Is City Press a DA mouthpiece?

2010-10-31 08:32

Moloto Mothapo, head of media and communications for the African National Congress parliamentary caucus in Cape Town, has complained about what he calls a bias in City Press arising from a number of articles in last week’s edition written by or dealing with the Democratic Alliance.

He wrote: “The journalism code of ­ethics insists on balance and fairness in the course of the media’s presentation of information to the public.

Not only does fair and balanced journalism promote ­diverse views, but it also encourages balance to ensure that different sentiments are afforded equal opportunity or space.

“My understanding is that these professional ethics are not only limited to the hard news-gathering process, but are ­applicable across the board – in the form of the entire newspaper package.

“It is for this reason that I wish to respectfully take strong issue with the lack of fairness and balance in the compilation of the City Press’s Views section of October 24.

The edition seems to have afforded the Democratic Alliance unlimited space to launch missiles against its political detractors and promote itself.

“The following articles by/on DA leaders were published simultaneously in the Views section of the same edition: ‘The oversight alarm bells are ringing’ by DA parliamentary leader Athol Trollip on page 27, ‘Sidelined in the corridors of power’ by DA shadow minister of basic education Wilmot James on page 29, and ‘Meet the DA’s kung-fu kid’ – a profile on DA youth leader Mbali Ntuli on page 30.

“It is unfair and goes against the spirit of balance of views for one political party to enjoy so much free reign that three ­articles are published on it in the same section of the same edition.

“Unless City Press has become the mouthpiece of the DA, then the equivalent space should be given to other ­political parties or unreservedly apologise for using its space to ­unfairly promote the propaganda of a ­political party.”

Mothapo makes a serious accusation against the paper and although his conclusion is based on one edition, I have pulled back copies of all Voices sections since May 2 this year.

Just for the record, Mothapo calls the section “Views”, which is incorrect.

Indeed any newspaper can choose to be the mouthpiece of any party, it just needs to say so publicly so that readers know.

City Press says it is not aligned to any party and when an accusation like this is made it needs to be investigated.

The research of the previous months’ coverage in Voices since May does not show any bias towards the DA.

Indeed there are more stories about the ANC than on any other party, but I could not find a single one written by an ANC ­leader.

A more represented writer in the section is the South African Communist Party secretary-general Blade Nzimande, who, although a member of the ANC, was writing in his SACP capacity.

To start with, it is wrong to look at one edition and then draw the elaborate conclusion that Mothapo draws.

Any edition of a newspaper is influenced by a number of news events and indeed when the ANC held its national general council in Durban recently, virtually the entire section was filled with stories about the ANC for a number of weeks.

Mothapo says “unless City Press has become the mouthpiece of the DA, then the equivalent space should be given to other political parties”.

Resulting from the absence of direct ANC voices in the section, I asked the editor for an explanation.

And this was part of her answer: “I generally run an open book on Voices to make it a readers’ section.

The DA uses space very well. The ANC at Parliament, Luthuli House and the Union Buildings has never offered an opinion piece and when I’ve asked, it is like pulling teeth.”

So there you are Mothapo, why don’t you test her by getting your hundreds of MPs and other leaders to send sizzling pieces that she will not be able to reject?

» Tsedu is City Press’s public editor

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