Facts mat­ter, OUR OPIN­IONS, LESS SO

As jour­nal­ists, it is our duty to be un­bi­ased and non­par­ti­san, how­ever, there are those among us who can barely con­ceal their bias, writes Rapule Tabane

CityPress - - Voices & Careers -

Long be­fore vet­eran jour­nal­ist Jacques Pauw got him­self caught up in an em­bar­rass­ing tan­gle this week af­ter tweet­ing Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) leader Julius Malema’s home ad­dress, it was ev­i­dent that a num­ber of jour­nal­ists had lost their way when it came to the EFF. What started as the me­dia de­fend­ing it­self against an on­slaught on the in­dus­try by the EFF, con­tin­ued when many jour­nal­ists took off their veils of neu­tral­ity and took up cud­gels against the party.

Pauw’s reck­less be­hav­iour has since been con­demned by the SA Na­tional Ed­i­tors’ Fo­rum and many other jour­nal­ists, and he was forced to delete the tweet.

But Pauw was merely join­ing a cur­rent pop­u­lar me­dia nar­ra­tive that has de­clared the EFF a dan­ger to democ­racy and sug­gests that the party and its members are free game.

There is much to dis­like about the EFF – its lead­er­ship has reck­lessly and fool­ishly at­tacked jour­nal­ists at its press con­fer­ences and events, and it also en­dan­gered the lives of jour­nal­ists by nam­ing them in front of their sup­port­ers.

There is also a ba­sis for ques­tion­ing the party and fig­ur­ing out whether it is ready to gov­ern the coun­try as it pro­claims it is.

I know that Malema and his deputy Floyd Shivambu can be a hand­ful and dan­ger­ous. I was part of a group of political re­porters who, in 2010, di­rectly con­fronted them when they as the ANC Youth League then threat­ened to re­veal in­for­ma­tion about the pri­vate lives of political re­porters, es­pe­cially of those who were women.

Not only did we write a pub­lic pe­ti­tion to the ANC Youth League and the ANC, but we met with then ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe, who suc­cess­fully reined them in. The dif­fer­ence be­tween what is hap­pen­ing now and what hap­pened then is that, back then, we chal­lenged them on a spe­cific is­sue, but did not har­bour per­sonal grudges, even if some of the jour­nal­ists were trau­ma­tised by the bul­ly­ing.

Ev­ery political party de­serves hard scru­tiny. The ANC has been sub­jected to this for most of the 24 years it has been in power. At times it was so tough that the ANC even equated any crit­i­cism of the party to a judge­ment of black peo­ple. It even went to the ex­tent of de­cid­ing to es­tab­lish a me­dia tri­bunal to fight off the “neg­a­tive cov­er­age”.

As for the DA, af­ter years of keep­ing its fights in­ter­nal, ten­sions are ex­plod­ing in pub­lic and the me­dia is cap­tur­ing this as it un­folds.

What makes the tug of war in the DA worse is that the is­sues of­ten as­sume a racial di­men­sion – some­thing that em­bar­rasses the party and which it naively tries to pre­tend does not ex­ist. How­ever, none of the cov­er­age has be­come per­son­alised with the me­dia us­ing Mmusi Maimane’s fam­ily as fod­der.

Malema and Shivambu ap­pear im­bued with a spe­cial tal­ent to get un­der the skin of jour­nal­ists. They know ex­actly how to get our blood pres­sure up, but I say we should be big­ger peo­ple than them.

Last week, I saw re­spected for­mer jour­nal­ist Max du Preez also call­ing for a spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion on how to treat the EFF. He sug­gested we not broad­cast the party’s press con­fer­ences live – they should be quar­an­tined until they have been checked for defam­a­tory con­tent and in­sults. He felt the party was get­ting too much un­de­served mileage.

The mantra these days is that the EFF is “be­ing given too much oxy­gen for a 6% party”.

This, by the way, is ex­actly what some US me­dia ag­o­nise over re­gard­ing US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Trump has a gen­er­ally hos­tile re­la­tion­ship with the me­dia and they are con­stantly fret­ting over his bom­bas­tic tweets or state­ments. The Washington Post, for ex­am­ple, has a fact-check barom­e­ter that as­sesses the ve­rac­ity of all of Trump’s words.

Al­though vet­eran jour­nal­ist Carl Bern­stein has sug­gested that broad­cast­ers be cir­cum­spect about car­ry­ing Trump’s bla­tant and de­lib­er­ate lies, the icon’s sug­ges­tions have not found any favour in the US me­dia.

My view is that, as jour­nal­ists, we have al­lowed our­selves to be baited into a bat­tle with the EFF. Malema loves a good fight and we are giv­ing him one on a sil­ver plat­ter. He does not mind fight­ing with all and sundry. He does not care.

But jour­nal­ists have been sucked in to a war with Malema and his Twit­ter sup­port­ers. This has gone to lev­els where some jour­nal­ists ac­tively troll Malema and the EFF on Twit­ter in an ef­fort to ridicule, mock and em­bar­rass the party and its members.

One jour­nal­ist in par­tic­u­lar has a propen­sity to cor­rect their tweets and say: “EFF, this is how you should be phras­ing your tweet.” It is that petty. It’s gone way be­yond us writ­ing sto­ries about the party and fol­low­ing up with opin­ion pieces if we choose. That space has been blurred.

Many in our so­ci­ety have also been of­fended by Malema’s at­tacks on Pub­lic En­ter­prises Minister Pravin Gord­han, who is re­garded as key to Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s bat­tle against cor­rup­tion. Any at­tack on Gord­han has there­fore come to be seen as an at­tempt to weaken the at­tempts to put South Africa back on its feet.

The racial at­tack on Gord­han for be­ing of In­dian de­scent has also an­gered a lot of South Africans who em­brace non­ra­cial­ism. All of this ex­plains the jus­ti­fied anger with the EFF, but, in my opin­ion, does not ex­cuse the me­dia los­ing its cool.

In South Africa, jour­nal­ists, on pa­per, in­sist on ob­jec­tiv­ity, but our view of the world has be­come a bi­nary one with a clear cat­e­gori­sa­tion of what we see as the good guys and bad guys.

Ramaphosa and Gord­han have be­come, for a num­ber of jour­nal­ists, the epit­ome of the good guys, while the EFF cur­rently rep­re­sents ev­ery­thing evil. Even when the party is not in the news, jour­nal­ists of­ten dig for some­thing to show them up on Twit­ter. It is us ver­sus them and their army of Twit­ter sup­port­ers.

The dis­pro­por­tion­ate fo­cus on what some feel is a 6% party not de­serv­ing of this at­ten­tion is pro­por­tion­ately marked by a def­er­ence and lack of in­ter­est for those who gov­ern this coun­try.

For ex­am­ple, I feel that, while Ramaphosa needs all the good­will he can find while try­ing to fix the coun­try, he is no less de­serv­ing of tough scru­tiny – af­ter all, he is the most pow­er­ful politi­cian in the coun­try.

Fol­low­ing the Bosasa de­ba­cle, Ramaphosa is not be­ing asked to ex­plain why money from the ANC pres­i­den­tial race is still be­ing housed some­where, even af­ter he pledged to pay the do­na­tion to his cam­paign back.

Has the ANC ac­cepted money as part of the lead­er­ship con­test? What do other ANC members and lead­ers feel about it? Why is he keep­ing the money from Nas­rec? Who is keep­ing the money on his be­half? What do our laws say about such stash­ing of funds? But, no! He is try­ing to clean up the coun­try, so leave him alone.

The dou­ble stan­dard is stark. On the VBS Mu­tual Bank scan­dal, R2 bil­lion might have dis­ap­peared, but who cares? Our eyes are on the R16 mil­lion that the EFF might have re­ceived. The ANC has ad­mit­ted it re­ceived money from VBS, but, no, it is not the looter of VBS.

On the day that Gord­han’s af­fi­davit was leaked, we saw a head­line that read: “Gord­han’s af­fi­davit shows he has noth­ing to hide.”

Which other af­fi­davit is judged by this stan­dard? Whose af­fi­davit shows that they have some­thing to hide? Is there any­one else whose af­fi­davit showed that they had noth­ing to hide? Who de­cided that he had noth­ing to hide? If Gord­han him­self had said he had noth­ing to hide, the head­line should have read: “Gord­han says he has noth­ing to hide.”

There are so many ex­am­ples of jour­nal­ists barely con­ceal­ing their political pref­er­ences, even when they write news sto­ries.

Gord­han was a bul­wark against state cap­ture, but he is a politi­cian like all the oth­ers. We do our read­ers (and South Africa) a dis­ser­vice if we el­e­vate him above oth­ers and use spe­cial stan­dards to as­sess him. This ar­ti­cle is not about the EFF or Gord­han, but they are the best ex­am­ples of how we cur­rently fail at our craft as we are blinded by our own prej­u­dices.

We are not help­ing our case, and that wor­ries me. We need to hear those voices that threaten what we think the coun­try should be build­ing. Hear­ing them is not pro­mot­ing them – it is ac­tu­ally our job to write and broad­cast about those we dis­like or those whose mo­tives we ques­tion. We are not do­ing them a favour.

What is more dis­turb­ing for me is the herd men­tal­ity that pre­vails in how we write and broad­cast. When one out­let re­ports that Party A is be­hav­ing in a cer­tain way as a de­vice to de­tract at­ten­tion from their own prob­lems, we all re­pro­duce that as if it is a fact.

As jour­nal­ists, we must ask our­selves what it is that we fear about cer­tain par­ties more than oth­ers. The fact that we love and care about the fu­ture of this coun­try should not stop us from do­ing the ba­sics in jour­nal­ism.

PHOTO: FELIX DLANGAMANDLA

VOLATILE Julius Malema speaks to members of the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers out­side the ju­di­cial com­mis­sion of in­quiry into state cap­ture in Park­town, Jo­han­nes­burg, as Pub­lic En­ter­prises Minister Pravin Gord­han tes­ti­fies

Pravin Gord­han

Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa

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