Is digging in the EFF's trash going a step too far?

2019-07-04 05:17
EFF leader Julius Malema. (AFP, file)

EFF leader Julius Malema. (AFP, file)

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An exposé into the EFF's alleged hypocrisy and ideology by the Daily Maverick titled "Revolutionary trash sometimes requires trash journalism, literally" has left tongues wagging, questioning if the means of gathering the news was taken "a step too far".

The story published on Wednesday morning delved into hypocrisy and ideology by placing the spotlight on the contents of the EFF's trash following a stay at a Camps Bay guesthouse in the days surrounding the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

But did it take things too far?

University of the Witwatersrand journalism professor Glenda Daniels is of the view that there is no criminality in gathering information from the trash.

"That's one way of getting information. There is no criminality involved in getting information from the trash," she told News24 on Wednesday.

Public interest

Daniels further argued that one could say exposing the hypocrisy of the EFF's lifestyle and its pro-poor policies was in the public interest.

"It was about hypocrisy and ideology and exposing the EFF about its policies. It was in the public interest to expose that information. I didn't think it went too far," she added.

ALSO READ: EFF faces Camps Bay guesthouse 'damages' claim - report

Herman Wasserman, who is a professor of media studies and director of the centre for film and media studies at UCT, raised the question of whether the same information could have been obtained by other means.

"Going through someone's rubbish is an extreme step and is a form of surveillance [as Murray Hunter, formerly from the Right2Know campaign, indicated on Twitter]. It has implications for values of privacy more generally in a society where it has become much easier for citizens to spy on each other and for the government to spy on us.

"So journalists have to be very careful about when they claim for themselves the right to engage in similar activities," he told News24 on Wednesday.

Wasserman further highlighted the question of whether the contents found in the trash were important for the public to know.

"For instance, while empty bottles of expensive wine may contradict the EFF's public image as representing the working class, and stubs from H&M may contradict its publicly stated view of the retailer [and calls to trash its stores], is it equally relevant to mention used condoms, or publish Mbuyiseni Ndlozi's Voyager number in order to confirm his presence at the site?

"In other words, the public interest is not a blanket justification to divulge all information found in this way, and the journalist should be able to justify all information divulged," Wasserman explained.

He further clarified that it was the ethical duty of the media to inform the public if a politician's private life was contradictory to his or her public statements, but a different method could have been explored without infringing on a politician's right to be to be treated with dignity and care.

Privacy

"I would say the motivation behind this article is valid even if people may disagree about the method. The question is not whether hypocrisy should be exposed or not - it should - but whether this could be done in ways other than those that infringe on their right to privacy.

"These methods should be the exception to the rule, and there is a stronger moral imperative for journalists to be transparent about why this method was followed," Wasserman said.

"While the overriding principle of dealing with issues of privacy is in the public interest, it does not immediately justify invading someone's privacy or publishing their information just because that person is a politician.

"This line is not always easy to draw, but it is not enough to say, 'X is a public figure, so the public has a right to know everything X does when they are at home'.

"There is a difference between the public interest and public curiosity," Wasserman said.

News24 contacted EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi for comment but was unsuccessful at the time of publication.

Ndlozi was quoted in the Daily Maverick as stating the article was "laughable and trash journalism".

"I really can't help you with a tabloid-inspired inquiry masquerading as a policy and ideological concern," he told the publication.

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