US former army General Douglas MacArthur once said “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it”.
This statement seems clear enough and I’m sure many South African journalists would agree with me as well.
With media freedom under threat in South Africa as the government is busy debating bills and laws that will enable journalists to be jailed or fined, one would expect journalists to report with more care. This is not the case however.
On Monday 02 August 2010 a story with a headline “Jail journalist - Nzimande” was published by The Times newspaper. The journalist whose name was on the byline was Nkululeko Ncana. That led to the newspaper to publishing an apology the following day. This was because the South African Communist Party (SACP) said Nzimande never used the word “jail”.
Issuing such an apology compromised the newspaper’s credibility and gave those who are fighting for the media tribunal another point to add on their argument. It seems to have been incorrigible for journalists to quote people out of context. The headline on Ncana’s is probably not the last time such a practise will be seen. This is because some journalists have allowed commercial value to erode their ethics.
As a budding journalist I hope the allegations of charges of fraud and defeating the ends of justice laid against Sunday Times’ political reporter Mzilikazi Wa-Afrika are not true. If they are then weapons in the arsenal of South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) will be reduced. They will surely struggle to fight for media freedom now.
“Political reporters shy away from reporting and analysing the political landscape as they see it”, said Sunday Independent editor Makhudu Sefara when he was still with City press. I think Sefara was correct since many of them muzzled themselves due to fear. This fear probably leads them to misinterpret things.
SANEF’s troops need to be more responsible and careful if they want to win this media freedom war against the government.