I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry over things like the whole FNB saga and the furore surrounding The New Age breakfasts. To describe it all as a comedy of errors would be disingenuous though, because it has been a demonstration of how confusing and obsessive things can become in our media.
Recently FNB accused The New Age newspaper of “lazy reporting”.
Well frankly, the entire mass media industry in South Africa is guilty of lazy reporting if that means not taking the time to look at both sides of a story, dig deeper or work harder at getting the facts straight.
But, while there is no question that the standard of reporting in our media is abysmal, their job is made a lot more difficult by some very lazy corporate and political spin doctoring.
For example, FNB, contrary to it having achieved some noteworthy marketing success in recent years, just kept digging a deeper and deeper hole for itself in its statements to the media. On one hand it was apologising and admitting it had made an error of judgment and on the other it has been vociferously claiming that it hasn’t done anything wrong.
At the same time the whole The New Age breakfast saga has been a litany of muddled spin from the DA and some very lazy reporting from the media.
I was asked by one of The New Age’s competitors to comment on the breakfast issue and when I did not vociferously condemn The New Age my comments were simply not used and a one sided story ensued.
For the record, I have no problem with the concept of The New Age breakfasts. It’s a great idea, but as a consumer I have a problem that Telkom and Eskom are spending a lot of money on this sort of thing. That’s not The New Age’s problem though; good for them for coming up with a very profitable idea. And they’re not the moral guardians of the public as far as Eskom and Telkom are concerned. Quite apart from which there is not a mass medium in this country or the world for that matter, that gives a damn about whether the advertising or sponsorship money they are paid actually works for their clients.
Basically what is happening is that with the tremendous amount of competition in our mass media today, reporting is not only lazy but to a large extent just aimed at trashing the opposition.
This is nothing new. There is a considerable, almost childish, amount of one-upmanship in our media today.
But, in addition to lazy reporting and lazy corporate spin, government or more particularly the ANC is exacerbating media confusion, with their paranoid knee-jerk reaction to criticism.
What everyone involved forgets is that the public is far more susceptible to perception than the truth.
For example, it is all very well FNB blustering their innocence in terms of the detail of the saga that enveloped them – even if they are technically correct, public perception is that FNB screwed up, FNB was smacked on the wrist by the ANC, FNB apologised and backed down – end of story.
Equally, the ANC seems to be completely oblivious of the immense power of perception with the result that it not only keeps getting itself tied up in knots but is developing a sizeable persecution complex.
There is undoubtedly a lot of lazy reporting in our mass media, not to mention considerable competitive mischief. But, the corporate sector is also guilty of playing into the hands of media mischief-makers and as for the ANC, well I reckon the mass media industry should be grateful for the massive amount of juicy content the governing party is creating for them.
It’s a sore point with government that the media never appears to report on successes. But this is not the fault of the media, this is simply because the way in which the ANC reacts to criticism and often innocent questioning, gives the media more than enough content to the exclusion of having to even think about success stories.
Government and the ANC must stop blaming the media for continuing negative reporting – it is up to government and the ANC to start understanding the communications process and particularly the power of perception.