Nelson Mandela’s Funeral Coverage: How Did South Africa Manage?
By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
We are often told that “Education Has No End,” in that every day in our interactions and activities we learn something new. Also, it is said from the mistakes made by others, we learn from them to avoid making such mistakes. I say this to bring to focus something that I observed during the recent funeral service of the fallen South African icon, Nelson Mandela. As expected, the funeral activities of this great man who died on December 5 and interred on December 15, were well attended and covered by both the local and international press.
In fact, it still remains an indisputable issue that this is one event in recent time that united the world in terms of a focus for some days and also that brought world leaders, including the President of the great United States, Barrack Obama and African first democratically elected female President, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia.
Deservingly and expectedly, the world and its leaders gave this great son of Africa and the world a befitting funeral. Today, this fallen leader of South Africa is still being remembered for the stability and unity of his country for his forgiving spirit and non-racial policy after spending more than 27 years in prison for advocating against racial discrimination.
In summation, I noticed that he was eulogized for his stance against racial discrimination and also for not engaging in any revenge or vengeance against those responsible for he and other’s protracted imprisonment, as well as the death of others during their struggle, after his ascendency to the Presidency of that country following the first democratic election in 1994.
As I stated earlier, for every event, there are lessons or things that people learn that can be used in similar situation, not necessarily funeral, but events that would attract a lot of dignitaries or ‘Very Important People (VIP), as in the case of Mandela’s funeral. One of the things that I observed or experienced during the mourning period was how the press coverage was done.
Many times, during these kinds of events with many dignitaries, there would have been lots of rigmaroles or confrontations between protocol officers or the security and media practitioners on the coverage of such event. In some instances, it may even lead to serious commotion that usually draws attention to the displeasure of those in attendance.
Sometimes it is pushing and shoving of media practitioners by security personnel to control the movement of journalists accredited to cover said event. With the accreditation, some journalists always feel that it should be a free-wheeling situation for them to move about in carrying out their duties. But this has always been a problem because of restrictions during some of these occasions. In some instances, protocol and security officers are accused of hampering the work of the media, as practitioners are unable to freely cover the event. At times too, media practitioners accused those responsible of discrimination, by selecting certain institutions, thus depriving others.
As someone who has been covering international events, including conferences, summits and the funeral of the late Ivorian President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, I noticed that this issue of media coverage at these kinds of international fora has been problematic, to an extent that some media practitioners sometimes staged protest and grumblingly carried out their duties.
What sometimes brings about this unnecessary commotion is that all of the accredited journalists, especially the photographers want to be at the same place simultaneously to get their shots, as no one wants to miss certain scenes. But because of the number of persons, it is always impossible to do as they wish, and so this usually leads to tension and confrontations. Sometimes it is journalists against journalists in the taking of photos, as some may try to remove some of their colleagues in their view in getting a particular shot.
Considering this experience, when I heard of the death of Mandela, one of the things l pondered over was the issue of press coverage. Prognosticating, l knew that his funeral would be attended by world leaders and the media, including the vibrant media in that country and expected that there might be problem in that regard.
Surprisingly, those responsible for the media coverage in South Africa, proved beyond my expectation, as I did not see any rumpus that could have been created as a result of the coverage or the movement of mainly photojournalists during the funeral service and interment.
As I watched the funeral activities on the CNBC television, I stood in disbelief that, that well attended event was so planned that some of the commotions that usually characterized media coverage at such event did not occur.
Noticeably, this is not only seen during international activities, as even local activities sometimes experience this ugly situation. Sometimes we experience similar unnecessary confrontation, with security personnel and media practitioners, a situation that led to the destruction of some equipment of some local journalists. Arch-photojournalist, Sando Moore, is a living witness and victim of this kind of struggle between security officers and the media.
In closing, the government and people of South Africa have all reasons to pat themselves on the back for giving that great fallen hero a befitting funeral and also for that well-planned and executed media coverage. On the other hand, I believe that for what that took place in South Africa to also take place during major events, whether locally or internationally, journalists, especially photographers and television camera people must be equipped with modern equipment such as long range zoom lenses, telephoto lenses and sophisticated recorders to be able to stand afar to carry out their journalistic functions, as was done in South Africa.
Indeed, there is something to learn from the South African experience, regarding media coverage of such event. I should not be misconstrued as saying that all was well because as humans, there might have been some hurdles, but on the aggregate, as the economists would say, “It went well”. Hence, we must learn the lessons on how the media effectively and efficiently covered Mandela’s funeral. I REST MY CASE.