Sometimes Media just has to be downright biased.
Written by: Lance Claasen
Over the last month, we have seen a storm blow up over two high ranking editorial executives, Karima Brown and Vukani Mde at Independent Newspapers wearing ANC garb to an ANC rally in Cape Town. It all got ugly pretty quickly with other journalists accusing them of bias and then making counter claims of hidden bias in their reporting.
It was not journalism’s greatest moment, but it did give the opportunity for all of to take stock of where we stand in telling the South African story. What is clear is that we are not neutral observers of their actions, but come in with bias, prejudice, insights and experiences that contribute to the telling of this narrative. A more mature position would be to name your ideological bias, like Eusebius Mckaiser did recently when he openly called himself a Liberal Egalitarian and asked to be judged accordingly. For someone to pretend that they are anything other than what they believe in would be dishonest to themselves and the consumer of the news.
Though the issue of political bias is serious, the xenophobic looting in Soweto and surrounds raised a mirror to the media and society. The reflection of what we saw was not a pleasant sight. Normally when this type of unrest breaks out, broadcasters send reporters out to the scene so they can relay the latest actions by the mob. Print and digital houses look for the most dramatic images they can put on the cover. It is the reason they are in business, they report news that disrupts the norm.
We saw a lot of reporting of what was going on, but not enough journalistic positioning on where organisations stood with regard to the unrest. I admire what my colleague Bob Mabena did. He took a bold and inspired stand on the issue on the breakfast show at Kaya FM. Taking an active position against the looting, he left no room for ambiguity in his stance.
He reiterated the facts. A boy was killed for allegedly trying to rob a foreign national. The boy is dead and the shop owner was behind bars waiting to be charged. Entire communities should not pay the price for the action of one person who is behind bars. He took a stand against the violence and did not give additional time to any discussion that was arguing for it. He stood for the values in the constitution, saying that freedom of speech does not equal hate speech. He said that we should all stand for these values, especially when they are under threat by those amongst us.
He went a step further and pushed school principals, churches, unions and political parties to take a stand on the issue instead of just issuing strong statements condemning the violence. None of these civil society organisations came to the aid of foreign nationals. This is where media, society and government fall short in asking why this happened again and what have we learnt since 2008.
There are times journalism has to take a stand. Not just on the issues that affect freedom of expression, but also with those who consume it.
The right thing to do will always be to share your views in a subjective and honest way. The wrong thing to do is remain silent without a position.