Journalism standards in SA keep dropping
By Themba Sepotokele
It is quite difficult to pinpoint exactly where the root cause of the problem is regarding the dropping of standards of journalism, however, that needs to be fixed as a matter of urgency.
Over the years, there has been an outcry about the falling standards in journalism, with some journalists disregarding the basic tenets of journalism when doing their stories, something the Press Council of SA, of which I am also a member, is bemoaning.
The reports of the Press Ombudsman and the Public Advocate of which I am privy to, continue to paint a glaring picture of the falling standards of journalism, especially in print media.
However, there are several mistakes committed by broadcast journalists too, both from radio and television. More often than not, these fault lines have been pointed out in the Wits University annual study of the State of the Newsrooms which paints a depressing picture on the state of the media.
The outbreak of Covid-19 which has also impacted on the already existing bloodbath in the media has not helped as some media outlets have had to close down, some having to take drastic cost cutting measures.
Suffice to say, that cannot be reason enough for journalists to fail to adhere to the basic tenets of journalism.
It is also not a secret that some sections of the media and some journalists fail to divorce themselves from certain stories and actors, be it in sport, entertainment or politics.
However, they should not allow their own biases to stand in front of the facts, let alone the truth.
Our biases always and often get tested when covering personalities we like or loath. Mine was tested greatly when covering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Amnesty Hearing of AWB members who were to be pardoned for the murder of my former school mates Theo More and Tebogo Makhuza at Peninsula Technikon, now known as Cape Peninsula University.
I had to guard against getting too emotional or too worked up.
Some senior journalists, news editors and sub-editors have complained about the cub reporters who get thrown into the newsrooms without the basic writing skills.
With most newsrooms having done away with experienced reporters, such kindergarten mistakes are glaring.
It is tragic that even some so-called senior journalists even ask wayward questions with no substance. Quite embarrassing indeed.
One of the challenges is embedded journalists where journalists fail to distance themselves from political infightings. There are known culprits who instead of referring to someone with their titles, Dr, Mr or Ms, they will use CIC, SG, TG as if they are attending a branch meeting of a political party.
There are instances where reporters would call a spokesperson and ask for sound bites, instead of requesting an interview.
We cannot have such in our midst. Rogue and charlatan elements masquerading as journalists and inviting unwarranted criticism of the media, should be flushed out.
The other pressing issue is the training of journalists. Some of the lecturers have never seen the inside of a newsroom, and theirs is theory and philosophising.
We need an audit of those teaching journalism to see what their experience is in the media, because that’s where the root cause of the media problem lies.
It’s critically important for media organisations to ensure journalists are trained and re-skilled.
Journalism is not Hollywood but a noble craft as it is a calling.
Themba Sepotokele is a journalist, communication strategist and media trainer. He runs TS Headlines Consultancy.