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General News    H3'ed 7/14/13

The Mandela Soap Opera: Can He Die in Dignity?

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Nelson Mandela's Final Battle: Dying With Dignity

By Danny Schechter

Durban, South Africa: If I was an ailing Nelson Mandela, and, at all conscious of the storms surrounding me, I might not be in such a hurry to open my eyes.

My diagnosis of "critical but stable" might change rapidly were I to find out how fiercely members of my own family are battling over my remains, and the funds I had provided for them in a special trust administered by people I trusted.

This spectacle could kill me!

As thousands of South Africans hold prayer sessions outside "his" Pretoria hospital, and with the world media still on an escalating "death watch,'  inside, there's been a clash among and between family members, government officials trying to control and spin health information, and, even, doctors who have been cited, wrongly, in court battles about his condition. (The latest news from family members that he is "doing better" cannot be too encouraging to a media anxious to bring this expensive to cover story to its conclusion.)

There had been an official denial of a claim that he is in a vegetative state, along with unsubstantiated rumors that he is being kept alive at least until July 18, his 95th birthday, a day marked worldwide as "Mandela Day" to encourage community service.

Meanwhile, a sideshow sparked by warring family members robs the occasion of any of the dignity it deserves with one daughter of an earlier marriage, and her daughter, lashing out in an obvious bid for money and even to control media coverage with a demand that CNN, a foreign network, should be given "preferential access" to cover the funeral possible upstaging the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster.

There have been hints of a deal between CNN and members of the Mandela family which the network has now denied, a decision that would not surprise media critics who have of late been condemning the tabloid direction the once might news network has taken that includes marginalizing foreign stories--something the Mandelas might not be aware of.

Explains Dylan Byers, media critic of Politico, pandering for ratings and revenues drives coverage decisions. " The truth is," he writes, "CNN's programming decisions aren't a reflection of CNN so much as a reflection of the American people, more of whom care about a domestic court trial than about the historic events taking place overseas."

Of course, left unspoken are the years of neglect of the world by news channels, and an educational system that reinforced American parochialism and a lack of global empathy.

Already, all of this sounds more like show biz than news biz in an industry that long ago watered down the serious content of its news. The South African soap opera surrounding Mandela's long goodbye plays in the trivialization of what should be a more solemn occasion.

Perhaps, that "s why this whole unseemly family feud is being denounced by the likes of Archbishop Tutu while gobbling up acres of newsprint in the world press  

Mandela is being given the dying celebrity treatment with the focus on personality, not politics, on his iconic status, not his role as freedom fighter sent to prison for organizing armed resistance.

His universally loved smile and heroic story has been downplayed in the narrative of grim health bulletins and angry accusations by some in the family who never seem to missing an opportunity to insert themselves in what should be a solemn media moment. Some of the Mandela kids even have  their own reality TV series carried locally on Fox.

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at See
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