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News Media In South Africa

December 22, 1985

The article by your correspondent Michael Parks on South Africa and the news media (Dec. 9) has wholly distorted the meaning and intent of my remarks last summer about the reporting of South African violence on American television. I did indeed suggest that the violence be taken off the screens, but by eliminating the violence, not censoring the news.

I tried to make the point explicit in print, stating that "South Africa is too open a society to cut off the television cameras, so the sjamboks (leather straps used in riot control) ought to go." I was soon to be proved wrong about television censorship, although we should try to understand the sense of beleaguerment that has driven South Africa to such a desperate measure. It is a society at war, and all societies at war resort to censorship.

I have spent a considerable part of my life studying the means to peaceful change in South Africa by way of equal rights and constitutional government. It is not a subject of much interest to the outside world. We should therefore not be surprised when black and white South Africans, hearing foreign voices raised in calumny rather than in counsel, turn to more dismal ways.

We should be at their side in fraternity, not standing off in righteous indignation. South Africans, black and white, have need of our encouragement as they explore the complicated ways of constitutionalism. We should note with shame that virtually none of the intense constitutional debate now in process in South Africa--among men and women of all races in an earnest search for reconciliation--has been reported on American television.

If we had given more encouragement to that, there might have been less violence to report.

JOHN HUTCHINSON

Los Angeles

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