By Pinky Khoabane
The Citizen reported this morning that Minister of Social Development and ANC Women’s League addressed a crowd “allegedly drunk”.
And so how does this apartheid mouthpiece know this?
“According to those who were reportedly in attendance at the event at the Germiston Civic Centre in Ekurhuleni on Friday, the minister was allegedly “unsteady on her feet'”. This paper couldnt even confirm that its sources were indeed at the event. They were “reportedly” (just another word for allegedly) there which leaves doubt in the mind of the reader whether they were there or not. And who reportedly made these allegations? The most powerful source of today’s newspapers no doubt – the anonymous source.
The paper continues: “Some people reportedly left without seeing her as she was three hours late and those who were patient enough to wait for her were not impressed with her speech as it was unrelated to the topic at hand.” Just when you’d expect that her speech would be described as slurred as proof of the headline – No, it was just allegedly not in line with the expectations of those who “reportedly remained.” You’d think the reader would be told what topic she was expected to deliver and what she presented but facts must never stand in the way of gossip and such information may just do that.
And what is the evidence of the minister’s drunk behaviour then?
She was “allegedly unsteady on her feet” is the only evidence advanced by the Citizen. Oh, there was another incident where she allegedly cried at an election campaign for being “disrespected” which left some “wondering if she was drunk”. Notice how allegedly has been replaced with “wondering if”?
If there was a word more misused in journalism it is “alleged”. It has ceased to be a phrase used to protect the rights of an accused in a crime but is now being used to avoid litigation by lazy journalists and newspapers hell-bent on smearing individuals. Even in the case of an accused, once it’s known he’s the perpetrator, it can no longer be alleged. Murderer Oscar Pistorius remained an alleged killer for days – even after his confession that he had killed Reeva Steenkamp. And so the media will selectively use this word when it protects its blue-eyed idols and to vilify its enemies.
To allege means making claims without offering proof. And so to put an adverb allegedly or adjective alleged in front of negative characterisation of an individual doesnt make the damnation any lesser.
A closer inspection of The Citizen’s story shows the extent to which the journalist went to smear Dlamini.
Dlamini was “allegedly unsteady on her feet”. The point is she either was or she was not and because there is no further proof, the Citizen decided to cover its tracks and use the word alleged. I’m not a lawyer but this statement would not stand in a court of law.
While the usage of this word may keep journalists out of court, it does nothing for the accuracy of the story and credibility of newspapers and that is if there is still such a thing as credibility and integrity in newspapers. The losers are the victims of the alleged incidents who have no means of recourse. The paper will print a small apology somewhere in the inside pages and if Dlamini approaches the press ombudsman, The Citizen will have a small slap on the wrist by way of an apology but by then, the perception has been made that Dlamini is a drunkard.