The levels of negative news are way too high

2013-09-04 00:00

>IWAS surprised by the reaction to SABC group chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s call that the public broadcaster should have at least 70% good-news content.

The reaction should not really have been surprising. The SABC is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a mouthpiece for the governing party and the government.

But that is not a good enough reason to be sceptical of Motsoeneng’s call.

Let’s face it, following local media can be depressing. Just the other day, a friend told me about an awards ceremony she attended, and how afterwards the media reported on a meaningless gaffe made by the programme director, and said nothing about those who were recognised.

It was not an unusual scenario. You would think there is a special cynicism class that journalists go to. Such is the appetite for negative news among the members of the fourth estate. There is no question that the media does an important job, that of holding the powers that be accountable.

Had it not been for the media, we would not know that we have a president who is happy to spend over R200 million of taxpayers’ money and Dina Pule would probably still be a cabinet minister, despite using her position to show her lover how much she cares.

Critical and probing media are therefore necessary, and a credit to the democracy we are building.

Just so there is no confusion here, we need a probing and critical media that values its freedom from state, anti-state and commercial interests that might seek to distort what is in the public interest.

The problem lies with confusing critical with being chronically cynical. An important aspect of the narrative is lost when we assume that wanting to read or hear good news must necessarily be about saying nice things about government and the ruling party.

There are South Africans who do not hold public offices or even have an interest in politics who are doing wonderful and creative things for their communities.

We do not get to hear enough of such people because we have somehow inculcated the belief that “if it bleeds, it leads”.

Young journalists arrive in newsrooms thinking that their reason for existence is to destroy someone and they spend their professional lives searching for their first or next scalp.

It may work for journalistic egos, but the sense I get from ordinary people is that our media is depressing and that is the reason they have stopped buying or listening to the news. There is only so much murder, rape, corruption and mayhem that one can take without needing to detox.

I don’t know what Motsoeneng has in mind or what his motives are. I do know from professional experience as a journalist and from being a consumer of the news media that the levels of negative news are way too high. I also know that if the ordinary people who have traditionally consumed media are to be used as a model for developing future business trends, media practitioners must revisit their propensity for being happy with the levels of bad news in their products.

•Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is a freelance journalist and former editor of The Witness.

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