With­out fear, favour or prej­u­dice

Diamond Fields Advertiser - - OPINION - EX­EC­U­TIVE CHAIR­MAN OF IN­DE­PEN­DENT ME­DIA, THE PUB­LISH­ERS OF THE DFA

SOUTH Africa has en­tered one of the most tur­bu­lent po­lit­i­cal pe­ri­ods since the ad­vent of democ­racy on April 27 1994. It is not an un­der­state­ment to say the lead­er­ship of the en­tire coun­try is po­ten­tially at stake when the rul­ing African Na­tional Congress holds its elec­tive con­fer­ence in Johannesburg in De­cem­ber.

The party’s leader, and the coun­try’s pres­i­dent, Ja­cob Zuma, has al­ready made it very clear that he will re­lin­quish the pres­i­dency of the ANC then, rather than cre­ate the spec­tre of two cen­tres of power when his term at the Union Build­ings ex­pires in 2019. This is ad­mirable in any so­ci­ety, but par­tic­u­larly so in a con­ti­nent such as ours. South Africa though has al­ways been a bea­con for democ­racy, not just for Africa, over the last 23 years.

Democ­racy, in its full bloom, is never neat or tidy. By def­i­ni­tion it is messy, of­ten ro­bust; the more en­trenched a demo­cratic so­ci­ety is, the more up­roar­i­ous its de­bates and exchanges.

The ANC cer­tainly per­son­i­fies this spirit of con­tes­ta­tion and dif­fer­ence of opin­ion, even though the move­ment – Africa’s old­est – is al­ready well over 100 years old. This lead­er­ship con­test, which has yet to of­fi­cially be­gin, em­bod­ies this same spirit too – which is where the great­est dan­ger lies and con­comi­tantly the im­por­tance of the role that the me­dia plays.

We live in a world of democra­tised in­for­ma­tion, where so­cial me­dia has be­come both the world’s great­est en­abler and para­dox­i­cally the great­est threat as it spreads fake news with the same speed and dex­ter­ity as real news. In an en­vi­ron­ment where the stakes are as high as this, right here at home, so too the propen­sity to spread fake news will in­ten­sify, de­signed with only one pur­pose: to con­fuse con­fer­ence del­e­gates with of­ten quite so­phis­ti­cated smear cam­paigns.

Mis­lead­ing, in­deed play­ing, the me­dia is not new and cer­tainly not in this coun­try. It was beloved of agents of the apartheid regime and it has con­tin­ued to be used by un­scrupu­lous in­di­vid­u­als in the demo­cratic era.

Now, more than ever, jour­nal­ists have to work even harder to en­sure that the news they re­port is real, they need to en­sure the cred­i­bil­ity of their sources, scru­ti­nise the agen­das be­hind the leak of in­for­ma­tion, test the al­le­ga­tions and, above all, en­sure that the news they ul­ti­mately pro­duce, whether print or video re­portage is fair and bal­anced.

The mud­sling­ing, the plant­ing of fake news, false leads, the ac­cu­sa­tions, the fin­ger point­ing and the at­tempted char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tions of lead­ing can­di­dates will all in­crease in in­ten­sity as De­cem­ber draws ever closer. It would be won­der­ful if this were not the case, but sadly it is a re­al­ity that we have to pre­pare our­selves for.

For the me­dia to re­main cred­i­ble in all this, its prac­ti­tion­ers will have to con­tin­u­ously ask: is it true, it is fair and, crit­i­cally, is it in the pub­lic in­ter­est? Far too of­ten, we all choose to in­ter­pret the “pub­lic in­ter­est” as what in­ter­ests the pub­lic. As any editor or me­dia aca­demic will tell you, this is cer­tainly not the case, which is why to­day, I want to re­it­er­ate the com­mit­ment of this group of news­pa­pers and news plat­forms to re­port­ing news that is bal­anced, free from bias and fair.

I have asked our ed­i­tors to de­sist from back­ing any par­tic­u­lar can­di­date. I com­mit us as a com­pany to do our ut­most to en­sure that we do not be­come un­wit­ting pawns in any pos­si­ble dirty tricks cam­paign launched by any of the fac­tions against other can­di­dates.

We will tell all sides of the story, in fact, to prove our com­mit­ment to this, we will of­fer all the can­di­dates equal op­por­tu­ni­ties to put for­ward their vi­sion of the party, the key points of their can­di­dacy to be­come pres­i­dency, on our pages.

We want to en­cour­age de­bate on the mer­its of their re­spec­tive cam­paigns, to en­sure that those ANC mem­bers who do go to the elec­tive con­fer­ence at the end of the year do so with the fullest pos­si­ble in­for­ma­tion to be able to vote ac­cord­ing to their con­sciences for the peo­ple who will be best suited to lead their party – and pos­si­bly the coun­try af­ter the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions. We hope that the ANC will emerge uni­fied at the end of this process be­cause unity in the ANC is im­por­tant for so­cial co­he­sion.

In­de­pen­dent Me­dia is a firm be­liever in our democ­racy and the con­sti­tu­tion that un­der­pins it. It is the con­sti­tu­tion, the Bill of Rights in fact, that gives us our man­date to be a free me­dia, to im­part in­for­ma­tion and ideas. That free­dom though is not a free­dom to only pub­lish views and news that we might like or which ac­cords with our own pre­con­cep­tions, but rather an obli­ga­tion to pub­lish news and views that we might not like; opin­ions and ar­ti­cles that might not in­ter­est the pub­lic but which are very much in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

My com­mit­ment, as a me­dia owner but most of all as a cit­i­zen like you, is that our group of news­pa­pers and news plat­forms, will tell it like it is, with­out fear, favour or prej­u­dice. We will treat all the can­di­dates equally, we will en­deav­our to bring their views to you and your views to them.

We will do every­thing that we can dur­ing this pe­riod to take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity that we get to strengthen democ­racy in this coun­try and re­pay your faith in us as a cred­i­ble and vi­tal news or­gan­i­sa­tion.

That is my com­mit­ment. I have no doubt that it is the com­mit­ment of our ed­i­tors too, but they can – and will – speak for them­selves.

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