Denis Beckett said it best: “50-million South Africans had a normal day yesterday does not make for a good headline”, but that is the biggest truth. Do we need to know what is going on, going wrong, going awry, and going missing – absolutely. But if we don’t know equally what is going right, going well and is growing strong then we don’t know the truth. And the news is worthless if it does not give us as much hope as it does horror – because that is the truth.
The daily dilemma I face? Should I choose to be ‘informed’ by the whirlwind of opinion available everywhere or should I just blinker myself down to what I can cope with?
And what a small minded, middle class whine is that? I’m not living through some nightmare horror of World War, or Rwanda in 1994, but I still feel paralysed. Why? Because between Brexit, the Baghdad bombing, and the burning of Tshwane – what is the truth? The truth is definitely more complex than any news report can possibly cover in three minutes, or a 1,000 words. Just getting to the facts is hard enough.
For example, the amount of “free publicity” that Julius Malema has received via air time, headlines and column inches (online and in print) has painted him as a South African political earthquake off the Richter scale. He has been allowed to dominate headlines. For eight years he has been used by the media to “sell’ whatever it is they are selling – mainly advertising and hot air. Once the “opinion” script is in place, everyone sticks to it.
So let’s look at the facts and at the moment the only facts we have are the weekly Ipsos polls about the forthcoming elections in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay.
Where are Julius and the EFF in the poll? Still wandering around 10%, with a negativity rating that remains unchanged at over 50%. The EFF are the least trusted party of the three main parties. If the coverage Juju and the beret brigade has received in the last year was “the truth” then he would be dominating in the polls.
On the other hand, reading about the DA over the last two years you would be hard put to find one article in the last two years that did not say something to the effect that “the DA is struggling to connect to the black voter”. Those same Ipsos polls (and by the way, check out how IPSOS break down who they interviewed and what they were asked – it is breath of fresh, balanced air) reveal that the DA seems to be achieving the opposite of what the media has reported for the last two years. They are connecting exactly with their target market.
So how is that? Because to paraphrase Richard Poplak, “The news ain’t worth shit”. And why is that? Because how the news is reported “is up to shit”. And no, I am not just pointing at the SABC here, but at solid mainstream media everywhere. The only exception is the Daily Sun who at least make us laugh every day with another world-class street poster.
Instead, with each news event, the facts are drowned in opinions, most of them aimed to adrenalise us to the point of addiction. The whole media cycle is like some drunken middle-class dinner party where we feel we have to contribute so we all wade in wielding our weightiest words. And as we terrorise each other it starts to feel so real, we end up believing it must be real. It isn’t. It is just hype.
And of course that isn’t the whole truth because without the media we would not know about SAA’s ongoing disaster, and the ‘un-official’ Nuclear deal, and the Guptas etc. Because the Fourth Estate is as vital to a democratic and strong country as are the courts. Except for one thing: they are not held accountable when they use headlines to manipulate the nervous animal that is the national subconscious.
Have the British media held up their hands and said we are partly to blame for Brexit because we played the story, and helped turn an inevitable “remain vote” into a surprise “leave vote”, wiping trillions of dollars off the world economy and plunging their nation into a political and economic crisis which will play out in sad stories of ordinary citizens for years to come?
Has the SA media said “wea culpa” (I have no Latin so I just invented a new phrase; and why not, everyone else does?) we are partly responsible for Jacob Zuma as President because the amount of oxygen we gave him after his removal as Deputy President gave him more power than he actually had? The Deadliest Dancing Daddy of them all hardly went a week without “claiming the news”, even when he had no official position, no power, no money, and no Guptas.
Has the American media owned up to the fact that the reason they have a fat, fatuous, fact-falsifying, fable-fabricating, fear-fostering fornicator as the Grand Old Party’s Presumptive Presidential Nominee is because they gave him everything he needed to win the primary? They sold him as the “viable maverick”. The Republican party didn’t want him, the press did – because he made good news! Shame on them, and shame on us for believing them.
We are addicted to crisis – and every single one of us who writes, talks or presents that fiction is responsible. So let’s go cold turkey, and let’s trust the facts.
Who knows – we may just make the world feel a little bit safer, and I for one would be really, really grateful. DM