Friday, September 25, 2020

Dirty journalists and the rights of citizens

Ahem…I have heard it said that if a chap keeps stubble he either fancies himself a dude and therefore wants to impress the fairer lot or he is simply an unpleasant chap who cares little about his looks but more for his swashbuckling attitude.
I tend to equate some members of the press with the latter. Caring less about their physical appearance and professional integrity, they are, to me, irresponsibly pugilistic and pugnacious when dealing with certain matters. They are masters of the art of eroding any public sympathy the media may have left.

In one of his addresses last year, an exasperated Tony Blair referred to such journalists as feral beasts.

Thus as the new year begins, and not knowing the kind of treatment that will be meted out by the press in the year 2008, we, the people, may thus have reason to be downcast and pained.
This section of the press, therefore, must, as we begin yet another year, think hard about what their true calling demands of them: honesty, respectability, integrity and, I dare add, predictability.

Interestingly though, when the rights of the press are vitiated, members of that profession protest the loudest but when they undermine the rights of the public, you hardly hear any self-criticism. This, therefore, is the genesis of my argument, so fresh in the year, unpopular as it may become.

Nonetheless, that the press, however constrained or free, whether in a dictatorship or democracy, plays an important role in fostering the principles of the spirit of republicanism is not in doubt.

But the feeling of indispensability has turned a section of the press corps into latter day bully boys.
In my view, the public itself is guilty of being paranoid of the press thus unwittingly contributing to the view by some members of that profession that they can “write what they like”.

It is little wonder, therefore, that on occasions such as World Press Day many placate the press, more out of fear than reverence. The press is oft regaled with tales of how crucial its presence is to our lives and that without it, we would be floundering. On such occasions, our leaders deliver speeches punctuated with platitudes but knowing that deep down in their hearts, they do not believe in them. This is an odd conundrum indeed.

Only late last year at the State House did we hear The President of the Republic telling the press like it is, departing from the usual mumbo jumbo placebo.

The abuse of their role of consciences of Society creates an innate fear in citizens who view the lot of journalists as undesirable elements. So, as journalists in Botswana join some of us in coming up with resolutions for the year, they ought also to reflect on whether it is appropriate to trample upon the rights of ordinary folk under their guise of pursuing their practice.

They are needlessly adept at taking pleasure in poking mullock at hapless members of the public.
Some media houses also create the impression that they believe themselves to be infallible in the manner that they acknowledge wrongs against the public.

Almost every week innocent folk are wrongfully harangued by the press through ill-informed articles, some of which are clandestinely vindictive. To demand or to coax an apology out of the press becomes an uphill struggle. If the apology does come, it is muted and not given the same prominence as the scandalous story.
The apology is in most cases tucked neatly away in some corner of the newspaper.

In trampling the rights of citizens with impunity, the press leaves itself to be described as arrogant, vindictive, untrustworthy and simply out of touch with the values which inform good social relations and thus bind us together as a people.

If truth be told, journalists are not any different from the rest of us. The way an average journalist reads situations and the conclusions they reach are not dissimilar to the way an average person does the same. Journalists are as much at a loss about what is happening as the ordinary person is and yet, some of them would have us believe otherwise.
The impoliteness with which some journalists “interview” citizens is also a matter of grave disquiet. On occasion, some ordinary folk are disadvantaged by being rushed into providing an ill-conceived response because the newspaper is “chasing a deadline”.

Therefore, while we have the opportunity, we must also complain, should we not , about the destructive direction some of our papers have taken. Zigging and zagging all over the place at the expense of the truth is unhelpful.

There are sections devoted to cataloguing allegations of lewed conduct by some citizens. News houses are well aware of the harm they cause those that they target for one finds disclaimers on such papers dissociating the “reports” from the Management and Publishers. One finds it incomprehensible that newspapers should profiteer from violating the rights of citizens while at the same time putting a wedge between themselves and the story. This, perhaps, points to the quality, or lack thereof, of the country’s investigative journalists.

It is however interesting that the indiscretions of journalists never make it to such pages. Perhaps they are not prone to lapses as the rest of us. This selective reportage, nonetheless, ought to be seen as an act of professional banditry.

A certain Bonang Sekhobe writing in the Botswana Gazette of 14-20 November 2007 under the heading “Too much power in the hands of the media” lamented that “we have heard about the media being self-regulatory through media ethic (sic) but it does not help. Press council is there, MISA codes of ethical (sic) are in existence but still our media continue to perform far below the social and professional expectations”.

Sekhobe may well have been right and could also have been echoing the sentiments of a significant number of people. That writer also labeled the Press Council and MISA incapable of living up to their roles. I am reproducing that sentiment here for noting.

So, as journalists consistently guard the right to do their job without being harassed we too must demand that in going about their work, they must respect our rights. Writing in The New York Times on 22 April 2005 Nicholas D. Kristof in “A slap in the Face” says that the safety net for journalists is public approval. It is the press’s support system. However, some members of the local press, it would appear, do not believe this analysis to be the case.

Perhaps we should lobby for a regulatory mechanism to force journalists to be professional. Then again, journalists do not like being told what to do. Try and regulate their work like lawyers, accountants and medical professionals, you are suddenly viewed as inimical to the ideals of freedom. Journalists believe themselves to be able to regulate their conduct in a manner which is not antagonistic to the social order. A cursory glance at the evidence from 2007 and before that, however, points in the opposite direction.

The profession and the bodies that purport to regulate it therefore need a thorough branch and root self-examination so that the space within which they operate is not abused by some journalists in 2008.


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