Yes, we’re not perfect: Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

2012-03-17 09:15

The obsession with wanting to show the ANC who is boss has taken our eyes off the ball.

The dominant theme in South ­African journalism has become either how we show our independence from the governing party or how we ensure that we are in their good books.

Journalists are thus described as either pandering to the ANC or “brave and independent” of the party. In the process, we have forgotten that the media, like any other business, is ultimately about consumers.

We are forced to mention what should be obvious because in the practice and critique of journalism this is often on the back burner.

Enter Chris Vick with his criticism of the media, and its professionalism and ethics. Vick has become the spin doctor many media managers love to hate since he started his column in Business Day. F

or this he has become a hero among those who want the ­media put in its place.

To newsroom managers, he is an irritant who lacks the courage of his convictions because he will not reveal the editors and journalists he says have easily fallen for his spin.

The fixation with Vick, or who pays him, misses the point. Vick should be read for his cautionary tales and allegoric value.

In a recent column, he asked the media to “embrace the notion that you may not be perfect”.

I could not agree more. The hubris in the media is unimaginable. Even upstarts believe their own hype that they can create or destroy anyone they want to.

By failing to acknowledge the biases that come with our upbringing, class and all that we have become, we assume that there is something called “newsroom culture” that is independent of the baggage we bring to the workplace.

Perspectives and prejudices of the influential – not necessarily those who hold title – develop into organisational ­culture.

For all the smart people who are supposed to be the ears and eyes of society, the media fails to appreciate the difficulty of influencing public policy if you treat policymakers derisively.

Reading newspapers or listening to radio bulletins, an ignorant person would be convinced that journalism is all about finding fault with some people and then parading them as idiots for all to see.

We hear of people who have stopped reading newspapers ­because they know of people who had reputations built over a lifetime damaged by innuendo or our recklessness.

Our arrogance has made many of us believe human dignity can be gratuitously undermined. We believe that the mere mention of media in the Constitution means that the right to freedom of ­expression enjoys a special place in a hierarchy of rights.

Yet we wonder why so many, not only the ANC, doubt our ­ability to self-regulate.

Instead of honestly engaging with criticism of the media, we shout media freedom.

We assume that those who point out inadequacies in our craft are government lackeys singing for their supper or a possible job or tender, as if these were despicable ambitions to harbour.

The media is hypocritical too. For all our bluster about how organisations such as the Southern African Development Community and the African Union don’t speak truth to power, you will be hard-pressed to find one media organisation attacking another.

Other than that levelled at the SABC, media criticism has been reserved for The New Age (TNA), which was painted as no more than Umrabulo (the ANC’s newsletter).

The prejudice against the TNA’s journalistic credibility has proven to have been just that – prejudice.

The media must be the only business where the manager or owner routinely tells the customers they are wrong or stupid when they complain about the service they buy.

How else does one explain that the general complaint by black people that the media portrays them as criminals, incompetents or victims is laughed off without giving the complainants the benefit of a fair hearing?

It may very well be that the perception that blacks are unfairly targeted is a myth, but the very refusal to even entertain it says more about the media than about the complainants.

The need to fix our journalism should not be about how the ANC feels. It is for the good of journalism and the business of journalism.

The hubris displayed by media practitioners is a far greater ­danger to media as a business than any government.

If our ­media could survive a state whose intention was to oppress and suppress, we can surely survive a legitimate one based on the undisputed free will of the people.

A Constitution sold as the best in the world, as ours often is, will not save the media when fed up consumers regard us as having no credibility and start voting with their pockets.

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