of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, shook the Church from its medieval complacency. Ecclesiastical privilege was suspended, Church property removed, and the unproblematic partnership of Church and State irrevocably severed. The Church was radically divided between those who supported the new order, and those who were nostaligic for the idealised Ancient Regime.

 Pius IX was installed as Pope in 1846, two years before the turmult of 1848 begun the inexorable movement to replace a monarchic Europe with bourgeois democracies. Under Pius IX the theological and social tendency of the Church opposed these changes, and saw them as threatening to the authority of the papacy. Both within and outside Italy, the relationship between the Church and the State was marked by tension. Catholics felt isolated within their own communities, and looked to the Vatican for support. In its extreme form, this attitude was referred to as ‘ultramontanism’, literally, those who looked for support ‘over the mountains’, that is, to Rome. The Church in this period saw itself in a state of siege, threatened by the incursion of the modern world, and the loss of temporal power that the new political orders threatened. The papal reaction was to increase the authoritarian nature of the the Church, cementing its hierachical structures.

 The papacy of Leo XIII (1878-1903) was marked by both continuity and change with respect to his predecessor. Leo XIII opposed democracy and liberalism, and increased the centralisation of authority vested in the Vatican. Despite his intransigence, Leo’s pontificate marked a turning point as he defined a new papal policy. Whereas Pius IX bluntly refused the modern world, Leo XIII instead accepted the idea of a tactical rallying to it. (Notes, p 8). In the fields of social justice politics, he was pragmatic. Modern states provided the only buffer against anarchy, and for this reason alone, they should be tolerated. In his encyclical, Au Milieu des Sollicitudes (18), Leo avowed that the governments of the day were prerequisites to social order, and for this reason, Catholics should work with them. Roger Aubert notes that he put aside theoretical debates on ‘ideal’ Church/State relations, and concentrated instead on making "the best use of existing liberal institutions in order to press home certain Catholic claims: education, marriage, religious associations, independence of the Holy See". This change in policy indicated a shift in strategy, rather than fundamental philosophy. The legitimacy of the French Revolution was never acknowledged.

 Equally importantly, Leo XIII revitalised the intellectual framework of the Church, restoring the thought of Thomas Aquinus to its pre-eminent position in the theological direction of the Church. From this beginning, Catholic Rationalism took hold. Part of the intellectual revival encouraged by Leo XIII in his encyclical Aeternin Patris (1879), resulted in the application of a rational, neo scholastic theology, to be taught in seminaries and university faculties of theology throughout Europe. This rationalistic approach, while influential among the new intellectual circles of the Church, was not readily popularised and absorbed by the mass of Catholic clergy and laiety.

 Alongside this intellectual thrust, the popular experience of Catholicism was a more sentimental piety, a faith bound up in ritual, often bordering on credulity and superstition. The degree to which which intellect and emotion were unevenly infused in Catholic culture meant that for a large part of the Catholic faithful, neo-scholastic rationalism remained outside their experience, external to their thinking and never incorporated into their rituals and traditions, or the celebration and observance of their religious experience — in other words, as part of their religious (and secular) culture.

Bernard Connor, OP., points out that:



«both the rational approach to theology and the sentimental feeling expression of the relition were almost entirely a-social and a-historical. Rational, neo-scholastic theology was concerned with "timeless truths", while religious devotions appealed to each individual’s emotions. In their own way, both sought to get away from everyday realities and especially social issues. Neither questioned the status quo in society; it is in this vacuum, especially where Catholics are in the majority and Catholicism is largely identified with the prevailing culture, that a right-wing movement could emerge»

(Correspondence with the authors, June, 1988)


The churches of Latin America, from whence TFP originates, were particularly conservative. Because of their geographic isolation from the intellectual heartland of Europe, they were even slower to react to the influence of 19th Century rationalism. Furthermore, the churches of Latin America were, in the 19th and early parts of the 20th Century, extremely hierarchical, with temporal power and privilege analogous to the European churches of pre-Revolutionary times. Penny Lernoux (1982) describes one such patriach, Archbishop Dom Geralso Proenca Sigaud of Diamantina, "a wealthy landowner, staunch opponent of agarian reform, and TFP founder. Sigaud belongs to the old school of Latin-American bishops who still live in palaces and own huge tracts of land".

 All this was to be challenged by the Second Vatican Council (1961-1963), but was never wholly erradicated from the lived experience, the active Catholic culture, of the previous thirty years. Just as rational theology and religious sentiment were marbled together in the consciousness of the Catholic faithful, so too, was the process of adaption to fresh challenges, and a re-orientation from regarding strict centralization of Church authority and entrenched privilege as the divinely-constituted order, unevenly intertwined with the popularisation the mode of thought which encompassed democracy and equality as Chrisitian principles.

 Furthermore, when the theological paradigm did change in the 1960s, it was the Theology of Liberation which challenged the supremacy of the older observations. Since this was a movement which unabashedly challenged the exploitative class structures of capitalism, it was regarded as extremely threatening to the bourgeois elements of the established church.

 It is in this light that the "tradition" to which TFP pays homage should be viewed. It is an essentially anchronistic throwback to the ritual and romanticism of earlier, a-social and authoritarian forms of Catholic observance, heavily overlaid with dominant class interests. Above all, it is opposed to any form of egalitarianism or democracy. It is a ‘tradition’ which is threatened not only by critiques to the inequitable distribution of wealth, but also by movements within the present day Church which seek to adapt evangelical work to the modern world. It is not surprising, then, that TFP should be so hostile to New Nation, since New Nation actively advocates social justice, and a post-Vatican II philosophy, which is insistant on the importance of the Catholic community as a whole actively participating in evangalisation of the world in which they operate (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975, para 70).

The consonance between the ideals of TFP and the SA state

The consonance of ideals between TFP and the apartheid government was ironic, because, until at least the 1970s, the Catholic Church was barely tolerated by the National Party. Afrikaner Nationalists had easlier referred to the Church as the ‘Roomse gevaar’ (the Roman threat), and during the emergencies was overtly opposed to it. Immigration of Catholics to South Africa had been actively discouraged by the government until the fall of the colonial regime in Mozambique in 1975. After this date, colonial Portuguese Catholics were welcomed with open arms. Since then was a growing acceptance of the Portuguese through the establishment of trade links, visits to Portugal by Cabinet Ministers and brouhahah surrounding the 1988 Diaz celebrations. In part, this new alliance developed because Portugal was one of the few European countries not threatening a trade embargo in protest against apartheid. (They may have had little option in this because of the more than half million Portuguese-speakers were now living in South Africa, particularly since the post-Mozambiquan influx.) TFP originates from Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking country, so the belated official approval granted Mozambiquan Portuguese immigrants could now be easily extended to Brazilians.

 TFP was thus opportunistically accepted only in terms of what it could offer the National Party: 

    1) re-packaged super-conservative viewpoint which struck at the very heart of the legitimate and established Catholic Church in South Africa;

    2) Church-directed mobilisation against the black labour movement, the most serious threat to the Government’s security; and

    3)an externally directed attempt to smash New Nation and other progressive media. 

This three-pronged attack was aimed at destroying organic intellectuals drawn from the progressive labour, Church and media movements. Thus, TFP contributed to repression by acting as traditional intellectuals on behalf the apartheid state. It helped to shore up repressive hegemonies in South America and South Africa and, like these states, was not hesitant to condone violence when consent could not be obtained.

 Ideologically, the Church was a more difficult adversary for the apartheid state than either the labour movement or the press. The Church had great legitimacy amongst the state’s own constituency - white, coloured and Indian voters. The Church was not marginal to the apartheid state’s constituency in the same way as was the labour movement. In fact, labour was the adversary of the state’s constituency: that is, big capital and much of the white working class. It would therefore have been extremely unwise to smash the Church solely through coercion [1]. What the government attempted to do was to de-legitimise the Church hierarchy in the eyes of its membership. This is a form of ideological warfare aimed at destroying the popular legitimacy of the Bishops, of what Robert White calls "Episcopal colleges", and in this particular case, the SACBC. Once this has been accomplished, the state will find it easier to dismantle the ideological sway of the Church.

 Into this state-church conflict enters TFP with its neatly packaged little diatribe presented in the form of a critique which strikes at the very heart of the Church’s legitimacy — the Bishops. TFP is not just acting against New Nation. It has set itself against the Church as a whole by providing the state with a hostile critique attacking the institution.

 At the same time, TFP adds impetus to another wider movement which overlaps the attack on the Church — the ‘alternative’ press, particularly New Nation. It is this coincidence of objectives — the controlling of labour, Church and press — that makes the relationship between TFP and the state an opportunistic one. It is unlikely that the government set up TFP in South Africa. More likely, once government realised how TFP could be co-opted into protecting apartheid, and to back-up the state’s onslaught against democratic opposition, it received support and encouragement (viz. letters from Botha and Heunis), and access to the public. TFP have thus been encouraged to do the state’s dirty work for it.

New Nation and post-Vatican theology

New Nation is engaged not only in a theology of liberation, but more fundamentally, in the post-Vatican II conception of where the Church should be going. This entails a move away from proselitization through an authoritarian didactic approach to a small group, community-oriented approach with a strong emphasis on social and community development. Post-Vatican II theology goes beyond the traditional confines of doctrine; it moves from being a theology to being a culture of Christianity which permeates all aspects of the lived Catholic experience. Liberation theology is only a sub-section of the post-Vatican theology.

New Nation, the Catholic media and the Second Vatican Council

Anachronistic church attitudes to the media

Although we will explain that TFP’s notion of Catholic culture differs from the cultural impulses which inform the following extract, on the surface, there appears to be something in common with the encyclical, Mirari Vos published by Pope Gregory XVI, August 15, 1832, which was a diatribe against the new ‘popular’ media of the time:



«Here belongs that vile and never sufficiently execrated and destestable freedom of the press for the diffusion of all sorts of writings: a freedom which, with so much insistance, they dare to demand and promote. We are horrified, venerable brothers, contemplating what monstrosities of doctrine, or better, what monstrosities of error are everywhere dissimenated in a great multitude of books, pamphlets, written documents — small certainly in their size but enormous in their malice — from which goes out over the face of the earth that curse which we lament.»


This unease with the popular media by the Church was widespread in the 19th Century, and elements of it continued in the early part of this centuary. Popular forms of expression were regarded as trivial, degrading and opposed to romantic classical high culture. A direct influence in discrediting the popular media as a site of evangelism was the "rationalism of neo-scholastic theology and the emphasis on an abstract, metaphysical mode of explanation" (White, 1986: 18). Neo-scholastic theology identified the word of God with the clear, concise, logically defined dogmatic propositions. The resulting abstraction of the language of religious faith discouraged the use of popular media for religious communication. Inter Mirifica called on the Church to use the mass media more effectively. Catholic culture was reacting vigorously to forms of clerical authoritarian communication which had characterised the Church for the previous 150 years. More important, it questioned the principle that "divine knowledge" is above history and cultural contexts (White, 1986: 27).

 The shift from neo-scholastic theologies of communication occurred because of biblical and historical studies which argued that the "exact written formulas of doctrine were not in themselves identical with divine knowledge but also reflected the literary genres, historical circumstances and cultural context of the time" (White, 1986: 28). Avery Dulles (1983) argues that the most characteristic and appropriate expression of religious experience is symbolic language. Religious imagination has many sources — poetry, novels, film and TV (Shea, 1980: 45) — and owe much to local popular cultures and popular religiosity (White, 1986: 29). Faith is rarely only intellectual. Neither is it a simple acceptance of authoritative teaching on the basis of supernatural signs. The communicative discourse of the Bible and religion rests on the connotative, evocative power of imagery, symbols and myth. It is this mode of communication which underlies much of the Church’s pastoral work, and New Nation in particular. The paper is not indulging in politics for politics’ sake. It is also concerned with other areas of supportive Christian culture - not only Catholic culture. The paper covers areas of social and cultural importance, such as education, performance, cultural experience and expression of all kinds, community awareness and offers community support. As White states, Catholics should take



«as their starting point not the received theology, but their socio-cultural context and to ask how the group could give witness to the gospel and reproduce the actions of Christ in this context (p. 29)»


Empowerment of the ‘poor’ is the the intention here. Where TFP’s whole philosophy is to reclaim an anchronistic, authoritarian Catholic culture controlled by the dominant classes in society, making the poor and powerless dependent upon it, New Nation wants to democratise ecumenical Christian culture by telling people that they do have the power to contest their oppression. In contrast, TFP would rather see blacks as passive recipents of an authoritarian culture imposed from above. This is totally opposed to the contemporary Catholic Church:



«The new (Catholic) approach to the media seeks not just to use the media for the institutional purposes of the Church but to transform the media for the good of the whole society is most evident where the Church has developed the new communicative relationship with the larger society ...»

(White, 1986: p. 34)


The Church’s emphasis in the 1980s on ‘group media’ [2] occurred in response to Paulo Freire’s ideas on consciousness-raising where participants of group discussions are:



«encouraged to become aware of their unthinking dependency on the cultural environment and to see themselves as active participants in the creation of culture and history»

(White, 1986: 31)


TFP would no doubt label this exercise ‘historical materialist’, preferring to see people as victims of history in terms of pre-rational Catholic culture. New Nation is but one of hundreds of Church initiatives around the world engaged in consciousness-raising. Because TFP work from an inductive position, it is able to single out New Nation from the broader contemporary Catholic media culture and thereby generalise anything written in the paper as ‘communist inspired’. Locating the paper within the Catholic press in Africa, South America and other neo-colonial countries would have forced them to claim that all Catholic media are ‘communist’. As White explains:



«The effort to transform the media is part of the broader commitment to build a more just and human society. In Latin America, for example, Christians working in radio started with a traditional instrumentalist version of radio and gradually, with the background of a liberation theology, transformed it into a more participatory communication, the voice of the voiceless.» (p. 34)


The above quotes from White describe exactly what New Nation is doing: to move away from Church-as-dogma to Church-and-community. One element of this is the theology of liberation. But it is not the over-riding factor.

 The importance of our emphasis on Revelation Theology is that this approach is endorsed by Vatican II in Inter Mirifica and later, Communio et Progressio. Its manifestation in New Nation is not simply a whim of the SACBC, but the only direction to take in terms of the Church in the modern world. New Nation is fulfilling its mandate — a mandate for a community-oriented, theologically based people’s paper, inspired by gospel values. This is the view of the church of the future. Resources will have to be redirected by the institutional Church (parochial schools, expensive parish hierarchies), into mass-directed, but community-oriented channels of information/media. The TFP’s instrumentalist and hierarchical view of communication is highly problematic. According to White (1986: 24):



«there is a realisation that new communication technologies are not simply neutral, value-free instruments for a good cause, but come to us wrapped in an institutional organisation which may or may not be consonant with Christian values. The new physical capacity for storing, transmitting or displaying information may be providential, but the institutional organisation of this is a product of human society that needs to be continually questioned and evaluated. As Catholics have worked with the media, they have found ways to transform these institutional packages so that they reflect gospel values. In this way catholics have developed new models of radio, television, and group communication which are considered important contributions to public communications policy»


New Nation is an excellent example of this. In attempting to build a communication of symbolic gospel witness through a free, public, secular mass communications that the Church itself does not control, the church entered the public debate making the paradox of its powerlessness, simplicity and commitment to the poor the basis of socio-ethical values in an affluent, consumer-oriented society (White, 1986: 26). The paper is owned by the Church but run by the laiety (a movement away from authority-directed instruction).

 In contrast to the extensive discussion offered by Tlhagale (1985), White (1982-3; 1983; 1984; 1986, 1987), Biernatzki (1978), and many others on the nature of Catholic media, TFP’s only reference to the role of the Catholic media is represented in the following quote from the encyclical Miranda Porsus where Pope Pius XII deals with the duties of the Catholic media:



«The announcement of any fact, even if it really does nothing more than relate the truth, nevertheless has some inherent quality connected however remotely with the shaping of man’s moral life. This moral quality must never be overlooked. Every item of news provokes a mental judgement and influences the will»

(TFP p. 12/13)


While this is a general statement referring to the potential of all media to "influence the will", it was used specifically against New Nation to imply that the paper is not ‘influencing the will’ correctly i.e. in keeping with Catholic Doctrine. While choosing to use Pope Pius XII’s statement in their argument for action against New Nation, TFP ignored his concern about freedom of thought as expressed in the following quote where He deals with the task of the Christian press:



«Peace is served by true freedom of thought and by man’s right to his own judgement, always that is in the light of divine law. Where public opinion ceases to express itself freely, peace is in danger.»

(Chinigo (ed), 1958: 389)


It is against the above background that the following analysis of the TFP document should be read.

Methodological questions concerning the TFP’s "Sad Journey"

This second section of the analysis of the TFP document offers a critique of the TFP methodology. We will show:

    1) that despite its ‘academic’ presentation (carefully referenced quotes, use of extensive footnotes and description of its attack as an ‘analysis’), the TFP document is actually a rhetorical-polemic based on the assumptions of an unrecognised group of right-wing Catholics who are allegedly not above the use of violence to attain their ends;

    2) that the ‘argument’ developed in the document is mostly based on a MacCarthyesque naivity and pseudo-logic. Rhetorical devices used include innuendo, distortion, emotional appeal, and the mobilisation of dominant conservative South African myths; and

    3) that TFP rhetoric is similar to that of the apartheid state’s repressive apparatuses, manifested in ‘warnings’ sent to newspaper editors.

Use of dominant codes of signification

John Fiske et al (1983, p. 147) define myth as "an unarticulated chain of associated concepts by which members of a culture understand certain topics". Myth is an utterance without an utterer (Barthes, 1972). The absence of the person who speaks gives the myth the quality of a statement of eternal fact, truth, obviousness, naturalness, common sense, rightness, reasonableness already-thereness - it just needs to be named ... by anyone, hence the apparent ‘objectivity’ of myth. It is culture-specific and responds to changing political processes while retaining its ahistorical content. Hence the employment of terms around which specific myths have been built, enables TFP to make statements without having to substantiate them. For example, only the more critical reader will respond to TFP’s description of the African National Congress (ANC) as a terrorist organisation with the questions: what is a terrorist organisation? In what way does the ANC fit this definition? Why is it a terrorist organisation? Who labels it thus? The naturalization through the dominant media of the myth of the terrorist makes the statement appear to be a universal truth needing no substantiation (see Graaf, 1988).

 TFP depends to a large extent for the efficacy of its critique on the use of dominant myths perpetuated through the state’s discourse and the establishment media. The myth it most frequently draws upon is that of ‘Communism’ as an evil, anti-Christian force directly linked to a violent Soviet imperialism. This spawns the myth of the ‘terrorist’ as a Soviet trained killer bent on destroying innocent lives, whose actions are directed by imperialist forces prejudicial to the interests of the black majority. The myth of ‘revolution’ implies the violent overthrow of the existing order and its replacement by a Communist dictatorship which automatically precipitates a massive deterioration in quality of life. The three myths combine to elicit the fear of a revolution brought about by terrorists leading to a communist dictatorship. In opposition to the supposed chaos and anarchy this would produce is presented the anachronistic myth of ‘Christian civilization’ as representing the best of human endeavour, drawing in remnants of a pre-rational mystical Catholic culture. TFP apparently sees no contradiction between defending ‘Christian civilization’ through condoning the brutal state violence necessary to maintain the apartheid ‘Christian-National’ system of government.

 The privileging of "Christian civilization" by TFP over ‘communism’ permits the writers to see other politico-economic systems which claim to be based on Christianity as less evil. Thus, they are able to simultaneously withold total endorsement of apartheid while claiming that only "certain aspects of the South Arican system are seriously questionable from the standpoint of Catholic Doctrine" (p. 3). TFP repeats state reformist rhetoric "that in recent times various of these aspects have been eliminated (eg. prohibition of Mixed Marriages, some restrictions on the acquisition of ownership of immovable property by Blacks in urban areas) and others are in the process of being changed". Having thus legitimated its support for the lesser evil, apartheid, over the total evil, communism, TFP blithly accuses the anti-apartheid New Nation of support for communism rather than support for a "truly non-racial democracy" (p. 5).

TFP reveals its racism on page 20 where the term "Black-on-Black Violence" is used. This is a favourite racist epithet which assumes that blacks remain ‘tribal’ and ‘violent’ in need of the protection of their more civilised white compatriots where conflict is safely channelled through democratic political systems. Ruth Tomaselli (1988) shows how the emphasis on the ethnicity of the killings carries several other important implications:



«primarily, it absolves the (white) authorities from any responsibility for the underlying conditions in which the disputes arose, and from accountability for policing the outcome of these disputes. It also allows for the development of ethnic myths which define the protagonists as being different from ... (whites) ... and therefore not subject to the same logic or sense of morality which govern those viewers»


This is why the compilers of the TFP document never refer to the First World War or the Anglo-Boer War as ‘white-on-white violence’. Such statements are meaningless, except to racists, because they say nothing about the real issues which give rise to conflict.


Ideology: How to mount a symbolic crusade

TFP claims that its "study is restricted to a critique of the ideological stand of NN in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church" (p. 3). Yet, nowhere does the TFP define what it understands by ‘ideology’, nor does it develop theories of representation or bias (see eg. Kline, 1982).

 The Unit consulted Professor George Gerbner of the prestigious Annenberg School of Communication at the Univesity of Pennsylvania on the TFP’s ‘methodology’. We did this after consulting every book available to us and numerous journal articles on content analysis and other techniques of newspaper analysis. Nowhere did we find any method remotely resembling the techniques used by TFP in its examination of New Nation. We thus wrote to Gerbner who is one of the pioneers of content analysis and who has worked with numerous communication scholars who use such techniques. He has also co-authored a book with O Holsti, one of whose publications was on the list drawn up by the National Party government for the establishment of guidelines on assessing which newspapers or newspaper reports were ‘subversive’. Professor Gerbner responded to our queries about the methodology used by TFP as follows: "Examination of TFP critique does not reveal application of a systematic content analysis. It is not objective and representative but selective, polemical and tendentious" (Letter, 11 December 1987; telex, 13 May 1988).

 Neither does Holsti’s book suggest that the TFP method has any validity whatsoever in academic practice. Significantly, as will be shown, the only similarity to the TFP ‘method’ was found in the ‘warnings’ sent newspapers by state agencies during the emergencies. These warnings are intended to create a moral panic in response to accusations that the press is what the government calls "revolution-supportive".

 Moral panics occur within societies when "a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests" (Cohen, 1972: 9). Moral panics are presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by interests threatened by conditions or groups antithetical to dominant processes.



«In the gallery of types that society erects to show its members which roles should be avoided and which should be emulated, these groups have occupied a constant position as folk devils: visible reminders of what we should not be»

(Cohen, 1972: 10)


In the case of New Nation, the moral barricades were manned by National Party politicians, Stoffel Botha in particular, editors of Afrikaans-language newspapers, right-wing newsletters, reactionary elements of the various churches, Inkatha, socially accredited conservative experts, SABC and organisations like Tradition, Family, Property. These sources create the panic and then pronounce their diagnoses and solutions.

 Moral panics result from societal structures which generate problems for some of its members - like TFP and sections of the state — and then condemn whatever solutions the ‘problem’ groups propose. The threat of the ‘communist bogey’ is an easily mobilised one amongst whites in South Africa. ‘Communism’ is defined as the ‘problem’. The solution to the problem was offered by New Nation but this solution was condemned by TFP and the state.

There were significant similarities in the modus operandi used by the state and TFP:


    1) First, objectify New Nation (or any other newspaper) as ‘subversive’ and ‘communist’, that is, denegrate New Nation as a folk devil. This is easily done given the access of government spokesmen to the press and especially broadcasting.

    2) Second, having identified New Nation as the ‘enemy’, articulating it publically as a folk devil, then, 

    3) Third, mobilise public opinion through causing a moral panic amongst whites. 

    4) Fourth, use the moral panic as the reason for the Minister of Home Affairs to ‘refer’ the paper to the faceless group of academic ‘experts’ who will decide whether the paper is ‘revolution-supportive’ and ‘subversive’ etc. In other words, this committee has the function of endorsing the Minister’s opinion and thereby ‘scientifically’ legitimating his arbitrary selection. Having done this, the Minister can ban the paper for three months on the argument that the paper has transgressed impartial and dispassionate ‘scientific’ criteria. 

Philosophy in the service of oppression: Logic and appearance

We will show how design and text interact to confirm the worst fears of conservative white South African readers. TFP achieves this by clothing its dogmatic, atheoretical, ahistorical and unsubstantiated rhetorical message within the dominant ideological field of seemingly ‘democratic’ discourse.

 Let us first examine the TPF booklet’s cover design. The framing red background is used overwhelmingly on both front and back covers. Red, of course, is associated with ‘danger’, ‘blood’, ‘anger’ and most importantly, ‘communism’. The front cover highlights reduced front pages of four different issues of New Nation. The pages are set against what looks like a red earth located in space. The top left hand side which is usually the first to be read contains the title of the document in gold:



«The ‘New’ Nation and Liberation Theology. The sad journey of a reader of the newspaper published by the Catholic Bishops’ Publishing Co»


Taken on its own, ‘Liberation’ has positive connotations of ‘freedom’ and spiritual expansion of apocalyptic proportions. For the purposes of their ‘argument’, however, TFP need to negate these associations. This they attempt to do with the word ‘sad’, carrying with it dismal connotations of diminutive proportions. The ‘sad journey’ scales down the claims of ‘liberation theology’, belittling it as pitiful rather than affirmative. The ‘sad journey of the reader’ is mapped out in the subtitle which reads: ‘Uneasiness’, ‘Perplexity’, ‘Disconcertedness’ and ‘Anguish’. These words are connected by vertical downward pointing arrows. This is argument by proclamation - matter of statement rather than logical argument.

 The full citation of the ‘Catholic Bishops’ Publishing Company’ in the title of the work also needs consideration. Its inclusion is clearly an attempt to hold the Bishops culpable for the production of New Nation, and by implication, its content. Since the title of the ‘study’ has already equated New Nation with Liberation Theology, the Bishops are also ‘tarnished’ with this doctrine. This will have important consequences later in TFP’s ‘argument’, which will vilefy ‘liberation theology’, and thus by equation, will vilefy, and de-legitimise, the position of the Bishops as well. Thus having disposed of the Bishops, they are in a (spurious) position to present their own ‘argument’ as the ‘correct’, ‘accepted’ Catholic position.

 At the bottom right of the front cover is located the TFP’s emblem, a golden lion, encircled by the words ‘Tradition, Family, Property’. This sign entered Christian symbolism in the Midddle Ages and, as a symbol of evangelists, came to be associated with St Mark in particular (Cirlot, 1962: 182). The lion connotes ‘authority’ and ‘the Kingdom of God’. Gold is a substance equated with Kingdoms, wealth and well-being. Thus the composite image of ‘gold’ plus ‘lion’ deploys its connotation of ‘well-being’ and symbol of ‘ownership’ against the negative connotations of ‘enslavement’ and ‘dispossession’ elicited by red ‘communist’. This coat of arms connects with the TFP flag on the back cover. The flag overlays a white map of Africa silloeted against a sea of red. This map is a larger rendition of the map seen in the early New Nation masthead which is black (reproduced on the front outside cover). This contrast of white with black depictions of the map of Africa may be accidental. Alternatively, it may encode the racist maxim that it is the historical task of whites to save Africa from itself. Certainly, the interview conducted with the Durban office of the TFP identified a thinly veiled racism in the verbal talk and behaviour of the two male TFP members (interview, date).

 Other booklets published by TFP, and pp. 36-37 of the document, provide "A few milestones in the TFP crusade" which spans "fifteen societies" in North and South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Having done battle in these other countries, the ‘crusade’ has finally reached Africa. The red in TFP’s flag has a different reference to the red of ‘communism’ as it draws on the codes of heraldry which developed in feudal times, well before communism. The TFP’s red ‘saves’ rather than destroys by clawing back the (ironically anachronistic feudal) codes of order. This suggests images of the Church and feudal barons as the protectors of ‘the people’ against hostile external forces. In the present context, feudal barons could be interpreted as the ‘state’ and the enemy as ‘communism’. This was, of course, a common theme on the state-run SA Broadcasting Corporation during the 1980s.

 The red of ‘red communist’ which elicits the idea of ‘blood’ and ‘bloody revolution’ is connected to the red in New Nation’s masthead, the red ‘content’ blocks at the bottom of two of the front pages and the writing in blood "A Luta continua" above the Cuban military cap. Red is thus used by the designers of the TFP booklet to show how Africa has become encircled in a sea of communism and that New Nation is a vehicle for the propagation of this insidious political disease.

 The front inside cover of the TFP booklet contains a ‘letter’ written by a missionary priest, "G. Blanchard, OMI", which sets the framework for the attack that is to follow. The letter is privileged on the page in that the typeface is much larger than the ‘incriminating’ article extracts reproduced from the pages of New Nation in the remainder of the document. It is also made to appear authentic by a black border with the right hand side and lower edge darkened to create a shadow effect. Interest in the letter is aroused by a quote at the top of the page in which its author recommends the TFP document: "’THE New Nation’ AND LIBERATION THEOLOGY sounds a welcome warning note against this (emphasis added) process of theological erosion which New Nation is pushing through". The link between this statement and the cover design is facilitated by the bold headline: "FOR (sic) A MISSIONARY PRIEST:" and the word "this" in the sentence that follows. The semantic function of this link is to continue the emotionally established logic engendered by the cover design’s play on colour connotations of political myths into the written statements themselves. This is the form of the entire booklet. The design skillfully ‘guides’ readers to the conclusions which the document’s authors see as ‘correct’, and leads them in the direction of the authors’ interpretations of from New Nation as ‘subversive’, ‘false’ and un-Catholic.

 The letter serves to recommend the TFP booklet as one that "sounds a welcome warning note against this process of theological erosion which New Nation is pushing through". The basis of its recommendation is the allegation that although New Nation is published by the Bishops Conference, far from reflecting the mind of the Catholic Church, it in fact propagates communism. This allegation is powerfully conveyed through the use of the metaphor "wolf in sheep’s clothing". However, New Nation at no point identifies itself as supportive of communism, let alone as a communist mouthpiece. Hence Blanchard’s description of New Nation, if it is to be anything more than a libellous accusation, must be substantiated. Blanchard, however, cleverly absolves himself of this need through recourse to rhetoric:



«A friend of mine in Canada was indignant when I told him that he was for all practical purposes a Communist. He could not be, he insisted, because, as a good Catholic, he was against Communism. But he did not know communism, and he had swallowed over the years all the slogans repeated by the press and the radio and the television, so that, on any political or economic question, he would automatically come up with the communist solution, without ever being aware of it.»


Blanchard then proceeds to claim that "a regular reader of New Nation would eventually and insensibly become practically a communist". Two assumptions underlie this claim: the first is that New Nation is ‘communist’. The second assumption is that texts are transparently decoded by readers. The view that audiences uncritically adopt the points of view presented in the media they encounter is based on the discredited deterministic sender/message/receiver model of communication (Sless, 1986; White, 1985). This understanding of ‘communication’ is widely criticised for its concentration on the level of message exchange to the exclusion of context or an understanding of the complex relationship between the encoding and decoding ends of the communication chain (Hall, 1980: 128).

Stuart Hall identifies three different ways in which readers respond to texts:

    1) The first (and the only position of which TFP appears to be aware) is one of transparent decoding where the reader decodes the message in terms of the reference code in which it was encoded (i.e the intentions of the writer) (Hall,1980: 136).

    2) The second position, which Hall characterises as the ‘negotiated’ position, is one where readers acknowledge the legitimacy of the reference code in which the message has been encoded, but reserve the right to make a more negotiated application to their own ideological positions (Hall,1980: 137). The English press, for example, has made such a response by accepting the right of New Nation to publish in terms of the discourse of ‘freedom of the press’, but criticises (‘negotiates’) the nature of its interpretations.

    3) The third response is when the reader understands both the literal and connotative inflection given by a discourse but decodes the message in a globally different way (Hall,1980: 137). This is the position adopted by TFP with regard to New Nation, though it simultaneously arrogantly denies this lattitude to the readers of New Nation

Hall’s explanation of the complexity of the communication process questions TFP’s prime assumption that cause-effect relationships exist between media and behaviour. To state that New Nation is a "powerful vehicle for revolutionary propaganda" and that "revolutionary propaganda has been used intensively to incite the Black majority", apart from being blatently racist, is mechanistic and scientifically unprovable and assumes the conservative position that the ‘masses’ are stupid and can’t think for themselves. Besides, the conditions on which New Nation reports were present for decades before the paper was first published. The ‘reality’ reported by New Nation has already been apprehended as reality by its readers and is not simply seen as a mediated reconstruction of social conditions.

 The TFP document thus creates its own unresearched projections of both authors (of New Nation) and readers (of New Nation). These projections are based on assumptions derived from a reading of New Nation as text in exclusion of political, economic and social contexts. TFP does not offer a study of the relations between New Nation and its readers and therefore its observations of the behaviour of the paper’s readers cannot be taken seriously. TFP is thus spuriously projecting its incorrect causative ideological interpretation of a text into the supposed resulting revolutionary behaviour of unknown readers. In other words, TFP’s projection of New Nation’s readers as dupes of communism is not only inconsistent but totally wrong.

 Elements in the text and layout combine to present Blanchard as someone whose conclusions are beyond question. While the letter is typeset, Blanchard’s signature is reproduced in blue ink connoting both the importance of the author and the authenticity of the letter. Blue is a ‘cool’ colour and with the box of biographical details overlaid on blue next to his signature, reinforces the idea of ‘cool heads need to prevail’. Thus the ‘cool logic’ symbolised by blue on the inside front cover challenges the passionate red of the outside cover, and all the negative connotations brought to bear with it. This is a technique first developed by The Reader’s Digest marketing department to sell its magazine by giving an impression of personal interest on the part of the publisher. Again, the manipulation of colours and their juxtaposition with the text propel a coherent reader interpretation in spite of the illogic and confusion of the written statements.

 In the letter Blanchard presents himself as having made a special study of the philosophy of communism. The boxed biography lists his credentials. He is identified as a ‘philosopher’, a ‘university professor’ at a ‘black’ university in a ‘black’ country and a scholar of religion. The intention is to establish this "Rev Fr" as the pre-eminent ‘voice’ (of God) and as someone ‘who knows’, someone who has the ‘correct’ interpretation of the Catholic Faith and ‘knows’ its enemy, the philosophy of communism. As a teacher of "religion" of "41 years" standing, his voice is the voice of ‘authority’ and ‘experience’. The blue background symbolically adds to this authoritative naming of Blanchard a spurious logic and hence, appearance of scientific precision.

 Having set up the letter writer as a Voice of Authority, Blanchard then defines communism in terms of allusion. A ‘communist’ is one that the Reverend Father decides is a communist. No other criterion is necessary; certainly not the definitions offered by the originators of communism or contemporary commentators. Where they, including New Nation, speak in "slogans" ‘for’ communism, the Rev Fr speaks ‘logically’ ‘for’ the Catholic Church, ‘for’ Young South Africans for a Christian Civilization, ‘for’ God. He cannot, then, be wrong.

 The letter reveals three basic elements in TFP’s attack on New Nation.

    1) Firstly, TFP defines communism so vaguely that it can be applied to anybody who opposes the South African state, and/or its own beliefs.

    2) Secondly, ‘communism’ is presented as the antithesis of Catholic doctrine.

    3) Thirdly, uncertainty is created in the mind of the reader by suggesting that even people who consider themselves "good catholics" could also be ‘communists’ without their knowledge. 

Blanchard’s attack has both emotional and intellectual impact. Not only does it try to create uncertainty amongst Catholics as to the legitimacy of alternative "solutions" with regard to social, political and economic problems, but it is also inflammatory, seeking to incite a moral panic among Catholics who read New Nation.

 The title page opposite Blanchard’s letter repeats the written information from the cover in bolder type and reinforces the chain of ‘logic’ set in motion. This is continued in the "Table of Contents" which cynically mobilises communist folk devils i sion. TFP, of course, fails to mention that the wars in Southern Africa were "linked" because of South Africa’s military strategy of aggression and de-stabilization. TFP follows its leading comment with endless quotes extracted from New Nation, citing these as ‘proof’ of its accusations. It then tries to naturalise its arguments with statements like "It is common knowledge" (pp. 9, 15, 21), "’So be it!’" (p. 8), "we have already seen" (p. 17) an so on.

 On p. 4 are two maps, one of Southern Africa and one of apartheid South Africa. The frontline states are described as ‘Marxist Dictatorship’ (Angola, Mozambique), ‘Marxist Government’ (Zimbabwe), ‘Socialist’ (Zambia), ‘Monarchy’ (Lesotho, Swaziland) etc. No definitions are offered on these simplistic categories. Significantly, Unita is shown on the map but not defined. A boxed definition of "Homelands" is offered to explain the second map. Though we are told that the ‘independent homelands’ have not been recognised by the United Nations, it appears that this political status is recognised by TFP.


The gospel of the Inuendo: TFP rhetoric

The unlikely ‘communist’ slogans "repeated" by the Canadian mass media aside (Blanchard’s letter), TFP’s understanding of communism is akin to MacCarthyesque witch hunters: communism is anything or anybody with which or whom they disagree.

 Throughout the document, ‘Communism’, ‘Marxism’ ‘historical materialism’, ‘marxist materialism’, ‘International Communism’ and ‘socialism’ are confused, and used interchangeably. This conflation facilitates the meshing of the four terms into the consolidated concept of ‘Soviet aggression’, with the intention of frightening readers of New Nation into the government’s pro-apartheid camp. So confused and generalised are the definitions used by TFP that they must either be naive or thought out with a cynical rhetorical-propogandistic intent. Any competent social scientist knows there are vast differences, even conflicts, between these theoretical categories, political systems and Soviet policy. To simply collapse them into one homogeneous idea shows an utter lack of analytical rigour. Such simplification is explicitly illustrated on page 28 of the TFP document. There we read about certain debates within Marxism, about the strategy of populism, taken out of context and then elevated to the status of a "communist strategic blueprint". TPF does not seem to be aware of critiques of these concepts. The political strategy of coopting "useful innocents" and "objective allies" (p. 28) is not confined to Communism. Indeed, we would counter-argue that TFP are the "useful innocents" and "objective allies" of the apartheid state.

 A similar rhetorically simplistic conflation of terminology is evident in the use of the terms ‘Captialism’ and ‘Free-Enterprise’. This enables TFP to imply that Catholicism ‘naturally’ supports free enterprise and capitalism (p. 26). The statement that capitalism emanates from "human nature itself" is a remarkable example of crude social Darwinism and biological determinism assigned by myth. Here, the myth of the ladder (hard work results in personal success) is proposed as ‘natural’ and ‘the way things are’ in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary provided by both academic sources and New Nation.

 Discredited and unacademic sources such as the Aida Parker Newsletter are presented as ‘truth’. On page 21, for example, TFP refers to the Aida Parker Newsletter to ‘prove’ the so-called link between the African National Congress (ANC) and Communism. In fact, references to Parker litter the TFP ‘study’ throughout. Parker, who has no academic or journalistic credibility, was severely censured by the Newspaper Press Union’s (NPU) Media Council for grossly inaccurate reporting and found guilty of violating the Council’s Code of Conduct in attacking the End Conscription Campaign in April 1986. Parker made the same sort of libelous and untrue allegations against the ECC as TFP makes on New Nation. Because Parker is not a member of the NPU, the Council’s findings had no legal force, but such was Parker’s contempt of the authority of the Council, that she did not even bother to be present at the hearings or appoint someone to represent her.

 The TFP booklet (like Parker) simply ignores the complexity of the ANC and the fact that the ANC incorporates a wide range of political opinion. To label it as communist because it contains some communists (who used "useful innocents") is a red herring. In the case of SWAPO, TFP were apparently so short of evidence that they had to refer to another TFP document to convince readers that SWAPO is a tool of the Soviets (p. 25). The fact that they had printed 59 000 of these was presented as ‘evidence’ (p. 29). One of the more amazing pseudo-academic claims is: "South African Blacks better off than Russian workers" (p. 24). The claim is, of course, referenced, though the comparison is scientifically untenable. Firstly, one cannot collapse categories such as ‘Moscovite’ into ‘Johannesburg blacks’ since the latter category includes all classes including those more affluent than workers. Secondly, ‘Johannesburg blacks’ are the most affluent in South Africa and so are not representative of the whole country. Thirdly, per capita measurements of wealth are valid only when compared within countries. It is this sort of pseudo-argumentation which underlies the distortions found in the TFP booklet.


Legislating communism: Everyone can be a folk devil

A similarity exists between certain of the TFP and the South Afican state’s highly dubious definitions. The Internal Security Act (1982), for example, defined communism as any



«doctrine, ideology or scheme:

 a) which is based on, has developed from or is related to the tenets of Karl Marx, Friederich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, or Mao Tse-tung, or any other recognised theorist in connection with or exponent of these tenets, and which aims at the establishment of any form of socialism or collective ownership;

 b) which aims at the establishment, by means of a class or group polarisation of the community and the subsequent assumption of power by a particular class or group, of a despotic form of government under which one political party, group or organisation is recognised and all others are eliminated or prohibited; or

 c) which aims at bringing about any political, economic, industrial or social change within the Republic in accordance with the directions of or in co-operation with any foreign government or any foreign or international organisation whose purpose (whether professed or not) it is to bring about the establishment within the Republic of any economic or social system as contemplated in paragraph (a) or government as contemplated in paragraph (b).»

The Act widened the list of forbidden authorities from the earlier Suppression of Communism Act, to include "any other recognised theorist". Like the TFP document, the Act is silent on exactly what constitutes "recognition". The clause has extensive implications as to how one begins to establish who is a "recognised theorist", in what terms and by whom. Again, where in the earlier Suppression of Communism Act, the aim of the propagator had to be directed towards the "establishment of a despotic system of government based on the dictatorship of the proletariat", the new Act forbids the aim of establishing "any form of socialism or collective ownership" — objectives which could clearly be included in the programmes of bodies and "useful innocents" who need not accept the political structures of Soviet Communism. The South African government has, itself, been accused of pursuing ‘communist’ economic policies (Wassenaar, 1977). The distinguishing characteristic of section (c) of the definition is the sweeping terms in which the types of change are enunciated. The addition of the parenthetic phrase "whether professed or not" adds to the subjectivity of the interpretation similar to the TFP position outlined on page 28. It is this phrase which facilitates TFP’s accusation that New Nation is necessarily communist. That New Nation can be proved to be non-communist by competent political scientists or lawyers is thus irrelevant.

 The state’s definition of communism thus permits the declaration of activities, organisations and people as ‘communist’ even if they are not even remotely connected to the concept as originally expounded in the Communist Manifesto, or by Marx, Lenin, Tse-tung and so on. This is the method of demonisation used by TFP against New Nation and anybody who disagrees with their ‘analysis’, which will probably include the writers of this report.

 The authors of the TFP booklet claim that they do "not pretend to concern (themselves) with possible conflicts between the material published by New Nation and South African legislation", that they "lack the necessary specialised knowledge" (p. 3). Despite this disclaimer, TFP’s assumptions show an undeniable similarity to legislation and the position adopted by the South African government on the ‘so-called’ alternative press which from mid-1987 it labelled as the "revolution-supportive" media.


Ministerial ‘warnings’, state censorship agencies and TFP

A comparison of the TFP booklet with ‘warnings’ sent New Nation by the Directorate of Media Relations, the Directorate of Publications and other state agencies shows a remarkable coincidence of assumptions, phrases, allegations and even sentence structure. In an interview with TFP (Durban), Dias Wellington showed a Unit researcher copies of letters written to TFP by the State President and Mr C Heunis in which they commended them for their work. Indeed, TFP even took credit for the government’s banning of New Nation in March 1988, claiming that the government had based its decision on the TFP report (see also The Citizen). TFP claimed that "at no stage in the work had the government been asked as such to act against the newspaper" but despite its unsuccessful appeal to the Pope to ban the paper "noted regret on the need for the banning". This expression of regret fits in well with the government’s strategy to make it appear that bannings of newspapers are the fault of the papers’ owners rather than the government (CCSU, 1988).

 We compared the TFP booklet with (1) the document issued by the Directorate of Publications listing reasons for declaring undesirable the Vol 2 No 6 and Vol 2 No 7 editions of New Nation; and (2) the letter from the Minister of Home Affairs informing New Nation of the Minister’s intention to gazette a warning against the newspaper. (Both documents are appended.) Our analysis showed that the main thrust of both the state’s attack on the progressive press and New Nation and the TFP’s attack on New Nation is the argument that New Nation is being mobilised to serve the interests of Soviet Imperialism. This argument rests on firstly, the assumption that the struggle against the National Party government is a manifestation of Soviet Imperialism; secondly, that the progressive press among other forces incites violent revolution; and thirdly, that a conspiracy exists between the progressive press and the forces of communist imperialism. Both the TFP and the state erect these assumptions into universal truths through invoking the dominant conservative myths, through an appeal to emotions and through inductive generalization.


Inductive ‘proofs’

That the state’s method of attack is generalized on the basis of a few selected quotes and articles is clearly revealed in the letter of warning issued in terms of the regulations published by Proclamation R123. The Minister of Home Affairs states that "I have examined a series of three issues of your periodical New Nation", and lists them. No explanation is given of how the issues were chosen nor is there any indication of what analytical criteria were applied. The Minister concluded that there was a "systematic and repeated publishing of matter which has, or is calculated to have one or more of the effects contemplated by regulation 7A(1)".

 The Minister’s application of suspect inductive argument is identical to that used by TFP. TFP states that New Nation’s "concurrence of ideological and tactical viewpoint with Communism may be discerned from the cumulative effect of the items comprising this analysis" (p. 5). TFP acknowledge that the texts from New Nation reproduced in the document to illustrate each of their arguments are "invariably samples". No indication is however given of any scientifically valid method of sampling. We are not told how TFP chose which editions of New Nation to examine. Nor do they appear to have attempted to evaluate what percentage of the total content (of the sample they did not define) reflects the points of view New Nation is alleged to propagate. Nor do they specify any scientific criterion, for example, a threshold frequency on the basis of which one may conclude a concurrence of viewpoint with Communism. While failing to provide a scientific justification for their choice of texts they proceed to argue that the samples are "indicative, in our view, of a general line". They further state that "even in dealing with subjects treated sparingly by the newspaper, the samples chosen remain valid because they express the same general line" (p. 5).

 Both TFP and the Minister of Home Affairs thus use unspecified samples of text to substantiate allegations against New Nation. As mentioned previously, most chapters of the TFP document are headed by statements about New Nation. For example, Chapter 3, is headed "Involvement in class struggle - Systematic scorn of capitalism, favouring socialism" The allegation is that in its coverage of events in the subcontinent New Nation shows support for what TFP describes as "Soviet aggression" (p. 7). The gist of the argument is that SWAPO, Frelimo, the MPLA and the ANC all constitute the "long arm of Russia in this region". In failing to mention Soviet aggression, New Nation is accused of "unveiled sympathy" for these organisations which shows an affinity with the perspectives of International Communism. TFP’s position depends almost entirely on the series of quotes from New Nation which follow it. These quotes are inserted to testify to the ‘truth’ of the TFP’s argument.

 The letter from the Department of Home Affairs adopts the same method of attack as that of the TFP. For example, paragraph 3 of the letter lists several items from New Nation which in the Minister’s opinion "has, or is calculated to have the effect of promoting or fanning revolution or uprising in the Republic or acts aimed at the overthrow of the Government otherwise than by constitutional means" (page 2 of appended letter). Hence the Minister’s opinion is simply stated and news items listed to give an impression of some scientific basis to the arbitrary statements.


Use of myth

The state, like TFP, capitalises on dominant conservative myths in its attempts to verify its otherwise unsubstantiated accusations. For example, the Directorate of Publications objected to an article on the front page of New Nation, Vol 2 No 6 because the article empathises with the street committees in their struggle against vigilantes. It substantiates the alleged illegality of New Nation’s position through the folk devil labelling of the street committees as the "revolusionere organisasie" (revolutionary organisation). The Directorate thus draws on the myth of ‘revolution’ to discredit street committees and hence New Nation for its support of them. Similarly, the Directorate attacks New Nation for reporting a PLO congress in the same edition for giving publicity to the PLO’s attempt to forge unity among its various factions. The illegality of reporting on the activities of the PLO is questionable. However, the Directorate through describing the PLO as "’n mede-terreur organisasie van die ANC" (a fellow terrorist organisation of the ANC), and in this way invoking the myth of terrorism, is able to absolve itself from the need to account for the arbitrariness of its power to decide who newspapers may, or may not, give publicity to.

 The Directorate also takes issue with a picture of Miriam Makeba on the front page of the Vol 2 No 7 edition. It states that "op bladsy 1 verskyn ‘n drie-kolom kleur-foto van Miriam Makeba, ‘n aktiewe ondersteuner van die ANC, in die ere-posisie op die voorblad" (a three-column, colour photo of Miriam Makeba, an active supporter of the ANC, is placed in a prominent position on the front page). Makeba is discredited because of her (in this article, unstated) support of the folk-devil organisation, the ANC. In choosing to privilege her photograph, New Nation was censured by the Directorate for indirectly promoting the Congress.


An appeal to the reader’s emotions

The Directorate refers to an article on Fidel Castro in Vol 2 No 6 and mentions that the article deals with Castro’s call for a reawakening among the Cuban people of the spirit that made the Cuban revolution possible. The Directorate then proceeds to make the following emotional statement: "Kan iemand so naif wees as om to beweer dat Castro en Kuba niks met Suid Afrika to doen het nie, en hierdie sommer ‘n gewone nuusberig is?" (Can anyone be so naive as to suggest that Castro and Cuba have nothing to do with South Africa, a nisation, its revitalisation of heraldic symbols, its reference to the words of Pope’s long gone, its autocratic values and its fear of the modern age are all indicated in its publications.

 The second kind of response, one in which New Nation can be located, "is that collectively the Church has wanted to take a longer, more profound look at this (the media) phenomenon in order to understand and appreciate its full significance for human development and development in faith" (p. 35) "... One sees in the Catholic media humanism and the great influence of the second Vatican Council, especially the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). In this sense, the Second Vatican Council has been of great significance for opening the culture of contemporary Catholicism to the new world of the mass popular media run by the laity. Now, this argument may not sway TFP or Stoffel Botha, but it does provide the SACBC with reassurance that they did the right thing by establishing and funding New Nation. They should, therefore, not be intimidated in any way by TFP.



[1] Eg. bannings of Church personnel.

[2] An examination of a variety of Christian journals on media and Catholic writings on media show a remarkable sympathy for the modus operandi developed by New Nation and for group media. These include the publications of the World Association for Christian Communication, the Jesuit Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture, SONOLUX and Group Media Journal, the Catholic Media Council, amongst others.



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