Dashiki Dialogues: When did the media become the devil?

2013-01-20 10:00

The burning streets of De Doorns might be a new awakening for media workers confronted by angry protesters.

I couldn’t help but read the news of journalists being attacked by striking farm labourers there as part of a growing global phenomenon.

Ever more journalists are being targeted violently by demonstrators, sometimes with fatal results.

The rise in these incidents stands in sharp contrast to a time when journalists covering conflict stories enjoyed a sacred immunity or a guaranteed safety of a kind.

By simply wearing a vest that clearly identified them as press, they belonged to a group trusted to tell the truth about whatever situation they found themselves thrust into.

That era is fast ­becoming ancient history.

We all saw last week’s story of Cape Times journalist Xolani Koyana, who was assaulted by protesting farm workers in De Doorns.

He had to be pulled from his car to safety ­after protesters pelted it with stones.

The car, which belonged to Independent Newspapers, was set alight and destroyed during a clash between protesters and police.

We know workers were demanding that their daily wage of R69 be increased to R150.

They also wanted a coherent land reform programme.

We have all come to expect fiery clashes between protesters and law enforcement at these events.

But ­attacks on media workers remain hard to fathom.

During the Arab Spring, CBS News reporter Lara Logan was surrounded, beaten and sexually

assaulted in Tahrir Square, Egypt, while covering the celebrations ­following the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

In Bangladesh,Reporters Without Borders last year demanded that action be taken against members of the police who assaulted three journalists.

These incidents form part of a larger threat confronting media workers.

Journalists are no longer seen as objective observers.

The ­stories we write are recognised as active ingredients in the conflicts we report on. In De Doorns, David ­Harrison of the Mail & Guardian ­reported hearing one of the farm workers’ leaders saying on the PA system: “The media is working with the police. They are the devil!”

And let’s not forget when ANC leaders chanted their “Don’t buy City Press, don’t buy” boycott threats.

This carries real implications for the future of the fourth estate and democracy.

Should journalists be acknowledged as interested parties in the stories they cover?

What should their relationship with the arms of government – Parliament, the executive and the judiciary – be?

It’s a dialogue that may lead to dashikis too troublesome to wear.

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