The series about unethical journalism is aimed at helping journalists identify and resolve ethical issues relating to news reporting and storytelling. It is also designed to help news consumers to identify the red flags of unethical journalism. The aim is to help establish a stronger and more ethical media landscape. But what are media ethics
The Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media, effective from 30 September 2020, described how the media is guided at all times by the public interest, understood to describe information of legitimate interest or importance to citizens. This statement implies that the content of news reports should be in the interest of the wider public. It includes matters such as impartiality, objectivity, balance, bias, truthfulness and accuracy and the truth – when it comes to news reports. It also means that both sides of the story should be provided to allow the news consumer to conclude on the matter.
In a nutshell, it is about the importance that journalists should do the right thing when it comes to news reporting. It is important that news reporters should think critically and gain a deeper understanding of ethical principles. News reporters should verify facts and make sure that the sources of information are credible, otherwise the news report will be in jeopardy. It is the duty of a journalist to seek out the truth. Most importantly, a news reporter should not get too involved in the story or the news informants.
The impact of the media on public perception is massive. The media could prompt the news consumer to react in a certain way, influence individual views and beliefs, or increase a person’s knowledge. It can also reinforce or destroy an existing belief. The intentional spread of fake news, masked as news in the interest of the public, has escalated over the years, advancing a hidden agenda or generating advertorial revenues. False statements have become ‘alternative facts’, and the news industry has reached a new low now. Consumers simply can no longer trust the media, and the media should work harder to regain their trust.
We will continue to explore and demonstrate all the elements of ethical journalism in future articles.
THE CASE OF KWASIZABANTU MISSION
KwaSizabantu has been more than once on the receiving end of smear campaigns which turned into media onslaughts. The News24 coverage about them is a good case to use to expose the perils of disinformation. The most obvious tactic that the media used to destroy the Mission’s reputation, is that of labelling. In short, the Mission was labelled in the media as a cult where children are abused and women raped. The founder, Rev Erlo Stegen, was labelled as a cult leader. However, no unquestionable evidence was provided of any of the allegations they published about the Mission and its founder. The media repeated the same labels over and over again on different media outlets, and that in itself is a red flag. The investigative magazine, Noseweek, suggested that the editor-in-chief of News24 had an agenda in his coverage of the allegations due to the extraordinary amount of news reports on the Mission and the continuous repeat of the stories. (Follow the link: https://digital.lib.sun.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10019.2/16942/noseweek250.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=z)
The book, A Journey to the Truth, the Case of KwaSizabantu, describes all of the elements of a smear campaign which got the media involved in labelling KwaSizabantu. Context is very important so the news consumer can conclude and not be dragged into the perception or the truth of the news reporter. KwaSizabantu has been mistreated by the mainstream media tremendously when the context of their work was excluded. How they contribute to the community’s well-being was also excluded and this information is readily available on their official website, www.ksb.org . This way, the Mission was framed as a bad place with no good qualities. The media also omitted very critical information which they had readily available when they wrote about the false allegations.
NOTE: The writer of the article, Gerda Potgieter, published a book, A Journey to The Truth, the case of KwaSizabantu Mission. Gerda is a seasoned communicator and exposed unethical journalism in the book after researching unethical media practices, with specific references to the case of the Christian Mission. This series demonstrates how news consumers should be on the lookout for the red flags of unethical journalism. Journalists and future news reporters can learn from the series. The book is available on Amazon: eBook - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CC2V989F The book can also be bought from Christian Liberty Books in Cape Town.