What’s the point of having a selective media monitor?

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Published Apr 14, 2024


SOUTH Africa’s democracy hinges on a vibrant, independent media landscape that both scrutinises those in power and amplifies the voices of its citizens.

Enshrined in the country's Constitution, freedom of speech, including press freedom, stands as a cornerstone of this democratic ethos.

The media ecosystem in South Africa is characterised by its robustness, diversity, and constant evolution, with journalists playing a pivotal role in upholding accountability and transparency within governance structures.

However, the South African media faces a myriad challenges, ranging from the disruptive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic to shifting patterns in media consumption and the relentless march of technological advancements.

One particularly concerning challenge is the proliferation of misinformation propagated by self-styled “influencers”, undermining the integrity of journalistic endeavours. Journalists who dare to challenge prevailing narratives often find themselves under attack by these influencers, many of whom have ties to mainstream institutions.

In response to such challenges, media entities often turn to organisations like the Press Council and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for support and advocacy.

Yet, there are instances where these watchdog organisations fail to maintain impartiality, raising questions about their credibility. Concerns emerge when media outlets appear to align their narratives with the interests of their sponsors, particularly when those sponsors support multiple media entities simultaneously.

Recent incidents, such as the controversy involving journalist Karyn Maughan and columnist Edmond Phiri, underscore the complexities within the media landscape.

While MMA director William Bird swiftly defended Maughan, questions arise regarding Bird’s selective advocacy, particularly in cases involving female journalists like Adri Senekal de Wet, who faced severe criticism without similar support from Bird or MMA.

Moreover, Bird’s silence on matters concerning Independent Media journalists, amid attacks from other outlets like News24 and Daily Maverick, raises further doubts about MMA’s impartiality.

The case of Thabo Makwakwa, an investigative journalist at Independent Media, adds to these concerns. Makwakwa’s efforts to shed light on sensitive government matters were met with silence from Bird, prompting speculation about MMA’s objectivity and potential affiliations with certain media funders.

In navigating these challenges, it is imperative for South Africa’s media ecosystem to uphold the principles of transparency, accountability and independence.

Vigilance against undue influence and bias is essential to safeguarding the integrity of journalistic practice and, by extension, the health of the country’s democracy.