media update’s Nakedi Phala dissects the current state of public trust in the media.

Should media freedom be celebrated? Well, looking at the current state of news and journalism, it seems as if the more things change, the more they remain the same. Take, for example, the Sunday Times saga, where around the years 2011 and 2016, its reporting was described by three court judges as ‘fake news propaganda fiction’.

It’s bittersweet; media receives the freedom of the press they’ve been longing for. And on the other side of the fence, it seems to have opened a gateway for others to use the industry as a puppet.

So what does this say about trust in the media? Let’s find out. 

Social media perception of the media

There’s a new watchdog in town, and it’s social media. Users on these platforms don’t mind digging through archives to prove their point — and that’s how they get to make commentary on how media houses and journalists conduct themselves. On social media streets, it’s called keeping receipts!

Not so long ago, before we had social media, only media and political commentators were able to voice their concerns through traditional media like newspapers. But now, everyone has been given a voice through social media. 

Take, for example, a recent event where eNCA reporter Lindsay Dentlinger was criticised after video clips revealed her exhibiting perceived racism. The clips show Dentlinger asking black politicians to wear their masks for interviews while white politicians were not outside Parliament.  

From ordinary people to celebrities and politicians, everyone was able to voice their views and opinions on these platforms.  

To weigh in your own views, here some of the social media comments regarding the incident: 

Post I 

Post II 

Post III 

eNCA shared different views from social media commentators, claiming that the situation wasn’t racially motivated. The public demanded disciplinary action, with the news report stating that SANEF met with eNCA to discuss the issue and even went as far as condemning threats of violence on the veteran journalist. The issue now sits with the South African Human Rights Commission.

This just shows how the power and influence of social media have turned the tables and led to journalists’ conduct being scrutinised — sometimes making the newsmakers into the news. Sounds like a new-age paradox, right? 

It raises the question of whether journalists have become wary of social media clout and how it can influence their work both positively and negatively. 

Is the news still valuable?

According to a BBC News Global survey, 77% of people hold the notion that international news is more important and valuable than ever before.

With that said, 79% of audiences are still concerned about the rise and impact of fake news. Turning that back again, 70% of viewers value news so much that it is included in their TV package.

Here’s a video clip to help you form your own opinion about the survey: 

In South Africa, The Conversation writes that journalism has a lot of work ahead in regaining lost trust. This emerged from the Global Disinformation Index, which states that just above 41% of South Africans see less value in the media’s content since 2018. On the other hand, around 70% struggle to differentiate between authentic and fake news. 

A recent example is veteran journalist Jacques Pauw, who retracted a column rooted in distorted facts; this of course led to a huge public outcry. 

The questions to be asked in such a situation are: 
  • How should trust be regained? 
  • What measures should be put in place to avoid transgressing the press code? 
  • Is an apology sufficient? 
Pauw came forward regarding his actions and shared an apology on his personal social media accounts. 

It is clear that there are two sides to the same coin here: On one hand, people still deem news to be of value in order to know what’s happening in the world. And at the same time, they’re worried about fake news. Neither side is wrong, but trust in news is still something that holds an issue.

News is and will always be one of the greatest sources of historical research in the future. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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Keen to know about South Africa’s media ethics standing? Then take a look at Media ethics in the spotlight in SA: What does it mean for the industry?