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News and the Truth

19 September 2012, 12:17

Last week I was in London and was watching BBC News, which is a refreshing change from the garbage dished up here. While I was watching the news, however, it struck me how easy it is to tell the truth and not be truthful, all at the same time. And you wouldn’t think it possible.

In an interview with the Marikana miners, the interviewer, let’s call her Jill Stewart, asks the miners what it is they want. The leader of the striking miners leans over to the mike. ‘We are not dealing with the unions anymore; they don’t care about us. We want twelve point five, and that’s all!’

‘So there you have it: the miners want a salary of twelve thousand five hundred Rand a month; about a thousand pounds. Jill Stewart, BBC News, Johannesburg.’

Now all of it seems completely reasonable. She’s reporting the news. But right at the end, she editorialises. Ri-i-ight at the end! About a thousand Pounds. Every reasonable person will ask, ‘How could you employ anyone for less than that?’

BCom graduates are joining major banks at less than that. Their salary will go up fairly sharply if they perform well, but that’s it to start with. My son is a Master’s graduate in IT, doing his PHd and lecturing full-time. He gets paid less than twenty thousand a month.

When you’re in England, or anywhere in Europe, don’t convert the currency in your head, or you’ll never buy anything. The same thing goes here. These people are busy making mining unprofitable, and South Africa a very unattractive place for investors. And they are, after all, skilled labourers, but just that: labourers.

Recently I was privileged enough to witness the same piece of news broadcast by two different news agencies: BBC News and CNN. It was the unrest in the West Bank. The BBC: ‘As you can see behind me, it’s absolute chaos, with stone-throwing Palestinian youths being answered by the Israelis with automatic gunfire!’

CNN: ‘There’s absolute pandemonium here, with this small Israeli contingent under constant threat of being overrun by this Palestinian mob!’

There was no difference at all in the pictures. It was almost the same feed. The most balance view of Middle Eastern problems seems to come from Al Jazeera. Who woulda thunk it?

Which brings me very neatly to my point: what is truth? Can it be discerned if our eyes and ears can so easily deceive us? The mind mostly starts with a bias, and accepts information that conforms to that bias. And I don’t think anyone is immune to that.

On these pages I’ve seen viewpoints from every political, religious and philosophical viewpoint either exuberantly embraced, or viciously savaged. It seems only sport escapes this savagery, though the bias is still there. Big surprise, that.

I do not embrace Relativism in any form, as it leads to inconclusive ideas and muddied morals, but it must be said that there does sometimes seem to be merit in the idea. If we, being educated, can so easily be deceived when the evidence is there for all to see, how much easier is it to deceive the people Juju is addressing?

In my opinion, and it’s only an opinion, mind you, truth is what we want it to be.

And that’s why we need a standard divorced from shifting sands of human emotions.

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