Just about every TV and radio station, newspaper and magazine in South Africa regularly climbs on a soapbox and professes a complete lack of political bias.
Which is utter nonsense because anyone with an IQ above five can read, listen and watch between the lines and pickup blatant bias as though it was splashed across the skies in letters 50 metres high.
Put it this way. Most mass media owners have inserted very clear clauses in their corporate rulebooks that political bias of any sort will not be tolerated but the trouble is editorial staff don’t seem to have read these rule books for yonks
One of the most glaring indicators of the sorry state of South African journalism is the blatant individual political bias that has become far more of the rule than the exception.
During the apartheid era, life was simple for the mass media. State owned organs were pro-Nat as were most Afrikaans newspapers and magazines while English language papers (except The Citizen) were anti-government. In those days it was OK to be vehemently opposed to the government even if the rulebooks outlawed bias.
There was also a time when business newspapers and magazines would disclose at the end of every article whether the journalist who wrote it was a shareholder of any of the companies mentioned. Some still do it today, but it’s a rare phenomenon.
Either our mass media needs to come clean and declare their bias or they must insist that journalists, reporters, commentators and particularly opinion contributors, declare their political bias or allegiance.
What is happening right now is the equivalent of politicians keeping secret their party membership and trying to convince the electorate that their only objective is to work for the good of the country. Which everyone knows is completely ludicrous.
The public of South Africa need to be made aware of political bias, particularly now that a general election is in the offing.
Because the way things are going now, 50 million South Africans are being misled, misinformed and misguided by people and media they assume are objective.
Strangely enough, the concept of mass media declaring their bias is nothing new in the world. Only in South Africa, it seems.
In the UK, Europe, the USA and many other democracies, media owners are all very forthcoming when it comes to taking political sides. Newspaper readers know where they are. TV viewers know where they are.
Right now, for example, readers of newspapers such as The Star, Pretoria News, Cape Times and Argus are as confused as newspaper readers can possibly be. Some journalists are writing openly about the new owner’s alleged ties to the ANC while others are just carrying on as usual. Iqbal Survé continues to emphatically deny that his newspaper company is biased while his detractors insist they are. It is difficult for readers to separate the wheat from the chaff. So much so that there is a strong chance they will simply give up the unequal battle and stop reading these titles.
For the sake of transparency and perhaps even for the sake of survival, the mass media needs to be frank with its consumers. And perhaps the place to start is getting their journalists and commentators to declare political bias.
Our mass media seem to believe that bullshit will continue to baffle brains while the reality is that 50 million bullshitees are becoming weary of being bullshat.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk.
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