The media mafia
15 June 2011
Sandile Memela, M&G ThoughtLeader
15 June 2011
Sandile Memela, M&G ThoughtLeader
I don’t know when it hit me but it was during my first year as a young reporter in 1985 when I had just joined City Press newspaper fresh from studying communications at Fort Hare University.
That was when I noticed that newspaper journalists, sub-editors, columnists and editors in every publication have, unavoidably, a particular political agenda.
Maybe it was how the paper identified and selected the high-flying personalities whose businesses had to be covered. Or maybe it was the angle adopted in covering a particular social responsibility donation to the community by a major corporation. Or it might have been the headline scripted for a particular story. I am not sure. But the more I got insight and understanding into how the news business network operates, I noticed that the news guys always had a specific political agenda.
Oh, let me state it categorically: there is no objectivity in journalism. I mean, the news business is a commercial enterprise with a particular political agenda to make profits. It is not to expose what is loosely called the truth or provide information and knowledge that will empower the mind of consumers.
In between attending meetings with corporate management and sitting in long sessions with cut-throat bean counters or accountants, the news guys and dolls have to put up a brave face of being committed to pursuit of the truth.
Most of the time, senior journalists and editors are monumentally self-delusional people who believe their own lies. Of course, they project the impression of being serious agents of change who influence developments and trends in society, especially at a political and economic level. But this is self-deception.
Most journalists are nothing but mere reporters who do as they are told and write stories that repeat everything said by so-called movers and shakers — without question.
This would sound like a contradictory statement except that people who know how the media operates will tell you that it is only a handful of guys and dolls in a news organisation that call the shots.
In fact, they operate like a mafia.
Or to be precise, they are a bunch of men who cling together like a herd of cattle to share notes, insights and perspectives on issues so that the news we listen to or read are, largely, the same.
They are not any different from a political faction in a party, for instance, whose primary agenda is not only to create a particular environment or perception but to determine who the leader should be and how to go about using the media network to undermine their integrity, if need be.
What this means is that the media can and will crush anyone that it does not approve of. Of course, it will go out of its way to establish what it considers to be facts: information that is factual, accurate, correct and truthful.
But all this is driven by a particular bias and agenda.
I would dare anyone to tell me that the South African National Editors’ Forum, for instance, is not a body with guidelines and principles which dictate how its members should act and behave?
We should bear in mind that if you belong to any organisation, you cannot truly exercise genuine freedom and independence as you will always be expected to toe the line and not bring the organisation into disrepute.
It is the same with the top dogs in the media: they do not like people who challenge their authority or do not do as they are told.
The biggest crime a journalist or columnist can commit is not only to expose the lies about objectivity but to bring it to the attention of the people that the media is run as a business pursuing profits. It is not about truth, justice and equality.
On this matter, all editors – no matter how courageous or principled – agree that they must deliver the profits by any means necessary. There is an incestuous relationship between the media, big business and politics, in some instances. It is here that you find wise guys and dolls that hold far into the night drinking sessions where they trade on information, insight and knowledge. Otherwise, how do journalists get their scoops?
If a journalist or columnist becomes too open about the family secrets, there is a good chance he will be rooted out of the system. And the excuse will be belt-tightening exercise to make more profits for the bosses.
This will be at the expense of truth.
Journalist and writer Sandile Memela is a civil servant. Known as one of South Africa's controversial columnists, he is the author of Flowers of the Nation (UKZN Press, 2005) which was the first book to treat the subject of Aids in fiction. His work has appeared in The Daily Dispatch, Pretoria News, The Argus, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, Sowetan, Sunday World, City Press and The Star, among others. He writes a regular column for The Daily Dispatch and Afro-Politan magazine and lives in Midrand.
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