As the world observed World Press Freedom Day yesterday, serious concerns have been raised regarding the increased flouting of the code of ethics that govern reporting to the detriment of the public the media is supposed to serve.
The level and content of criticism on the quality of journalism in South Africa suggests that the media is failing dismally to recognise the responsibility that comes with the right to report freely.
Of 20 complaints received by the Press Ombudsman since December last year, 11 resulted in a negative finding against journalists on a number of serious transgressions, including failure to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.
According to the office of the Press Council of South Africa (PCSA), which houses the Press Ombudsman and the public advocate, journalists often neglect to give subjects of critical reportage a right of reply, which more often than not leads to inaccurate and unfair reporting.
Latiefa Mobara, executive director of the Press Council, said this was drawn from the more than 100 complaints adjudicated by the Press Ombudsman during the past year.
“Another nasty gremlin has raised its head in recent reportage – that of presenting allegations as fact. This type of reportage has caused harm not only to the individuals concerned, but also adversely affected society,” she said.
Mobara said from January to December 2018, the Press Council received 533 complaints, most from institutions such as parliament, political parties, academics and church leaders.
She added that yesterday, to mark World Press Freedom Day, the Press Council launched its revamped website, which enables members of the pubic to lodge complaints against media online.
The PCSA is the industry co-regulatory mechanism set up by the print media and online publications to provide impartial, expeditious and cost-effective settlement of disputes over the editorial content of publications.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMM) also lamented worrying trends when it comes to quality journalism, with research showing how the number of sources in a story has dramatically declined in the past 10 years.
Sarah Findlay, project coordinator: policy & quality unit at MMM, said this drop in quality was linked to untenable business models and vast retrenchments across the sector.
“This means that there are fewer journalists available to cover an increasing number of stories, and quality simply deteriorates. Similarly, digital media poses another challenge as it levels the playing field where anyone with a cell phone can be a ‘journalist’ simply because they take a photograph and publish a tweet. This blurs the lines between credible media and those just with a smart phone,” she said.
Findlay, however, said it was not all doom and gloom.
The SABC in their elections coverage this year has accessed more citizen voices ever seen before and this was despite ongoing financial crises.
“We have seen how other media houses are beginning to more accurately represent racial groups and cover issues of service delivery from diverse regions. These are positive steps. While there are issues in the media sector, journalists who get back to the basics will help improve the industry’s credibility once again,” she added.