Themba Sepotokela
Themba Sepotokela

Like politicians, errant journalists must be dealt with harshly

By Themba Sepotokela Time of article published Oct 2, 2019

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It’s time the media treated errant journalists the same way it treats those in positions of power, in order to demonstrate impartiality.

Usually, the media is quick to call for the head of a public office bearer - be it a minister, premier, mayor, member of the executive council and public servants - found to be in the wrong, even for what might be considered minor transgressions.

Imagine a politician having been caught on record insulting a journalist after a press conference, thinking that no one was recording the incident. The entire media fraternity would be calling for heads to roll, and justifiably so. The media would have been supported by armchair critics, hurling insults at how uncaring our elected representatives and public servants are.

When former ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu insulted a journalist using the “f” word, the media condemned his actions. Many called for his head and he sheepishly apologised.

Equally so, when Julius Malema, who was then ANCYL president, insulted and ejected BBC journalist Jonah Fisher during a live media briefing he, too, was condemned in various editorials and comments.

Fast forward a decade later, Malema found himself on the receiving end of an insult from Eyewitness Witness News journalist Barry Bateman, who was caught unawares uttering profanities.

Bateman was caught insulting Malema by referring to him as “* **s” and it is quite shocking, although not strange, that the media downplayed the incident. Following an apology by his bosses at EWN and 702, some enquired as to why he was not immediately suspended.

Although he was removed from air a day later, that is still not sufficient.

702 host Bongani Bingwa, who is known for his robust questioning, was at pains to come to his colleagues’ defence. The question is: Had it been a politician or government official who was caught in that situation, was the media going to react the way it did?

The South African National Editors’ Forum, Freedom of Expression Institute, Human Rights Commission and other organisations would have long called for the implicated person to do the honourable thing.

Because it is one of “us” in the media, we find reasons not to be angry and believe that it is better to resort to the ostrich approach and that all shall pass with the wind.

It’s time that we become honest and stop this selective anger.

What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.

* Sepotokele is a journalist, media trainer and communication strategist. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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