OPINION: Is media objectivity dying?

OPINION: Is media objectivity dying?

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng speaks at a press briefing after he presented the judiciary annual performance report, 23 November 2018. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

We have a responsibility as those who wield the weapon, mightier than the sword to document an unshakable truth.

There was a time the media was perceived to be the voice for the people. A time the voice was so loud it highlighted a historical segregatory injustice that existed in our country. That time seems so far gone, or maybe it was slowly targeted and slowly edged out by a shadow beast known as propaganda.

Media freedom, to date, remains in question. The rights of those documenting the plight of the voiceless appear to have faded as reporters today continue to be bullied and intimidated into becoming flaccid fighters, who feel safer scavenging for press releases.

Media objectivity

Media objectivity. Does it exist? Even Deputy Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng questions the media’s expected objectivity. Speaking at the 67 Minutes Leadership talk in Kempton Park on Wednesday, Mogoeng condemned the media for what he termed its biased coverage.

Reporters are trained to be as objective as possible, and bias remains one of the things editors consider when reading a story prior to publication. Together, both writers and editors, have the mutual objective to ensure that all sides are treated fairly in order to produce an unquestionable piece.

According to Mogoeng their ability to do so remains in question. Mogoeng, during his address, highlighted that it was the media’s responsibility to expose all corruption and not just some corruption.

“I am not attacking the media, I am allowed to give my opinion on matters. There is a cohort of analysts that when they appear, you can tell they are going to champion a certain narrative.”

His sentiment received approval from most of his audience. He referenced a recent news report where a source was referred to as a “dope-smoking unemployed Rastafarian”, questioning if noting the source’s employment status or religion carried water.

Although the author to the piece apologised on national radio, Mogoeng said the explosive report left him believing that the man, a former Sars employee and tax law interpreter Keletso Bizoski Manyike, was always high.

“I was left wondering why the [public protector had to rely] on the evidence of this person. The man articulated what happened [while appearing on TV]. I’m not saying [whether or not he was] telling the truth, I’m saying he did not strike me as a crazy man who lived in a haze.

“Sadly some of the things… are designed to project some in a negative light and others always in a positive light. That is not how we build a nation.”

He argued that the country would never overcome corruption if “we” continued to be orchestrated into believing corruption only existed in government and not among people in the private sector.

“Part of what we have been channelled to believe is that corruption is only in the public sector. Let me be more crude and say we have been made to believe that it’s a ‘black thing’.”

A potent point by the Chief Justice. There is a reality that exists, and that reality is that everyone has a different life story to tell. It is that story that contributes to everyone’s perceived sense of reality, ergo feeding one’s point of reference.

This is where objectivity comes into question. How can one, with an expertly hidden prejudice be expected to be objective? This is the question that falls on the suspected prejudices that sadly exists within our industry.

We recently had a report which claimed to have ousted the EFF for their hypocrisy simply by going through their trash. The report, which could have waited several weeks before publishing, accused the red berets of not “walking their talk” in regards to what they pledged to their supporters.

We know that the EFF does not walk to parliament, cycle on the side of the freeway to work or even sleep in shacks as a means to be “one with their supporters.”

Without defending the party, they appear to always receive the bad end of the stick – in terms of media treatment.

The party will not – for some apparent reason – be coated with the same treatment as AfriForum, VF Plus, the Democratic Alliance, IFP, ACDP or even the ANC.

There are those political parties which continue to be nurtured in the midst of a scandal by the media. One may even question the level of the investigation – from reporters – in tabling the story.

This is where media objectivity falls short. We have demeaning words that label someone as a “dope-smoking unemployed Rastafarian” bypassing a sub-editor, a proofreader and an editor, with no one flagging the otherwise obvious character assassination.

Why? This is the question, and the answer may paint a sad picture of the media. We live in a complex world and have adapted to become complex beings. We view things differently.

We need to have a conversation. No, we need something more. A drastic shift, if the country really wants to head in a direction where everyone truly has a voice.

Mogoeng articulated it very potently when he said: When people benefit from wrongdoing, they fight any attempt to dislodge them. When people have reached a level where they are prepared to make money or ascend to power by any means necessary, don’t think they will smile at you when you try to rock the[ir] boat. Smear campaigns will be waged against you.”

Does media objectivity really exist or is it an illusion that once was, but sadly has, of late, become extinct?

Gopolang Moloko

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