With the now axed Jimmy Manyi as cabinet spokesman, the relationship between government and the media in South Africa is undeniably at a 17 year low.
That acrimonious scrap between Manyi and the SA National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) last year bore testimony to just how low that relationship had sunk.
Not that any relationship between government and media should be warm and cosy, because that would simply imply that one has control of the other and the victim of a relationship that is too warm and cosy is the democracy itself.
For a democracy to function properly, there always has to be some tension between government and the media. But, for this tension to be constructive both the media and government need to known when to get visibly and vociferously upset about something and when to just keep their traps shut. And most importantly, for both to get their facts straight.
Unfortunately in South Africa, we have a governing party and a mainstream media that are both extremely sensitive to criticism.
Government and particularly the ANC are not shy to voice their disdain of media these days, with ministers lining up to complain about how they have been misquoted or not quoted at all.
They are becoming paranoid about the media, but in my opinion, they are nowhere near as paranoid as our mass media.
While South Africa’s media are very good at handing out criticism in bucket loads they do not like getting it back at all. To say that they are sensitive is putting it mildly.
I firmly believe that right now, neither side can be blamed entirely for the lack of trust and complete lack of any mutual respect.
On one hand, government and the ANC do lay themselves open to criticism and satire. They make strange, knee-jerk statements and communicate decisions to the public either very late, very badly or both.
On the other hand, the South African media have been making too many mistakes far too often. So much so, that it is safe to say that the standard of South African journalism leaves a lot to be desired.
Telling both sides of a story used to be a cast in concrete paradigm in the mass media in this country but these days this is by no means necessary for publications and broadcasters. Personal opinions and political bias among journalists have long been creeping into what should be objective reportage.
Honestly, government, politicians and big business have a legitimate beef when it comes to unfair treatment by the media. And, quite frankly, the media’s self-regulation teeth continue to be blunt and ineffectual. Making reparation for mistakes, particularly in newspapers, leaves a lot to be desired and there is still the perception that apologies take place in fine print on page 55.
There is a lot of arrogance in our media today, so much so that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are as much under threat from the media as they are from the ANC.
Quite clearly, government needs to get to grips with its own people tipping off the media and perhaps start to shoot them instead of the messenger. It also needs to get its act together in the way it replies and the speed with which it responds.
The mass media has to get its houses in order as well, because right now, it’s a mess with dirty laundry all over the place.
If the media wants to avoid things like protection of information acts and all sorts of other muzzling threats, they need to get their own houses in order and go back to the basics of objective reporting. And most of all avoiding sensationalism for the sake of sales.
There is no question that journalists in South Africa today are not as well trained as they should be. They are also under an inordinate amount of pressure in terms of job security because of the tough times and threat of the unknown most mass media are still experiencing.
Many are trying to make their mark and stand out above the crowd. Some are achieving this simply doing a really great job. But, far too many are grabbing at dodgy sensationalist straws to make names for themselves. A problem exacerbated by newsroom hierarchy by not putting enough effort into checking facts before rushing into print or on air.
Government, the ANC and the media need to grow up and start behaving like responsible adults instead of churlish adolescents.
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