By Pinky Khoabane
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s exit has exposed the shoddy standard of journalism in South Africa. Journalists’ code of ethics – accuracy, fact checking, balance, and fairness – have all been thrown out of the window in the desperate attempt to be the first to break the story – whatever the agenda of the day may be. The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema has become the source of the Zuma Exit stories, with journalists camping on his Twitter account for whatever juicy stories he spews. His opinions are not checked for factual accuracy and his motives not scrutinised. His word has become sacrosanct. More depressing than the shenanigans around the exit itself or non-thereof, is the confirmation of pack journalism by one Pieter Du Toit in a Twitter spat between Parliament’s spokesperson Moloto Mothapo and him and another journalist.
In a desperate attempt to sway news and manipulate the views of citizens, the past week has been about a barrage of fake news – with the African National Congress (ANC) and some of its structures like the Mkhonto We Sizwe Veterans Association (MKVA) and government spokespeople having to issue rebuttals which have in rare occasions, been followed by media retractions. From speculation about when Zuma was resigning and his demands, to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit and Zuma’s poisoned liver, fake news has been the order of the day!
But one conversation that caught my interest was one between Mothapo and two journalists on the subject of a clear lie that ended as a news report.
Yesterday, Mothapo issued a statement refuting an article about an alleged decision by Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete with respect to the EFF’s demand that the motion of no confidence in Zuma be brought forward.
“Reports that Speaker has rejected EFF’s request for the No Confidence Motion to be scheduled earlier than 22 Feb are fake news. Speaker has not responded yet, but she’s treating the matter with urgency. She will reply soon”.
“It’s not fake news. It was information given to us by an EFF MP and the party’s spokesperson Mbuyesini Ndlozi. Your comment is irresponsible and unwarranted,” retorted Du Toit. Well, what of that requirement in journalism that the other party must be consulted before an article is published – right of reply it’s called?
SABC’s Sherwyn Bryce-Pease couldn’t be left out of the conversation, he was clearly what young people describe as “catching feelings”.
“Fake news” is the intentional aim of misleading. Where the intent is to manipulate the facts for whatever ulterior motive. Let’s be careful when we use that term. It’s undermining journalism everywhere”.
“What do you call publishing of inaccurate information attributed to a source without first ascertaining with that source? Isn’t it what undermines journalism everywhere?”
“We, as did other media, quoted the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who is part of the opposition driving this issue. Is he therefore lying?”
How shoddy. As I’ve said above, the opinion of Malema is not questioned and here Du Toit confirms exactly that. Despite the no confidence campaign being waged by several opposition parties, only Ndlozi’s side had seemingly been used in the article. Journalism’s code of ethics prescribes that several sources be consulted on a story and this fake news illustrates the importance. Du Toit would have had to speak to one of the other members in the opposition to corroborate what Ndlozi said and then give Mbete the right of reply.
He also confirms a very dangerous practice in South Africa’s journalism – pack journalism which is news reporting in which reporters from different news outlets collaborate to cover the same story from same sources and from same angles, leaving news articles homogenous. This is why you can wake up to find headlines which are exactly the same in most media.
Instead of addressing the gaping violation of the journalistic code, the journalists attempt to use semantics. “Call it something else,” Bryce-Pease pleads.
“Call it something else, don’t misappropriate terminology. Call it incorrect, wrong, bad form, demand a retraction, correction but ‘fake news’ is something specific where the author’s aim is to misdirect purposefully”.
Never in this conversation does Bryce-Pease condemn his fellow journalists on violating the code of their trade’s ethics. They used only one source and admit to it. Somewhere in the conversation, Du Toit retorts:
“And maybe you could pick up your phone when we call for comment…” If this were the case, why didnt he posit this as his original excuse for only writing Ndlozi’s side of the story?
“So if you believe the journalists here purposefully went about trying to skew the facts for some or other nefarious purpose, then call it fake news”.
Well let’s see where this idea ends when the truth is that either Nldozi or the journalists concerned lied.
The question that should rather be directed to Du Toit is why he didnt follow the rules of his trade, but such a question would not bode well for a discussion that seeks to show that there were no bad intentions in writing this inaccurate story and that the government spokesperson is over-reacting.
“It’s actually astounding you’d gang up against me for merely raising an ethical issue u should be defending yourselves. Even EFF has confirmed Speaker has not responded”.
This is information that should not have come from a journalist, as it ruins the plot – the narrative held in the media that Mbete protects Zuma.
So where did Du Toit get the story? Is the publication that Mbete refused to respond to the EFF still a genuine mistake with no nefarious intentions? Look at what Du Toit says when confronted with the news that his story is a lie.
“No use in engaging with you in public. Good day”. No apology then? No retraction?
Just Some Of The Zexit Fake News
The Presidency has denied reports that a deal has been struck between the ANC and President Zuma to pave the way for his exit – describing it as Fake News“
Reports of President Zuma’s resignation dismissed as “fake news”
So all the screaming headlines of yesterday Sunday newspapers about the NEC having taken a decision to remove Zuma by tomorrow were all fake news
Last night eNCA’s site carried apparently #fakenews that Putin coming to visit Zuma tomorrow. Now they’ve taken down the story. But no retraction. Explain please
According to fake news by WMC media, Jacob Zuma was recalled last night and Nhlanhla Nene is the new chair of the board of Eskom. We in fiction land proper. They often mistake their wishes for reality.