I don’t think that NBC presenter, Brian Williams was alone when he was caught out last week for having told porkies for years about his heroics, says Chris Moerdyk.
It seems to be happening more and more.
As newspapers, radio and TV channels experience increasing pressure to remain sustainable, many are tending toward sensation, exaggeration and hearsay to stay ahead of their bloodthirsty, scoop-driven competition.
Of course they all deny it. Sometimes as vehemently as the Russians swear blind none of their troops are in Ukraine. Or retailers claim they are absolutely, without doubt, passing on savings from lower petrol prices to consumers.
The problem is that this blindingly obvious strategy rubs off on the journalists who work there.
Yes, they are told to be objective and to tell the truth. But, I imagine a lot of this is conveyed with a nudge, nudge here and a wink, wink there.
It’s happening the world over to varying degrees, but here in South Africa it is getting worse.
The standard of journalism has been in decline for a decade or two. One can see it from the number of times newspapers, particularly, have had to publish corrections for the most stupid of errors.
But worst of all, that old first rule of journalism about telling both sides of the story, is very rare today.
News reporters have become opinionistas, news stories have become columns and journalists who cannot make up their minds whether they are objective hacks or spokespersons for political parties or favourite brands are embedding all sorts of agendas in their copy.
There was a time when South African newspapers carried an enormous amount of credibility. There were editors such as The Star’s Harvey Tyson and many others like him who constantly lectured newsrooms on the importance of giving both sides of the story.
There was a time when a story was put on hold and not published until the other side could be told.
Today of course, if the other side of a story isn’t very quickly forthcoming the story is run anyway under the pretext of national interest and not being able to find anyone to give the other side.
The thing is, there is always someone somewhere who is able to provide that other side. To provide some sort of balance.
Whenever I present lectures or talk to interest groups, businesses and so forth, I always ask the question about media objectivity and the overwhelming response from my audience is that they think the mass media is either utterly biased, incompetent or just plain mischievous.
In this digital day and age, the majority of young people are not looking toward the mass media for their news and information. They are rather trusting the opinion of their friends who nowadays are not just a handful of individuals living nearby but thousands of their peers all over the world on social media platforms.
I have four children ranging in age from late 20s to middle 40s – not one of them ever buys a newspaper or watches or listens to TV or radio news.
They are extremely well informed, almost exclusively by their extensive network of friends and family on social media.
The decreasing lack of trust by the consumer in traditional mass media is snowballing. Almost as fast as newspaper sales and circulations are declining.
And unless the mass media put a stop to allowing one-sided opinion to replace balanced reportage, not only will they become less sustainable but right now they are giving every possible excuse for governments to apply media restrictions.
Especially when a governing party has its back to the wall. It is not beyond a bunch of politicians to switch back to the draconian media regulations imposed by the Apartheid government when they had their backs to the wall. The signs are there, as clear as day.
Already government seems to be favouring ‘friendly’ media with their milions of Rands of advertising spend. In spite of this making no marketing sense and amounting to the blatant abuse of public funds.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk
IMAGE: Trust me I’m a journalist. NBC’s Brian Williams
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