Editorial: Our dishonesty harms journalism

 

 

Journalism is in a dangerous moment: our work is crucial as different forces vie for control over this country and the ability to turn the levers of patronage, but our ethics are being called into question, sometimes rightfully so.

We cannot ignore this and carry on as usual, expecting that people will understand that what we do, we do for the good of South Africa. We must confront our failings and be better.

And we need to tell you — the people who give us your time and attention — where we fail and what we are doing about it.

Our starting point must be the morass of grey areas that we’ve created. Right now, someone who does work for European-based aid agencies also writes about those agencies. An environmental reporter, who writes about the need to trade rhino horn, is also working for a company that trades in that horn. And people who worked on political campaigns, crafting a message to make people vote a certain way, can walk into media and assume the protected titles that come with the profession.

Little of this is disclosed to our readers. Instead, we publish and call it the “truth”.


The press code — which we sign up to — makes our responsibility pretty clear: “The media’s work is guided at all times by the public interest, understood to describe information of legitimate interest or importance to citizens.”

In South African law, the critical role of journalism means we are granted legal protections that are reserved for few professions. Our Constitution recognises that we must be able to question those in power. Without this, politicians and companies would be able to do so much more damage to all of us.

But rights come with responsibilities.

We too often fail to live up to those responsibilities. In PR work, for example, we justify this ethical breach because the broken economic model of journalism doesn’t allow people to support their families. This is the same argument that people in the now-broken parastatals use when asked how they stood aside and allowed our energy, school, water and health systems to be destroyed — job security above all else.

Actions like this allow politicians to dismiss exhaustive investigative work, because they know our ethical failings and can so easily question our credibility. Actions like this are why people don’t want to pay for information. And, if we don’t do better, these actions will allow people to muzzle the media, regulating us into silence.

Then everyone loses.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

South Africa must revisit and refresh its idea of itself

Covid has propelled citizens into feelings of a new shared identity in which the historical force of ‘whiteness’ is fading into irrelevance

Institutions of higher learning should commemorate their casualties

The bust of Matikweni Nkuna at Tshwane University of Technology is an example of how we should honour those who fought for equal access to education

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — that may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast.

Deconstructing South Africa’s construction industry performance

The construction industry has contracted sharply, partly due to Covid, and needs to rebalance its focus if it wants to survive

Editorial: SA will be bankrupted by looters

The chickens have finally come home to roost: if we do not end the looting, it will end us

‘Elusive Spring’ reveals South Africa today

Mike van Graan’s 2012 political thriller comes to life again ― and its themes are more relevant than ever
Advertising

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

Fifteen witnesses for vice-chancellor probe

Sefako Makgatho University vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mbati had interdicted parliament last month from continuing with the inquiry

Constitutional Court ruling on restructuring dispute is good for employers

A judgment from the apex court empowers employers to change their workers’ contracts — without consultation

Audi Q8: Perfectly cool

The Audi Q8 is designed to be the king in the elite SUV class. But is it a victim of its own success?

KZN officials cash in on ‘danger pay for Covid-19’

Leadership failures at Umdoni local municipality in KwaZulu-Natal have caused a ‘very unhappy’ ANC PEC to fire the mayor and chief whip
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday