As you read this I will be in the United States engrossed in the media mayhem of the US presidential elections and wondering whether the fourth estate there is quite as sadly sensationalist as the mass media back home in South Africa.
The standard of journalism is South Africa is, I believe, at an all time low.
The mission statement of many of our mass media hacks seems to be job retention at all costs and the good old fashioned notion of telling both sides of they story is as dead as a dodo.
For editors there is no doubt in my mind that increasing readers, viewers and listeners has taken precedence over relevance and balance.
And no more evident has this been in the past week with the mass media, some by outright accusation and others by implication and innuendo, trying to lay the blame for the Marikina massacre on Cyril Ramaphosa.
They were doing this by turning what were actually pretty factual and down to earth emails into some sort of devious conspiracy.
But, there was at least one voice of reason in the past few days and that came from Sunday Times editor, Ray Hartley, in an op-ed piece in his own paper.
He was justifying Ramaphosa’s actions but in doing so touched on an issue that most of his peers appear to have completely overlooked and a question that many South Africans have been asking at dinner parties and on social media.
In the days leading up to the Ramaphosa emails, Hartley wrote, two Lonmin security guards were hacked to death by striking Marikana miners. The following day two policemen were ambushed as brutally hacked to death.
Later a NUM official was found hacked to death.
At the time, a trade union official told the media that some of those who were brutally killed by the strikers had their tongues ripped out, their heads hacked to pieces and their lips torn off.
I am not suggesting for a minute that South Africa’s media should not give maximum coverage to the shooting of all those strikers by the police. It was a tragedy and I have no doubt that the commission of inquiry will find that it was one of the biggest errors of judgement by police in recent times. After all, the police have pretty much already admitted it.
But, it does concern me that the media has largely completely ignored those who were allegedly murdered by the miners.
Not just to show both sides of the same story but the implications that have arisen from those incidents.
Most media seem to be so obsessed with somehow nailing Ramaphosa to the wall that they don’t bother to consider that the use of violence seems to have become perceived as a legitimate part of the labour bargaining process.
I heard mention on 567 Cape Talk that some research or other showed that 50% of trade union members felt violence was an acceptable form of protest.
I never heard or read a word about that research again. Whether it was unsubstantiated or whether the mass media didn’t think it was a story, I don’t know.
In my opinion, newspapers particularly have turned into “opinion papers” with even junior reporters being allowed to flavour their reportage with opinion and conjecture, not to mention political bias.
Opinion is an important part of the mass media, but that opinion should be confined to columnists who know what they are talking about – Jonathan Jansen and Justice Malala, for example – and not just any young Tom, Dick or Thabo who is fresh out of Rhodes University.
In the next few weeks I look forward to being exposed to the mass media in the USA and a few countries in Central America.
It will be interesting to see whether their priorities lie primarily with exposing the truth or whether it is all just a question of keeping jobs and surviving in a world where even the longest established mass media are living on a knife edge of sustainability.
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