Thursday, January 28, 2021

It’s sad in a way but the media is no longer taken seriously!

There is a substantial body of opinion which argues that for the greater part the media in Botswana has lost the plot.
Only a genuine form of introspection will save the day.

Not only are journalists looked at as out of touch, they are (rightly or wrongly) routinely accused of a lack of integrity and patriotism.

As a collective, the media are continuously maligned and disparaged for being the source of all despondency currently eating our society.
Everyday, the media is accused of being overly negative, of being unduly obsessed with sensationalism and turning a blind eye on the success stories that make up our society.

The newsrooms are beleaguered and that can only be denied by the snobbish semi-illiterates that populate many of those halls.

It is a debate that will fester on, especially because of a reluctance by the media to invest on training.
There is also no doubt that internal complacency is eating into our newsrooms.

A poisonous form of professional jealously, fondness for senseless gossip and a decided preference for self praise are not only retarding progress but also discouraging the emergence of new talent.

It’s sad to say it but, as a general rule, the media is no longer taken seriously.

Long before government made it a policy to demonise the media, journalists were already doing it against one another; having made gossip, back-biting and bickering their favourite pastime.
This has led many young and potentially gifted graduates with a true passion for journalism to feel repelled.

They simply cannot stand the high levels of intra industry distaste and abuse.
The state of anarchy, poor mentoring and a clear absence of leadership structures are making matters worse.

For their part, the reading public is disgusted by an exaggerated sense of self importance which has all of a sudden led journalists to become not just subjects of their stories but stories unto themselves.

The problem of course is fuelled by the pettiness at the top where the rot is biggest; among publishers, editors and other such executives who encourage a toxic form of competition among their charges.

Annoyed and unable to tolerate, let alone withstand this media obsession with the self, the readers are walking away. The result is plummeting sales and dwindling advertising.

The Botswana media is on the defensive and will be for some time.
It is a consequence of an insensitive flouting of the rules and ethics.
But, more importantly, it is also a result of the willingness (without goading) by many newsrooms to turn themselves into government mouthpieces who churn out praise poems even for nasty government actions.

The tendency by some journalists to take sides with internal party factionalism has not gone unnoticed. This has driven the public to look at the media as a battalion of dishonest critics whose opinions can never be trusted.

The failure by the media to undertake introspection and audit their ethical behaviour has lent the government an easy but highly welcome weapon; they are as a result routinely branded cohorts of malice.

While the government has no doubt contributed immensely to the current wave of public antipathy towards the media, by far the bigger offender has been the media itself, not least through its failings, especially the failure to live up to the critical responsibilities that are expected of the fourth estate.
It is a cause for concern that the media in Botswana has been particularly reckless in its decision to make light its huge strategic responsibilities bestowed on it.
The media has made light their power and ability to influence the discourse of our nation.

It’s true that the government attitude of being distrustful, wary and, in some worst cases, openly hostile, has been terrible but the media has not helped the situation by their childish posturing and excessive senses of entitlement.

The apparent mediocrity in the newsrooms, intolerance and failure to uphold our national values including by very senior media people, have given the government a stick with which to whip the whole institution, in the process winning the popular sympathy of the entire nation.
Also it is a matter of enduring irony that, as pretenders to sanctity of freedom of expression, freedom of speech and other such necessities, the journalists are by my observation some of the most intolerant tribe on our nation.

Not only do they nurse grudges long after the debates and differences have been settled, their toxic and somewhat parochial minds make them unable to accept with grace any form of criticism however sincerely offered.

While its true that the future looks bleak for many of us who make a living by working in this unenviable industry one takes heart from a firm hope that given the importance of the media to the continued existence of this country as a democracy one day sense will prevail among those of us who have caused so much damage in the form of public distrust to this otherwise noble craft.
Going forward there are not many options open for the media industry.

The only way forward is to work towards regaining a sense of purpose.
Of course, it’s difficult to see that happening in the midst of a deep seated polarization that has literally set one newsroom against the other.

Incidentally, and perhaps to underscore the senselessness of it all, it is disheartening to see that the people at each other’s throat eager to pull each other down are not even shareholders of the newspaper companies but employees who, under normal circumstances, should be relishing the rare luxury that they have an option to hop from one newsroom to the next house should their current one catch the fire.

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