The government might like you to think the public distrusts the media. futurefact’s Jos Kuper finds otherwise.
Throughout our various governments, South Africa’s media has had a long history of activism and reporting on things governments would have preferred to conceal. Freedom of speech and a free press are enshrined in our constitution and, to some extent, South Africans have a tendency to take this privilege for granted.
But we are one of the few countries in the world where the media enjoys this degree of freedom and this is why there was such robust resistance to the security cluster’s attempts to prohibit photographs of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead and exposure of the report on it by public protector Thuli Madonsela.
South Africans have an interesting relationship with the media. In some quarters there is a great deal of whinging about how the media only reports on bad news, but futurefact finds that the public has a lot more confidence in the country’s media than it does in its political parties or most of its politicians.
The public actually relies on the media to promote accountability and transparency on the part of those elected to serve the people. Indeed, 83% believe, “it is the duty of the media to expose corruption among politicians and business people”. As many as 87% believe that ‘whistleblowing’ is a good idea.
This research clearly highlights that South Africans have confidence in journalists and the media. We have a lot of faith in institutions that protect the Constitution such as the Constitutional Court or the public protector. And, we like the fact that comedians such as Loyiso Gola, Nik Rabinowitz, Trevor Noah and cartoonist Zapiro play an important role as political commentators who are able to highlight otherwise sensitive racial and political issues.
Seventy six percent of people have trust and confidence in our journalists and this has been consistent year-on-year. However, this trust is not unequivocal: eight in 10 believe (half of them, a great deal) that journalists often harm people’s reputations because they don’t check their information sufficiently.
Thus the level of public confidence in the media (plus the looming ‘Secrecy Bill’) places a huge responsibility upon journalists to be sure of their facts before publishing or broadcasting their stories. The media enjoys the confidence of the public in its ‘watchdog’ role and it is imperative that journalists value and respect this trust – it is a fragile thing and much harder to rebuild than break down.
For more information, check out www.futurefact.co.za
This ‘research gem’ was first published in February 2014 issue of The Media magazine.