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LETTER FROM LIBBY ALLEN (article first published : 2007-12-17)

Dear Editor of the Sunday Tribune

Call for an active monitoring of arts journalism within the Durban sphere (Response to the review of Guys And Dolls, which appeared in The Sunday Tribune, December 9 2007.)

I write, not primarily as a member of the company of this production but as an individual aware of, and actively supporting, the rigid monitoring of ethical journalism.

The central characteristic of a free press is the self-regulating mechanism, driven by the editor of a publication, to ensure that a high standard of journalism is maintained. It is this mechanism that ensures the oppressive tendencies of censorship and the South African media's 'bad old days' are declared redundant and unscrupulous. A free press is key to our constitution, our industry and the relationship forged between media and the citizenry.

Such a large theoretical consideration is not only applicable to the areas of news journalism, or political journalism. Our arts and entertainment writers stand as liable to this framework as any other individual declaring their writing fit for public consumption.

It seems then, that this consideration was seriously neglected by both yourself in the position of editor, and Ms Angelique as arts journalist in last week's review of Guys And Dolls. This is not an outcry over a negative review. A bad review one can handle, if written fairly. Arts critics mould public opinion of a production and, if truly dismal, should not be forced to ignore a poor performance or directorial standard. Otherwise, our press would simply be indulging artists and become obsolete, laughable, even.

However, at the opposite extremity, when a production is of noteworthy quality, it cannot be ignored. Ms Angelique's review of Guys And Dolls seemed based in personal agenda rather than artistic evaluation. To describe the cast and audience on opening night as 'sycophants' and the production's producer as 'precocious' is unacceptable, cruel and abusive of her position as a public print broadcaster.

Is Ms Angelique aware that this production is one of few in Durban in the past years to offer performers large scale, open auditions? That these auditions are so few and far between that they become vital to the building of an actual industry in Durban arts? That Mr Marshall as producer is an entrepreneur, and active enthusiast of our industry, and has brought renewed faith and zest to so many performers?

The body of Ms Angelique's review became an embarrassment to your publication, as it sunk to levels of self-congratulatory indulgence so chronic that she barely assessed the production, but rather wrote a body of an article so entrenched in what 'she would have done' with a few juvenile attacks tossed haphazardly around the outskirts of the piece. How informed is the reviewer? What is her role in the Durban arts community? I believe that if she had been informed, she would have noted that copyright laws around the production deem changes to the script impossible. In this, her 'African concept' for the show falls away, because even if it had communicated as an improvement on director Catherine Mace's concept which I find unlikely it is simply not allowed. This should have been researched before writing. And added to that, should have been suggested in accordance with the rest of her piece, which seemed to flit between African and Broadway and back again, as she muddled herself in contradiction.

These are mere examples of the problems in this review. Perhaps it is up you, Madam Sunday Tribune Editor, to correct the injury to this production. Critics do not serve as marketing devices, but they may not lead smear campaigns either. I hear stories of the class and professionalism of the arts critics inhabiting your field years ago, and can only wish that the industry today be afforded writing of that calibre.

The Durban arts community is sometimes ridiculed by other parts of the country for its seemingly small, insular tendencies. Individuals such as Catherine Mace and Bradley Marshall are doing well to prove these criticisms wrong, by taking up arms and forging a serious, forward-thinking entertainment scene. What of our media? Will you take up the challenge? Or wade in the doldrums of personal agenda, uninformed opinion and poorly-written attack, and in doing, make a mockery of a free press?

It seems to me that the only way you may regain any sort of respect from a now very angry and pathetically-represented arts community is to offer a retraction of this review, and an apology to its company.

Regards, Libby Allen




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