Journalism, globally, is in crisis
IN THE US, the Trump era has seen the rise of fake news and and an assault on credible, responsible journalism. The advent of social media, where nameless, faceless people are able to spread rumours and half truths and get away with it, has made our lives as journalists even more difficult.
Members of the public, our very reason to be in this business, are now more and more part of how we gather information and write news. They hold us to account and can give us feedback almost immediately.
Here at home, some journalists and media houses have been accused of meddling in and taking sides in the ANC succession battles ahead of the governing party’s elective conference in December. We also saw this ahead of the party’s 2007 Polokwane conference where, against all odds, Jacob Zuma romped home to victory.
Some of the allegations of media bias are not without basis, and neither are they new. You only need to pick up one or two newspapers or listen to some talk shows on radio or TV. Journalism ethics are being thrown out of the window to push particular factions and personal interests.
ANC succession battles can get really ugly. Smear campaigns, rumours, use of state resources to target opponents and fake emails bcome part of this battle for the soul of the party. It is ugly- and dangerous. Comrades are willing to kill comrades, as we have seen with political killings in KwaZulu-Natal.
This period requires us, as journalists, to tread carefully while covering the country’s political story. This period calls on us to be sober, responsible and fair.
Here at The Sunday Independent, we strive for journalism excellence and prescribe to the highest standards of ethical, responsible reporting. It has been our mainstay since this paper was launched in 1995, just after the country’s first democratic elections. We have stayed away from party factions and covered all political formations and leaders fairly. That is not going to change.
Our story last week linking deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to alleged extra-marital affairs has forced us to introspect and to redefine our editorial processes. While we do not condone infidelity, alleged or real, our story, coming at a crucial time in the race to succeed Zuma as ANC president, may have created an impression that we are meddling in the party’s succession battles. We are not.
The backlash has been so serious that our editor, Steven Motale, has taken stress leave following death threats. We condemn these in the strongest terms and call on all those who purport to fight for press freedom to speak out against this form of intimidation. This week, we are unable to continue with the series on the Ramaphosa story because the editor is the sole custodian of this story. We apologise to readers for any inconvenience caused.
We assure you that this is in no way a sign that the intimidation tactics have worked, and that we are not willing to be pawns in the ANC succession wars. That battle is not ours. Ours is to report truthfully, fairly and responsibly.
Our journalism speaks for itself.