OPINION | Read before burning: Local media covered EC health crisis long before the BBC

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It is time to actually read what local media is covering before posting knee-jerk reactions on Twitter, writes Sheldon Morais.

There was a strike on Twitter this week that caught my eye, leaving me scratching my head in bewilderment, wondering what stirs the human mind and emotions.

No, it wasn't the Bitcoin hack that targeted some of the world's most recognisable people, including Barack Obama, his BFF Joe Biden and presidential hopeful (or not) Kanye West.

It was responses to a solid BBC report on the state of hospitals in the Eastern Cape, one of the province's hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report by BBC correspondent Andrew Harding was the result of a "weeks-long investigation".

It was shocking, illuminating and much-needed at a time when South Africa's healthcare network faces its sternest test in modern history, with many parts of the system creaking under the pressure of Covid-19 and its impact.

Absence of local reporting?

But some of the responses baffled me. Many of those who were moved to comment on the report decided, somewhat bizarrely, to focus on what they believed to be was an absence of similar reporting by local newsrooms.

Some of those who typed out Twitter missives were "commentators" who do well to make their opinions on a range of public issues known and former editors.

"Where are the local media reports on this shocking state of affairs?" they crowed.

The assertions ranged from local journalists being lazy, scared, obedient, too close to the ANC, possibly out of touch with what's happening on the ground or a combination of all of these.

As an analytical creature moved to understand the human state, I often find it interesting trying to decode why certain events move people, while other, similar, incidents seem to float by, briefly scanned before being quickly forgotten.

Several weeks ago, two News24 journalists - political journalist Lizeka Tandwa and video journalist Nomvelo Chalumbira - criss-crossed the province for eight days telling harrowing stories of the dire state of a number of Eastern Cape hospitals.

READ | Opinion: Will the Eastern Cape health crisis force leaders to do their jobs?

One of the stories they unearthed was how doctors and nurses, working in filthy hospitals, are forced to clean wards and wash bed linen.

They put their lives on the line, and that's not an exaggeration, to go into the heart of this tragedy.

And before you think this is about an editor feeling slighted his newsroom's work wasn't widely feted, it's more important than that.

As I mulled the kneejerk reaction of those commentators, I was reminded of some of the finest investigative journalism which exposed the dreadful state of one of the Eastern Cape's biggest public hospitals - Frere Hospital in East London. The Daily Dispatch deservedly won the country's most prestigious journalism honours in 2008, the Taco Kuiper Investigative Journalism Award.

Both the Daily Dispatch and The Herald continue to do a sterling job covering the corruption and malaise in their province, as do other titles in other sections of the country.

The Daily Maverick, which Harding sites in his report, has also shone a light on various aspects of the country's healthcare system.

Plea to read 

And this commitment and endeavour isn't limited to health matters - state capture, the Guptas, Life Esidimeni. All stories brought to the fore by so-called "local media".

This is not a desperate call to hail South African newsrooms, to give us a free pass or call us out when we fall short of your expectations and fail.

It is a plea to read, read voraciously … and, most importantly, to think about what we tweet.

To fight the urgency to simply give in to our outrage and send out what we believe, rather than what we know, to be true into the world.

I understand the allure of having our stories told by some of the most fabled names in world journalism. It shows we matter. It shows the world how bad those we don't agree with are. All these, and more.

And by all means, read them too. We must, if we are to gain a broader view of the world and to understand how the world sees us.

Tears have been shed and much has been written about the growing list of newspapers, newsrooms and magazines being trimmed or shut down. It is a crisis, and one that threatens the very fabric of our democracy.

We cannot expect to stem this tide if we don't even recognise the efforts of those who give their all to tell our stories.

It helps to read.

- Sheldon Morais is the assistant editor of fast news at News24.

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