Why are journos getting stoned?

2011-09-10 10:49

Throwing stones at the media has become something of a national pastime. In Parliament, MPs are beefing up legislation to restrict what journalists can report on.

In Limpopo, the ANC Youth League wants to boycott this newspaper.

And outside Luthuli House in downtown Joburg, Julius Malema’s supporters took the stone-throwing literally, lobbing bricks at TV cameramen during their pro-Malema protests.

Should we be worried?

At the risk of being seen to throw a few stones myself, let me pose a few questions:

» Why is there so much media coverage of political, social and business power struggles, but so little about what actually drives and informs these power struggles?

» Why does it feel like we understand the effect, but we don’t always know the cause?

The media has to join the dots between cause and effect. So, reporters should be attending youth league conferences to find out what makes these youngsters tick, not just to report on political power plays.

» Were the causes of last week’s violence fully articulated and understood or were they just judged, analysed and condemned?

» Will those youngsters do it again, and for what cause?

City Press and e.tv made some attempts to explain what was driving them, but many other media houses treated the young protesters as nameless, faceless, thoughtless hoodlums.

» Why does so much “news” feel like it fell out of an email or text message?

» Why are so many basic mistakes being made?

» What’s happened to journalistic standards such as fact-checking, cross-checking, and just plain checking?

» Why are we exposed to so little reportage and fact, and so much to (superficial, recycled) analysis and interpretation?

» Why is it so rare to find a journalist who is willing to get off their bum, get into a car and drive to where people live and work (or, increasingly, don’t work) and interview them?

» Why do so many journalists have such short memories? In a previous life as special adviser to human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale, for example, I oversaw countless new announcements on new housing projects. But every time the media angle was the same: the housing backlog is 2.3 million.

And every time it was reported as if it was breaking news, or some new discovery.

» Do journalists read? Have they heard of Google?

Do they do research, or do they just take the speech, look for a statistic that’s sexy and fire off a bulletin? If so, why are their editors letting them get away with it?

» To what extent is technology killing real journalism? If a reporter is expected to tweet, interview, write and analyse at the speed of light to ensure they break the story, are they able to do justice to the issue?

Maybe it’s time for a new approach that restores the key elements of journalistic quality but also recognises the unique challenges we face today.

At this stage in our democracy, maybe the spotlight needs to be shone as much on the victims of the abuse of power as it is on those allegedly abusing power.

This so that maybe the emphasis on power and its consequences is enhanced to tell us more about the people whose lives remain miserable because of a lack of service delivery, for example.

We need to know the sentiment, the anger and the frustration so that we may better understand where we may be going as a society, and how to ensure we get there (or don’t end up there).

And, I guess, hope that the people with power realise what they’re toying with.So yes, the media remains a watchdog, but it shouldn’t only be watching what the rich and powerful do.

It also should be watching and reflecting on what the consequences are for the poor and the marginalised, and what that means for society.

To remain relevant, the South African media will need to spend much more time and money finding more real South African stories, and ensure it tells them in a way which generates discourse.

Until then, there’s a danger that the alienated feel even more alienated, and the disempowered feel even more so – and they see no point in respecting the media or society.

And they may be left with no option but to continue expressing themselves through rocks rather than radio stations.

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