Opinionista Mbuyiseni Ndlozi 18 October 2015

The quality of news reports and reporters in South Africa is deteriorating

A worrying trend emerged in the manner in which media reported on the African National Congress's national general council. The ruling party typically told lies and claimed easy victories, which none of the reporters dared expose. Some of the television channels even revealed their cluelessness about basic terminology, which political reporters should be familiar with, in what was pure folly yet was presented in jest.

The recent national general council (NGC) of the African National Congress (ANC) confirmed many things about the ideological directionlessness of the ruling party and its qualitative and quantitative decline as captured in their own reports. (This requires a substantial analysis in another column.)

But it also revealed a worrying trend in the manner in which political reports from various news agencies and streams reported on the NGC. Some of the television channels went so far as to reveal their cluelessness about basic terminology, which political reporters should be familiar with, in what was pure folly yet was presented in jest.

Throughout the NGC, the ruling party typically told lies and claimed easy victories, which none of the reporters dared expose. Let us look at some of the incidents, which should have been exposed.

  1. Gwede Mantashe’s press conference on membership numbers:

During the press conference to announce the decline in membership, ANC secretary-general Mantashe kept saying that ANC membership numbers have increased in all coastal provinces, and declined in all inland provinces. This is factually incorrect because according to the numbers that were in the possession of most journalists and were circulating on social networks, ANC membership declined in both coastal and inland provinces, with the biggest decline being a coastal province, KwaZulu-Natal.

  1. Mantashe’s numerical analysis of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF):

When responding to a question on whether he attributes the ANC’s membership decline to the emergence of the EFF, Mantashe said:

  1. The EFF does not exist in all provinces;
  2. In the provinces in which the EFF exists, there are certain townships where they are dominant, like Tembisa in Gauteng; and
  3. The Congress of the People (Cope) had more voters than the EFF, and had 37 seats in the National Assembly.

None of the journalists questioned these assertions despite the fact that they are utterly false. For instance:

  1. The EFF is represented in all provincial legislatures, yet journalists allowed a secretary of a political party to say it does not exist in all provinces;
  2. The case of Gauteng is laughable, because the EFF got 11% of the vote in Tshwane (144,000 votes), 10% of the vote in Johannesburg (166,000), and 10% in Ekurhuleni (144,000 votes), yet Mantashe was allowed to say that the EFF only exists in Tembisa; and
  3. Cope never had 37 seats in the National Assembly, and comparing Cope to the EFF is disingenuous because Cope was founded by the political elite, which included a former deputy president of the country, former ministers, premiers, prominent businessmen and businesswomen, renowned academics, formidable preachers with huge congregations, and even a president of South Africa’s largest Trade Union federation.

None of the journalists was able to offer a closer reading of Mantashe’s poor reading of the political dynamics and situation in South Africa.

The senior newspaper, television, and radio reporters who attended ANC media briefings were told lies on many occasions and none of them could question the ANC leaders in relation to many political and ideological questions relating to what was resolved in previous conferences. None of the journalists asked about the establishment of the state-owned mining and pharmaceutical companies, resolutions of previous conferences and councils of the ruling party. The 53rd national conference of the ruling party resolved that those facing charges should step aside from leadership positions and many of their leaders are facing charges, but they are part of the leadership collective.

  1. City Press report on ANC membership decline:

In its front-page report, the City Press tried to pay closer attention to the ANC’s membership decline and concluded by saying: “All in all, the ANC lost 430,130 members, a 20% fall.” Now the, the City Press was in possession of the official organisational report of the ANC when writing this story, and that report says the total ANC membership by the 53rd national conference in 2012 was 1,220,057, and by the 2015 NGC, the membership was 769,870. The decline is therefore 450,187, not 430,130 as reported by the City Press, and as such is definitely not a 20% decrease. It is 34% decrease. How the City Press came to these numbers in the manner it did escapes our imagination.

  1. City Press report on the nationalisation of mines debate:

In their report about the nationalisation of mines, the same journalists who wrote the story about the membership decline said: “Julius Malema’s then ANC Youth League fought fiercely for the party to adopt nationalisation as policy, but was defeated at the last NGC in Durban in 2010, as well as the Mangaung conference.” This is the most bizarre of the mediocrity institutionalised in the City Press, and required a closer reading of the official ANC NGC 2010 Report which is available in its website. This report by the ANC, not the ANC Youth League or the EFF, says on the nationalisation of mines: “There was greater consensus in the commission on the nationalisation of mines and other strategic sectors of the economy. The NGC therefore mandated the NEC (national executive committee) to ensure further work be done, including research, study tours and discussions, and to report to the policy conference for (a) decision at (the) national conference in 2012.”

How a “greater consensus on nationalisation of mines and other strategic sectors of the economy” is translated to mean defeat in the last NGC in Durban in 2010 by the City Press escapes our imagination. What this means is that the City Press journalists and editors have not read the 2010 ANC NGC Report, and write stories from their imaginations.

  1. Sunday Sun’s report about Malema’s engagement with AKA and Cassper Nyovest

Tabloid newspapers often write sensational and alarmist stories that do not reflect reality, but the case of the Sunday Sun is extremely bizarre. For reasons not known to us , the Sunday Sun created a fiction of EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema addressing students about the “dissing tracks” and the “beef” between AKA and Cassper Nyovest, which ends with him calling them to a meeting. This was a figments of the journalist and editors’ imaginations, and we explained that when we rebutted the claims.

How did we get here?

The reason why journalists and news reporters always produce lousy reports about the ruling party is because they do not pay in-depth attention to the detailed political dynamics and documents of the ruling party and all political parties. Media in South Africa pays scant attention to details and only looks forward to sound-bites.

The other aspect is that journalists always aspire to join the gravy train of the ANC, as over-compensated government spokespersons and directors. In the recent past, journalists who sometimes acted as if they were true journalists in pursuit of objective truth have moved from the media to the ANC government. This was the case with journalists such as Vusi Mona (City Press editor to South African National Roads Agency spokesperson), Makhudu Sefara (Sunday Independent editor to Johannesburg City Council spokesperson), Clayson Monyela (e.tv News reporter to spokesperson for Maite-Nkoana Mashabane in all her government deployments), Xoli Mngambi (eNews reporter to spokesperson for Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane and back to eNews reporter), Sandile Memela (journalist then Department of Arts and Culture spokesperson and now South African Revenue Service spokesperson), Thabo Mokone (Sunday Times reporter and now ANC caucus media liaison officer).

Journalism and news reporting in South Africa are nothing but a stepping stone to a more lucrative government job, so journalists ignore facts which expose the ruling party because they consider the ruling party their future employer. So it is possible that while we believe we have journalists in South Africa, we really have only have job-seekers in newsrooms, looking for government jobs and contracts to improve their lives.

There are substantial transformation issues that should be dealt with in South Africa’s media, particularly as it relates to ownership and control by established white monopolies and cartels, but the transformation of the journalists and news reporters constitutes a critical component of media transformation. The mediocrity that defines the ruling party in terms of thought, strategies, plans, and in-depth attention to detail seems to have engulfed all of the media houses. DM

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