Media factions are now the source of our polarisation

Johannesburg – The ANC’s step-aside saga has opened the door for warring factions to manipulate the Fourth Estate in desperate attempts to gain the upper hand and sway public opinion.

A colleague had an interesting interaction last week with a cabinet minister. The newsman in question did what any other journalist would do – called the minister to seek his response to a story that involved him. The minister’s response was swift and telling: “Do you want me to step aside?” he asked the stunned journalist.

The minister’s response is telling on two scores: there is great paranoia in the governing party over the step-aside matter and politicians are aware the media can be used by factions in the party to paint certain leaders in a bad light.

It is trite that factions will try to use the media to promote their ideologies. A symbiotic, give-and-take relationship develops between journalists and rival groups.

The past few months have seen some media houses capitulate and allow their platforms to be weaponised by ANC factions to pursue their nemesis, all in the hope to make the step-aside circle bigger.

We have a sizable portion of our mainstream media that is no longer hiding its lack of objectivity and whose bias is growing more extreme by the day.

In this regard, these news outlets have acted irresponsibly and defined themselves as members of certain factions, only interested in ensuring the longevity of their preferred politicians.

As a key cog in democracy, we owe our readers fair reporting that interrogates the information “sources” pass onto us.

We must do so, to avoid being newsroom extensions of factions in any political party. Political writers are known for their byline more than for the publication they work for.

They have to build trust largely by their own efforts. Old hands or “political animals”, as some refer to themselves, need to guide bright talent that has limited experience in dealing with wily politicians.

The quest for objectivity in the industry was an attempt to carve out an area of public information and judgment that the public can rely on.

And it’s well worth preserving at a time when it is under attack from both left and right.

The ethics of the media can be questioned on many levels including a failure to report unbiased; spinning stories to advance the cause of their “chosen” candidate, and even colouring the questions asked during political debates.

These are all issues newsrooms must confront or ignore at their peril.

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