Johannesburg - The minds of student journalists are being poisoned by lecturers who are misleading them about South Africa, SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng said on Monday.
Motsoeneng's comment drew a despairing "God!" from what sounded like City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, who was part of the televised panel debate, State of the Media.
In the debate, sponsored by the SABC and Eskom, Motsoeneng said this happened because lecturers had their own views and did not deal with the facts.
"If you take anyone from tertiary level... they are excited, new, energetic. At editorial level, you sit and you ask them, 'Can you come [up] with a very good story?' You know what will be a good story? Corruption.
"That is any journalist. When you talk about a good story, it's corruption for them. We need to change the mindset of journalists."
Motsoeneng said fellow panellist Stephen Grootes, political editor for 702, was a good journalist, but his "weakness" was having his own views.
"For us, it is important to portray the country in a positive way. Because there are so many good stories that [are] happening. But... especially [with] print media, it's more negative stories.
"Where are the positive stories? Have you ever seen positive stories leading the headlines?" asked Motsoeneng.
Facilitator Peter Ndoro asked The New Age editor Moegsien Williams to expand on a claim that the media was sometimes behaving like the "unelected opposition".
Williams, who said he did not support a Media Appeals Tribunal or a media charter proposed by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, was concerned by the recent "almost bloody-minded adversarial approach" that the media had adopted, especially towards the government.
"And it has created the perception, especially in the ruling party... that we in the media have kind of put ourselves in the position of the opposition, and that is unfortunate." This was through choosing to focus on the most negative aspects of what the ruling ANC was doing, he said.
"I believe tension between government and the [media] is good, but... this attempt to pull down whatever government is doing, is... going to be a very serious problem," Williams warned.
'Good' and 'bad' news
Haffajee said it was "difficult" to hear Motsoeneng, as head of the public broadcaster, say the media should be regulated, because the SABC was owned by the public.
Grootes tackled Motsoeneng on a statement he once made that journalists should be licenced.
"The first question would be who licences journalists? When do you remove a licence from a journalist? What is a journalist in the first place?"
To Grootes, the problem lay with the definitions of "good" and "bad" news.
"Some think the rand declining is good because it makes what they make cheaper to people in Britain. Some people think it's bad news because our currency is weakening," Grootes said.
Citizen editor Steven Motale, who last week published an apology to President Jacob Zuma for the way in which he has been reported, said it was a myth that the media was objective.
Most of the time, journalists "conveniently" omit that Zuma was acquitted after his rape trial, and nobody has investigated "with the same rigour" as the rape allegations, Zuma's claim that the rape allegation was a plot, he said.
"If we do it, it will reveal the truth that is very very uncomfortable and that is not in line with our agenda - the agenda to portray the ruling party as a party that is led by men and women who are morally bankrupt," he said to applause.