Why are the media hounding a sick man?

2009-03-10 00:00

Anyone who lacks the qualities of circumspection and empathy can criticise and condemn things beyond their ken.

This is apt not only with reference to the recent parole of Schabir Shaik on medical grounds but to general innuendos and the peddling of lies about people in society or their various conditions.

The media dismally fail to provide the context particularly for complex matters that come their way. Consequently, truth becomes a victim.

I visited Shaik on a number of occasions while he was doing time and his condition was not improving. I was shocked by the quantity of medication he had to take every day. Members of the Fourth Estate will even recall that during his trial, his illness was highlighted by his legal team as a mitigating factor for a lenient sentence.

It was insensitive of members of the media to camp outside his house awaiting his arrival. His privacy is being brutally abused in every sense by pseudo professionals who cannot present a fresh perspective on the matter in an effort to educate the public, since whatever they profess to report on is in the “public interest”. Is it fair that in pursuit of reporting in the public interest, truth must suffer?

Lest we forget, President Kgalema Motlanthe’s image and stature were mercilessly trampled upon by the media that never bothered to verify the validity of the wildest of claims made about his private life. Did Jody Kollapen, chairman of the South African Human Rights Commission, take any issue with the way the media abused the president’s human rights?

Kollapen seems to be in concert with the media on Shaik’s parole issue. What is lamentable about his actions is that he made sweeping statements, in the name of “accountability to the broader public”, about a matter that is beyond his knowledge. What a yawn. Ditto to some political parties using Shaik’s parole to try to score cheap political points. Kollapen says nothing about Shaik’s right to privacy, let alone his human rights.

Towards the end of last year, the portfolio committee on Correctional Services received a report that details the financial implications of keeping Shaik in hospital. At that time, Correctional Services officials reported to the committee that approximately R3 million had been spent on Shaik’s medical costs. The media should be asking a question: how many houses could be built with that amount? In fact, political parties who always cry “taxpayers’ money” should be consistent. Shaik has no blood on his hands but he is being treated like a brutal murderer.

The portfolio committee was also in agreement, stating that the current provisions of the legislation on parole deserve to be reviewed. This is a critical part of the context that is not being provided by self-appointed pseudo professionals who report in the public interest.

The media in this country need to engage in serious self-introspection. Is sensationalism key to their business operations and sustainability? Are context and truth their perpetual victims? Why do they have a selective policy on matters that are in the public interest? What yardstick do they use to determine if a matter is in the public interest?

Hands off Shaik.

• Smanga Sethene is an independent communication strategist based in Centurion. He is a graduate of the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

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