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True colours: Radio debate on ethics in journalism gets heated

Marianne Thamm’s opinion piece on the Daily Maverick website titled: “True colours shining through: Should journalists be draping themselves in party political colours?” sparked a heated debate both on SAfm radio discussion, Forum at 8 and on social media. 

Thamm was responding to pictures posted on Facebook of Independent Newspapers’ group executive editor Karima Brown and Independent’s group editor of opinion and analysis, Vukani Mde, decked out in ANC-branded clothing attending the party’s 103rd birthday celebrations in Cape Town last weekend. 

Mail & Guardian deputy editor Moshoeshoe Monare, who was one of the guests on the SAfm show along with Beeld editor Adriaan Basson, expressed his views about journalists who are politically affiliated. Monare said wearing the clothing of a particular party makes it difficult for other parties to relate to you as a journalist because of the conflict of interest.

Monare said journalists’ credibility is earned through public opinion. He stressed that, “If you are going to openly nail your colours to a particular political party by wearing its regalia, how then do you expect other parties to relate to you? For example, if you openly support the DA or the EFF, how do you expect the ANC to treat you? 

“The second problem is that when you become a member of a political party, you are expected to adhere to the discipline of that political party, then there will be a clear conflict of interest between your role as a professional journalist and a member and a sympathiser of that party. There must be that distinction,” Monare said. “Remember, as journalists, we derive our credibility from what people think of us.”

‘Uncomfortable’
Basson, who was also a guest on the programme, condemned journalists who wear political party colours. He says when he saw the picture of Brown and Mde he was uncomfortable. “When I saw those pictures, there was something inside me … that was uncomfortable. We as journalists at least have to try to be fair and balanced.”

As Basson was trying to explain why he was not comfortable wearing political party colours, Brown, who was initially invited to participate in the show but declined due to other commitments, phoned in and challenged Basson. She asked: “What are you exactly uncomfortable with, Adriaan?”

SAfm presenter Sakina Kamwendo tried to handle the matter and Basson finally got a chance to explain. Basson stated that in journalism perception is absolutely everything. “I was uncomfortable because of the fact that senior media leaders and colleagues where openly associating themselves with the colours of a political party. I was wondering what does that mean. I haven’t been able to get a clear answer.”

Things got personal
Brown who stated that she had a mouth operation and that she couldn’t stay long, said: “I want to stress this point, both Adriaan and Moshoeshoe make it very clear who they are in their writing without having to wear the colours of any political party.”

She then defended herself. 

“I think the key issue here is not whether we don ANC colours or not. Is whether our professional ability to do our work as journalists are being impaired because we happen to have political views.”

Social media reactions
As expected, social media users took the discussion further on Twitter. Some users were fascinated while others had no problem with journalists being associated with any political party.

Other users had mixed reactions to Brown comments on the programme. Superbeans80 @BlessinSibusiso Tweeted:

Eusebius McKaiser @Eusebius thought Sakina handled the show very well.

Listen to the full podcast.

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Sthembiso Sithole
Sthembiso Sithole is a social media specialist. He recently studied BA Honours in Journalism and Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 2014, he obtained his journalism qualification at Tshwane University of Technology. He has achieved so much, and there are tons more he dreams of accomplishing. He has written for The Star, was a blogger for JournTau, worked at SABC as a Digital News Producer and was formerly the Mail & Guardians social media editor.

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