Esteemed journalism prof is guilty of double-speak

Like so many analysts and politicians, Caxton professor of journalism at Wits University Anton Harber has exposed himself as a master of double-speak.

Like so many analysts and politicians, Caxton professor of journalism at Wits University Anton Harber has exposed himself as a master of double-speak.

A fortnight ago Sowetan published an article that said President Kgalema Motlanthe was a lonely man. The story sought to put to rest speculations around Motlanthe's marital status.

Our article said that the president was sleeping like a monk because he and his wife had separated. The esteemed professor, on SAfm, lambasted Sowetan for "crossing the line".

He insisted that what went on in Motlanthe's private life was irrelevant because it had no bearing on his capacity to carry out his duties as state president. Fair enough.

"You have gone much further and discussed what goes on in his bedroom," he quipped, to the delight of those who think he knew better. Sad!

But little did the professor know that in later days, The Star and The Sunday Independent would follow up on our story and "get into the president's bedroom", to borrow from him.

These publications wrote that our First Citizen was rolling in the hay with two other women and that one of them, aged 24, was allegedly pregnant with his child. When he was invited on Morning Live on SABC2, I wanted to hear if he would stick to his guns and condemn the other publications. Paradoxically, the professor made a u-turn and defended the subsequent articles.

"In my view, I am afraid it is relevant to his character values and behaviour. The office of the first lady is supported by the taxpayer ... and to just leave it open and blank and not tell us anything was a mistake on the part of the president," he said, when asked about the relevance of such stories.

He went as far as to cite the scrutiny around Barack Obama in the run-up to the US elections and remarked: "The end result is that when Obama was elected we knew everything about him. There is no mystery, there is nothing hidden, there is nothing likely to come out because it would have come out from his enemies or his friends ..."

Following this sudden change of heart, I engaged the professor and he insisted his views have been consistent.

"One is entitled to invade the president's privacy if the information is relevant to his capacity to do his job. It is relevant to know who the first lady is.

"It is relevant if he is being hypocritical or dishonest. The Sowetan story did not deal with this. It took us into the bedroom and went into details which were not relevant and should remain private.

"The president - like all public figures - gives up some of his privacy when he chooses to become president because he has to be accountable to us. But it shouldn't be a free-for-all. We still have to respect his dignity. We have to show that what we publish is relevant to his character and values, and therefore his leadership, and is not just tabloid titillation.

"In my view, TheStar story about his multiple partners was relevant; the Sowetan story about him sleeping alone like a monk wasn't. It is a fine distinction, but an important one."

Clearly Harber knows something we don't. How is it that a story that says the president is cheating is holier than one that says the poor man is lonely?