To be credible, the media must be even-handed
The recent Press Ombudsman ruling against the Daily Maverick for refusing Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane a right of reply gives one a sense of hope that it is not all doom and gloom.
Ombudsman Pippa Green ruled that advocate Mkhwebane’s office should have been granted a right of reply to contributor Stephen Grootes’ commentary after the online publication refused to publish her side of the story on flimsy grounds.
Complaints of unfairness are regularly levelled against some in the media, casting doubt on whether the system of self-regulation is indeed working.
So serious is the matter that the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has launched an inquiry into media ethics.
The inquiry is to be chaired by retired judge Kathleen Satchwell.
According to Sanef, the inquiry will look into, among other things, “any ethical breaches, evidence of capture of journalists by their sources, capture of publications or media houses, bribery of journalists or any other issues linked to credibility or ethics”.
Advocate Mkhwebane has had much more than her fair share of the unfairness at the hands of various media houses.
Take, for instance, the incident where a leading political commentator and I were invited to be guests on a talk radio programme last June.
The dialogue was going to focus on public confidence in advocate Mkhwebane.
Both the commentator and I couldn’t make it to the studio that evening and had to link up with our host via telephone.
I was going to field questions on advocate Mkhwebane’s take on calls for her removal from office and the court decisions that have not gone her way. The commentator, on the other hand, was to provide an in-depth analysis of the issues under discussion.
No sooner had the anchor welcomed us than he took aim at the commentator, tearing into him in a brutally combative fashion.
The commentator was hardly given an opportunity to make his point. Each time he tried to squeeze-in an answer, he would get rudely interrupted, yelled at and drowned out.
Listening in at the other end of the line, I could not understand what the commentator had done to attract such hostility. And then, the anchor gathered himself and, with incredible calm and humility, said: “Let me bring you in now (the commentator).”
That night’s events, for me, underscores the point that advocate Mkhwebane makes that her office gets the most unfair treatment from the media.
The media plays a critical role in the work of the public protector. The Constitution - in section 182(4) - enjoins this independent institution to be accessible to all persons.
This would be an impossible mission if it was not for journalists.
An independent media is the lifeblood of democracy. They shine the spotlight in the darkest of corners, to bring into the open all that is in the public interest. But this power must not be unfettered.
The Satchwell Inquiry, whose establishment is itself an admission that all is not well within the media, carries the hopes of all those who have been at the receiving end of unfairness in the media.
We hope it brings about the desired change.
* Segalwe is a trained journalist and the public protector’s spokesperson.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.