Media must put own house in order

2010-07-31 14:26

The media is in the spotlight again even though some ­people may argue that it is itself the spotlight. While the latter is true, it does not ­detract from the correctness of the initial statement that the media’s own workings and operations are in the spotlight. It is not just covering the news – now it is the news.

From the start of the heavy skirmishes within the ANC more than five years ago, those who found themselves on the ­receiving end of media attention began ­arguing about a need for some state ­regulatory framework for the media.

For some the argument starts with media ownership and how white money still rules. For others it is the content they either find skewed towards the capitalist class or plain anti-poor. Or indeed that coverage is ­determined by middle-class values that the ruling party, whose ­constituency is the marginalised poor, has no affinity for.

There is truth and untruth in all these ­concerns. Take the ownership argument. The company that owns this newspaper, Media24, did an empowerment trick a few years ago by hiving off about 15% of the ­company and distributing it to hundreds of thousands of black investors.

Now, on paper Media24 has hundreds of thousands of black investors who control 15%. However, for them to exercise that power is not as clear cut.

In short, it’s a joke.

But this paper, for example, is edited by a black editor with a predominantly black staff and readership.

Its content, once the target market is ­defined and agreed on, is in the hands of the editorial team. Whether Media24 owners like what the editor publishes or not, if the target ­market is lapping the newspaper off the stands, they let the content managers be.

The reverse also applies. Black ownership of Avusa, for example – with the strong personalities involved – has not changed the tone of the newspapers ­produced by that company, black editors and all.

Given the temperature at Polokwane three years ago, the passing of the resolution to “investigate” the establishment of a media appeals tribunal or what some people call the “stop corruption ­reporting tribunal” was to be expected.

Across the world where struggles are waged to topple authoritarian regimes, an ­alliance always emerges between the media and freedom fighters.

Whether it is in ­Kosovo, Poland, Bosnia or indeed here at home, it is the same – once victory is ­attained, the new rulers expect some space from their erstwhile media friends and ­comrades in the trenches.

When that space does not emerge and the ­media continues to highlight the “new wrongs”, the attacks either start or grow even more strident.

We are in that phase now and the media cannot defend itself simply by saying it is wrong to want to introduce a tribunal.

We need to ensure our work is professional, accurate, fair and balanced.

When we are able to say that, the attack on the media – which is in fact an attack on the right of the South African public to ­receive trustworthy information – will be ­repulsed by that public and not just by us as media professionals.

But it starts with putting our own house in order. The meeting of the SA National ­Editors Forum at the weekend started on this route.

One of the resolutions was to ask ­questions about our own self-regulatory mechanisms and how they can be ­strengthened if we are to ward off the attack.

It is in this light that I viewed the request from City Press for me to act as an internal ­ombudsman. I am independent of City Press staff and will thus serve as a friend of the paper’s readers to check against ­unethical and/or unfair reporting.

This is but one indication of how serious editors are taking their responsibilities.

I hope people will make use of my services to advance the cause of good journalism and in this way ensure that attempts to ­legislate media policing look less attractive with each day that passes.

  • Tsedu is head of the Media24 Journalism Academy. You can email him at publiceditor@citypress.co.za

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