Jour­nal­ism, glob­ally, is in cri­sis

The Sunday Independent - - LEADER -

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.

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