The recent admittance by The Citizen newspaper’s Editor, Steven Motale that he and many of his colleagues and many other media representatives in the country had during the past ten years been party to a sinister agenda and unfairness campaign against President Jacob Zuma, certainly opened up the whole media fraternity to intense public scrutiny.
Although most South Africans by now know which media houses including newspaper, magazine, radio and television editors and their journalists, contributors, columnists and cartoonists support which political party and its leaders, Motale displayed great bravery to come out and declare his stand and apologise to President Zuma.
The now famous “ President Zuma, I’m sorry” article published in last Wednesday’s The Citizen has left many readers of the paper and indeed the rest of South Africans wondering what has been happening in newsrooms across the country.
In the article, in Motale’s own words, the message that he wanted to bring to the attention of all “open-minded” South Africans, was about “how the media is as much to blame for the current parlous state of this country’s politics as the politicians and economists who have brought us here”.
Although the Anti-Zuma campaign started in 2005 after Judge Hilary Squires’s famous judgement finding President Zuma’s financial adviser, Schabir Shaik guilty of corruption and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, Judge Squires never found that there was “generally a corrupt relationship” between Zuma and Shaik. It was, in Motale’s words, said by the prosecution and made famous by the media.
It was then that all hell broke loose. Almost every media house, Motale said, went for Zuma like a pack of hungry wolves. From 2005, the anti-Zuma media campaigner never looked back and in the process, taking with them the trust and confidence of South Africans in attacking, lambasting, ridiculing, slashing and criticising Zuma while accusing him of being corrupt, of being a rapist and condemning him for not having gone to school and marrying many wives, the list is endless.
And while the debate about the media in SA goes on, the questions being asked by many is should the “biased”, “unobjective” South African media be regulated? Should the media be transformed? How accountable and transparent is the media?
Journalists seem afraid that once the media becomes regulated, their right to freedom of expression would be limited by whoever will be regulating the media. We certainly don’t think that’s the correct way to go.
We believe that the media must be part of the broader transformation programme of this country, taking part in economic and social upliftment of the people. We believe that the media should to be part of building a better South Africa for the children of this country to live in long after we have gone.
We believe that in terms of the ethics of journalism, journalists or reporters if you like, must uphold the principles of true journalism which in our world are still, being objective, truthful, factual, accurate and correct, and most importantly, not taking sides or being biased (difficult as it may seem).
Comment by Bobby Saul of 13 Martin Street, Galleria Arcade, Mafikeng.