Patriotic journalists build a strong democracy
THE HERALD newspaper in Port Elizabeth this week carried an interview with African National Congress regional chairman Nceba Faku.
In it he said the media's "obsession with consistently portraying ANC leaders as inefficient and corrupt fat cats was the biggest threat to South Africa's hard-earned democracy".
Faku also questioned the patriotism of black journalists. It seems he expects black journalists to be more sympathetic to politicians and the ruling party.
During apartheid black journalists were often put under pressure to declare where we stood in relation to the struggle and what was termed national interest. We made it quite clear that we were in the first instance black, members of our communities and then only, journalists.
Apartheid structures demanded "objectivity", saying black journalists should write "facts" - meaning as they saw it.
We refused, for example, to refer to the liberation movement as "terrorists" and to publish apartheid government justification for cross-border raids, which they called "hot pursuit" acts.
We were told we were unpatriotic. Many of us were jailed and detained without trial and the government denied that the detentions had anything to do with our role as journalists.
Faku recently called for the burning down of The Herald' s offices because he objected to reports in Avusa newspapers. He has a constitutional right to freedom of expression, b ut that freedom does not give him the right to make inflammatory statements.
Newspapers must reach an audience to survive. It is a product and readers have a choice to buy a publication or not.
So what is patriotism, and how does it fit into the greater scheme of things regarding news dissemination?
We are asked to mask over the unsavoury behaviour of politicians and other leaders. We are asked to ignore stories of government, but it is not us , but also instruments of government that expose politicians and business people's criminal activity and bad judgment .
It is because journalists are patriotic that this information is published. Keeping quiet does not build democracy, but erodes it. Not publishing corruption is a threat to democracy. A responsible press must pursue the truth and ensure that citizens are given full value for their effort at electing government officials.
Often editors must decide to publish or not. The "publish and be damned" mantra has given way to rational debates and consideration. This does not mean editors have given up their right for free expression and their responsibility to inform of events that influence people's lives.
We must publish information that serves society, represent readers and be a watchdog over the group newspapers' journalistic integrity through greater focus on accuracy and fairness, thereby improving the relationship between newspapers and readers.