Joe Thloloe reflects on the state of journalism

Journalism.
Journalism.
Image: 123RF/mearicon

From atop a hill at his home in Constantia Kloof in Roodepoort, veteran journalist Joe Thloloe has been observing a storm sweeping through the media in the comfort of his study room.

He takes a moment to reflect on the state of journalism today by explaining the importance of the adoption of the Constitution in 1996 that vindicated all the sufferings that he and many black journalists endured during apartheid.

“Working as a journalist now and before 1994 is like comparing day and night, that's the good news,” he says

“The bad news is that as a society we don't quite understand the meaning of freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Even some of the people who wrote the Constitution don't understand the implications of what they wrote.”

Thloloe explains that the Constitution gives every South African a right to freedom of expression as as long it doesn't violate somebody else's rights.

“But we ran into a number of problems and the first one is technology went way ahead of us. Every South African has a little box in his pocket. He is his own reporter, own sub editor, own distributor and everything else that used to be the terrain of the big boys,” he explains further.

“The people who are using their technology very often don't understand the power that they wield. So we are getting people using Tweets, people using Facebook and violating the rights of others. It's become a very noisy space where you're not even sure if what you're reading is true or false.

"We've moved into the age of fake news. By the way it can't be fake and be news at the same time. You’re getting people who are not bound by any ethical standards and they don't even know the legislative boundaries that they need to respect.”

It is in this space, Thloloe says, that journalism lost its credibility.  He cites the complete collapse of the old economic model of the media as one of the factors.

In fact Thloloe says, it is “just by God's grace that we still have print media today”.

“There are people and and organisations that are fighting hard to maintain the old ethical standards , your Press Council, your BCCSA but their work is cut out for them because they are also making their noises against the background of general tumult,” he adds.

“I think that journalists are still doing some outstanding work, we should never ever forget that. If it wasn't because of them we wouldn't have known about Nkandla, we wouldn't have known about VBS , we wouldn't have known about state capture, that's the work of journalists.

“So they continue to do what they are traditionally good at. But the problem is that people forget all the good work that journalists have been doing and they will look at one bad example and that becomes the large picture that they have in their heads about the media.

“The nature of democracy is that it is very noisy, uncontrollable and messy.

We are going to emerge on the other side of this revolution and we will be able to discern what is true and what isn't true.”

Thloloe is an eternal optimist whose reflections on  journalism are peppered with messages of hope and measured critique.  He insists that the basic principles of journalism remain the same as they were in 1945.

I think that journalists are still doing some outstanding work, we should never ever forget that. If it wasn't because of them we wouldn't have known about Nkandla, we wouldn't have known about VBS , we wouldn't have known about state capture, that's the work of journalists

“I don't want to sound like the old man who is saying today's youngsters don't know what they are doing but what makes me sometimes think and reflect is that today's journalists have more tools than we heard during our time. You can look at your internet, we didn't have it. You've got access to the world library, I mean you go to Google you will find any information you need, so the tools are there. The quality of journalism should be much better than it was,” he said.

His only major gripe is that diversity of voices at the commercial level of media is not what it should be.  He says many black entrepreneurs who came in the media space came to realize that they could make more money selling canned beans than newspapers.

“I could get the whole list starting from Nthato Motlana…An economic model has to be reworked that says you don't go into the media because you want to make money, you go in for other reasons. Until we get to that point we will continue to have very skewed ownership patterns,” he says.

“But at the small level there should be other voices that are coming in. Where are the black bloggers? Where are the people who give their story without having to depend on the big commercial returns? Why can't we marshall these voices to be able to get another view of the world. The problem lies with us as black community.” 

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