Mind Games: Oh no, sunshine rugby journalism is back

2013-09-16 10:00

The SABC’s acting chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, started it all with his call for “sunshine news” on the corporation’s news bulletins.

Next, President Jacob Zuma said local reporting is so negative it makes him want to leave the country.

The term sunshine journalism – for shying away from negative, controversial stories – seemed to be new to many commentators, but for me it was like a bad dream, especially as I had just been made aware of yet another particularly paranoid effort by the SA Rugby Union (Saru) to manipulate the news.

An innocent meeting and discussion about Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s intensely nervous palpitations while watching the test against the Wallabies revealed that the clips had been taken off SuperSport’s various channels at Saru’s behest.

Whereas most were either impressed or amused by the coach’s passion, it transpired the demand to stop showing the clips had come from Saru CEO Jurie Roux, as they were “embarrassing” to the coach.

How petty can one get? The shots of Meyer continued to be available on the internet, even on a sister site of SuperSport, and revealed a human side to a coach often described as being too married to structures and processes.

Yet again, Saru had invoked the mantra that “partners don’t criticise each other”.

“Sunshine rugby” was a concept that arose during Harry Viljoen’s time as national coach, the brainchild of then media officer Mark Keohane. This approach once reached such laughable proportions that the commentators working on Boots & All were instructed to not criticise Jake White and John Smit and “find the positives” after the Boks had lost 49-0 in Brisbane.

Ensconced behind a screen of what the press derisively refer to as “media prevention officers”, the team is covered as the team want to be covered while top officials are seldom, if ever, available for “on the record” interviews.

This is also true for other major sports in which players are wrapped in a cocoon of noncriticism that too many members of the media buy into and which comes back to bite when teams struggle to cope with stressful situations.

Far from the refrain of the old Nats to “keep politics out of sport”, the games we play tend to impact far more profoundly on our lives than the big issues of the day.

For instance, how do you square the ethics of taking former Wallaby international David Campese off test match broadcasting because of a tweet he made about Fawad Ahmed, a Muslim cricketer from Pakistan who was fast-tracked to become an Australian citizen so that he could play for his adopted country but who asked not to wear the logo of a beer brand on his uniform because of religious convictions?

From what I could gather, Campese, himself of Italian immigrant stock who had to assimilate the Australian way of life, was not given the opportunity to defend himself – in effect making him guilty of racism and bigotry.

Is it right to take a strong stance on some (personal) issues and not on others? When is news not news?

If “sunshine” means “shine a light on it”, I am all for it. If it means obfuscating the truth, forget it.

» dan.retief@citypress.co.za

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