The enemy is corruption, not journalists - expert

2018-11-30 06:00
(Photo by Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

(Photo by Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

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Over the past few weeks the media has been grappling with how to cover the EFF's controversial statements. The party's leadership often make divisive, slanderous and factually incorrect statements at events the media attend. Do we allow them to say what they want, or do we limit our coverage of them? How can the media expose this behaviour without spreading the party's offensive rhetoric at the same time?

Dr Glenda Daniels, associate professor in media studies at Wits University and SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) council member answered some of our questions. 

GD: I have to say upfront that I, as a council member of Sanef, chair the subcommittee of ethics and diversity where we made decisions about the EFF at our last council meeting on Saturday.

The first and most important decision we made was to invite the EFF to meet with us. We did this. They then strung out some qualification based on race: yes, but not if we brought along that "white boy" [referring to Adriaan Basson, Sanef treasurer].

This is offensive. The next day they said they were too busy to meet – in fact, they are busy right up until elections.

We did the right thing by wanting to meet. Censorship is not the policy of Sanef. We are all busy, but their comments and vitriol on social media are serious enough to make the time to sit down and discuss.

I must make this very clear: this is not about race – and it's not about protecting individual journalists, white or black or green or yellow. It's about the role that journalists play in our democracy.

I wonder who would have redacted all the Gupta emails if it wasn't for journalists. I worry that some politicians make journalists out to be the enemy when actually the enemy is corruption and theft.

And critiques from the media must be against any party – be this the EFF, ANC, DA or any other of our hundreds of parties which are meant to be representing the people of South Africa.

N24: Some people are suggesting that the media agree to boycott the EFF. Is this a bad idea?

GD: I personally don't think it's about boycotting as such. It's about giving respect where respect is due. The EFF is disrespecting journalists in the most obscene and crude way imaginable. Do they think they will get votes this way? There is hatred attached to anyone who is criticising them. 

The media's role in society and in a democracy is to call out and hold ALL to account for their actions. This ideological obfuscation on the party's part is related to it wanting to hide its own weaknesses.

If the EFF treat the media badly, and this has been an ongoing problem, this bullying and intimidation, then they have to take the consequences. There is racism and misogyny in what they are doing and this is anti-constitutional. 

N24: One of the biggest challenges for the media is covering the EFF live – as you invariably repeat their utterance without being able to fact check them. Do you have any ideas on how to circumvent that? Or should we not cover them live? 

GD: Of course they must be covered live but the time they are given is disproportional to what is given to other parties. They should not be covered unmediated and uncritically. Cover them but then interpret what they are saying by countering with other comment. That's what the media is supposed to be doing.

N24: There have been accusations that the media is guilty of creating the monster that is the EFF by covering their statements uncritically for too long. Do you agree with this?

GD: Not completely, but partially. Initially, I felt that this didn't make sense, but many people said that CNN was responsible for bringing in Donald Trump to the world and yet CNN is not a fan. However, because they found everything Trump said so outrageous, right wing, populist, racist, homophobic and anti-women – they let him play on – rambling dangerous and inciteful hatred. A similar thing could be happening in SA.

N24: How should the media approach politicians who make inciting, often defamatory and factually incorrect claims in public?

GD: Call them out! The media is doing this.

N24: How should the media respond to threats to journalists on social media and otherwise?

GD: There should be a campaign to counter this. Journalists can't roll over just because the EFF says we are going to deal with you decisively. Some in our democracy didn't become journalists to roll over but to be robust and brave. However, the insults, taunts, intimidation and bullying are getting worse daily and the EFF has to be stopped from this dangerous behaviour.

I am particularly concerned about the cyber bullying of women. It's become a trend worldwide. Cowards do this because they mistakenly believe women are weak but in actual fact, it's bullies who are weak.

Read more on:    eff  |  media freedom
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