The Sowetan’s decision to publish a story around footage that features two members of the South African Police Services having sex on duty has been met with strong reactions – for and against – by many South Africans, but the paper remains unrepentant.
If the decision to publish was driven by the desire to sell more papers, the Sowetan’s strategy in publishing the story worked. The Sowetan reports today that the paper was sold out by midday yesterday. The paper used SowetanLIVE to drive sales by publishing a teaser on the site on Sunday night and advising readers to “get the hard copy for the full story”.
It was a strategy City Press used to good effect on the Saturday night prior to the paper publishing its investigation on Sunday into the origins of Julius Malema’s wealth.
“Sowetan was sold out by midday and the newsdesk was inundated with calls from readers who could not find copies of Sowetan,” it reported on SowetanLIVE this morning.
The story has spread far and wide, particularly through the medium of the social networks where commentary has ranged from moral outrage to snorts and sniggers. Papers in South Africa’s neighbouring countries have published the story too.
“Just before lunch time, the full story was uploaded. By late yesterday the articles had received 1 290 comments. It was Tweeted 55 times and had 347 comments,” it said. Those numbers had increased this morning.
In its editorial yesterday, justifying the decision to publish the salacious story, the Sowetan said the actions of the officers “raise many questions, beyond the moral ones. It’s not about a moral concern about two individuals, who are married, and who have decided to stray and cheat on their spouses.
“We don’t seek to pass judgment here. Their departments have said a mouthful about how morally reprehensible their conduct was. The seriousness of their conduct lies in complete disrespect for the people of this country. They are having sex, on duty, in police uniform, in a government hospital, during working hours – all of which belong to the citizens of this country,” the editorial said.
But media watchdog, Media Monitoring Agency (MMA), says it is “disturbing” that the Sowetan chose to run the story in light of all the issues with which South Africa is grappling.
“It is clear from the editorial that the newspaper understands what sort of debates the story may raise. But other than people talking about it in their offices, their homes and on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, what else?” the MMA asked.
“It is indeed true that the Sowetan ‘should not pass judgement’ but mentioning that both the police officer and the correctional services officer having sex in the video are allegedly married and therefore cheating on their spouses is judgemental. The fact that the two are married to other people is completely irrelevant to the issue.
“MMA is not arguing that the Sowetan should not have reported the story. However, the story could have been done differently with emphasis on the response by the SAPS and Department of Correctional Services for example or given that this is women’s month it could have looked at sexual relations within the high stress positions like SAPS and Correctional services, rather than focussing on the sexual prowess or lack thereof of the officers.
“While it is true that ‘the uniform, the badges, the venue [government hospital] of the act itself and the time used belongs to the people of the Republic of South Africa’, the question to be asked is whether South Africans are facing bigger challenges which warrant more attention than officers having sex on duty?”
The MMA said was “deplorable” that the notion of “minimizing harm seems to have evaded the newspaper, because the story could potentially have devastating consequences on the families involved, especially the children. It is not clear how considerations for their privacy were balanced against the desire to report the story,” it said.
It’s a point with which columnist and Twitter king, Khaya Dlanga, agrees. In column feature on News24 yesterday, Dlanga said: “The thing that the minister should have asked is what is wrong with the force that has caused these officers to behave in this way? What is going on there? What are the physiological pressures that face these officers on a daily basis that cause them to behave in such reckless ways?
“The choice for political grandstanding was made instead, a kneejerk reaction against people who don’t know how to defend themselves. Yes, they were wrong but what happened to them after was worse.”