The over 500 cases that the Press Ombudsman has dealt with today tell a story of what one may call the sad state of the South African Media. So pervasive is the crisis that many within society have called for some form of regulation by government.
These desperate cries by many in society signal failure by the media industry and its organs to self regulate. True to charecter, the call for statutory regulation of the media has been met with resistance from the industry.
The media cannot be left to its devices, unchecked. The rate at which the Press Ombudsman finds against the media paints a picture of an institution that has largely lost the original plot of journalism. In desperation to woo larger audiences and maximise profits, the fundamentals of journalism are trampled upon with impunity. The scant regard to media ethics results in shoddy journalism.
When journalism fails in its duty to tell it as it is, tell the truth, innocent people's good names are shred to pieces.
The most recent case is that of the Minister of Higher Education and the General Secretary of the SA Communist Party, Dr Blade Nzimande. Dr Nzimande was falsely accused of calling commentators "dogs." The price Dr Nzimande paid for these lies is that he was cast in a bad light - he was left reeling from attacks emanating from the false reports carried by one newspaper.
As a recourse to justice Dr Nzimande took his matter to the slow wheels of the Press Ombudsman. As the wheels of the Press Ombudsman slowly moved, scavengers continued to feed on the integrity and image of Dr Nzimande. When some time later the Ombudsman found in Dr Nzimande's favour, the newspaper applied for leave to appeal the ruling. A typical justice delayed, justice denied situation.
It is only today that the newspaper has published a pg2 apology to Dr Nzimande for "incorrectly stating it as fact that he called political analysts "dogs", for falsely implying and stating that he was inflaming violence, and for falsely implying that he referred to specific political analysts as "dogs".
In his ruling against the newspaper Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said: "This is the most unethical comment that I can recall after having dealt with approximately 500 complaints in this office. Let me repeat: I cannot recall ever having seen irresponsible journalism on such an ugly scale as this. It does not get any worse."
It is such reporting that leaves readers scared, very scared.