Posts from web sites disseminating misinformation as news, such as newsupdatessa.site, are not only shared indiscriminately on social media sites, they are often mistaken for genuine news by locals and expats alike.
The comment threads when these items are shared reveal a startling racist slant, leading veteran journalist and trainer Raymond Joseph – who regularly debunks falsehoods for AfricaCheck, and works as an asessor for the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter Institute – to push back on the same platform.
“It’s really sad how some South Africans who have chosen to leave and make new lives elsewhere are so quick to share stories that place their former homeland in a bad light,” stated Joseph on Facebook recently.
“All too often these are ill-informed or twisted stories that emanate from the far right or from crackpot white genocide groupings.”
His article has been shared 109 times, largely by journalists, former journalists, and those who work in the media.
Mark Kretzmann, a landscape architect who works for a South African firm in the Seychelles, says many expats based there take newsupdatessa as truth. This is despite the disclaimer in the ‘about’ section, stating: “News Updates South Africa is South Africa’s number one news satire website.”
It also despite headlines in which outrageous claims are made that beg to be questioned, and the site being infected with clickbait ads.
Misinformation and distorted context
In the face of the persistence of misinformation and distorted contexts, the question of how media is to survive goes beyond the financial sustainability of news publications. It includes the survival of ethical journalism, and how publications – both print and digital – can hold on to the truth in an increasingly polarised local and global society.
These are the sorts of questions which lie at the centre of a discussion between City Press editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya, Daily Maverick publisher Styli Charalambous, and The Media Online/The Media magazine editor, Glenda Nevill. Chaired by political journalist Jan-Jan Joubert, it’ll take place on the Open Book Festival programme, which runs from 5 to 9 September.
In its hosting of over 100 public conversations between authors, poets, comic book creators, professors, and activists, Open Book has put journalists on the podium and shone a spotlight on the media since its debut eight years ago.
Besides the aforementioned Sustainable Media event in The Fugard theatre on 5 September, there are nine events among the over 140 Open Book events focussing on reporting the news, whether in print, online, or through books involving deep dive investigations.
One of these is The Lost Boys of Bird Island on Sunday morning, in which Daily Maverick journalist and author Marianne Thamm talks to journalist Chris Steyn, who helped ex-cop Mark Minnie – whose apparent suicide earlier this month has raised suspicions – write the book The Lost Boys of Bird Island, which exposes how apartheid ministers such as Magnus Malan raped young coloured boys on Bird Island outside Port Elizabeth, after flying them there in airforce choppers.
Mark Minnie was also scheduled to also be there, and his name still appears in the printed programme, which was published days before his death.
Thamm, who has helped uncover the Gupta’s secrets on the Daily Maverick, is also in conversation with author of the explosive The President’s Keepers, Jacques Pauw, and James-Brent Styan, who has just published a book delving into the Steinhoff saga. That discussion about the thrills, labours and dangers of Investigating Elites, takes place on Saturday evening, and is chaired by CapeTalk presenter, Koketso Sachane.
There are also a number of events indirectly related to the media. Going beyond the rhetoric surrounding land on Wednesday morning is high court advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, Ndifuna Ukwazi head of law Mandisa Shandu, and national co-ordinator of civil alliance Tshintsha Amakhaya, Stha Yeni, steered by UCT LARC researcher Ramabina Mahapa.
Madonsela on Nasty Women Talk Back
Thuli Madonsela talks about Nasty Women Talk Back, and the African Centre for Cities host five different conversations about inclusive urban planning, public transport, and what the Integration Synidcate collective of urban thinkers have been thinking about for the last year.
In short, Open Book is five days dedicated to the wisdom, insight and importance of books, and the joy, frustration, and inspiration that comes with writing them. It is about the things that give our life meaning and enable us to recreate the world, imagine others and reimagine ourselves. It is about stories, which is what media consists of.
“We always have a strong focus on South African non-fiction,” says Open Book director Mervyn Sloman, “and investigative journalists are doing amazing work in exposing corruption and presenting the in-depth information behind the news headlines, on stories that have a direct effect on the lives of all South Africans. It would be remiss of us not to bring these to the fore.”
Sloman adds that for these journalists to be able to dig up the dirt, a free press, which is financially stable, needs to exist to support them, which is why Open Book has always encouraged discussions that go behind the headlines. This, he says, hopefully encourages people to become more protective of the good work that ethical media houses produce.
- Date: 05/09/2018
- Venue: Fugard Theatre
- Time: 16.00 – 17.00
- Price: R45
Styli Charalambous, Mondli Makhanya and Glenda Nevill speak to Jan-Jan Joubert about the future of media from a financial and ethical perspective
Steve Kretzmann is founder and editor of The Critter, an online arts publication offering independent views on theatre,music and visual art. It is also a platform for arts news and opinion on related creative fields such as design and urban planning.