It's time the media reviewed their approach to reporting, writes Derek Carstens in Business Day. They should be writing in a way that builds the country, not breaks it down, particularly with an eye to the 2010 World Cup.
Derek Carstens writes in Business Day:
EVER since being introduced to the concept of "intent" by my kopdokter friend and colleague, Dr Francois Hugo, I've found it an intriguing one. When asked "What is your or their intent?" it becomes particularly instructive.
So, for example, when attending a meeting or observing others in a meeting, try to fathom your and their intent — is it to be critical, constructive, subversive, obstructive, informing, neutral or positive? And what does this say about the underlying sentiment and purpose? Similarly in life, the first question that comes to a father's mind when observing a boyfriend's relationship with his daughter is: "What is this fellow's intent?"
With this in mind I thought it worth discussing the concept in terms of the relationship between certain sectors of the media and our country. To date, I must say I have found it difficult to understand exactly what their intent is and am hoping for some clarity on the issue. And it's not as if it is a new one.
Consider this example, from a couple of years ago. Over one weekend Hendrik Ramaala won the New York Marathon, Retief Goosen beat Tiger Woods and the Springboks trumped the All Blacks. The Monday headline in a leading daily newspaper read "Wife murders husband's lover". What was the intent towards SA? In what sentiment was this rooted and what was its purpose?
I would submit that the sentiment was negative and the intent destructive in terms of the national psyche. Contrast that with Australia, which, whether we like it or not, has built a very positive country brand. Here, I daresay, the headlines for the next three days would have been about an Aussie hat-trick of golds, with the squalid murder "story" being relegated to where it belonged.
The point is that the Australian brand, rooted in the idea of a "winning nation", is sacrosanct. There is a common intent: to build on this in a constructive and positive way.
Brazil is also an interesting comparison. Like us, it is a so-called developing country but one whose image is clearly one of "Samba, rhumba and fun in the sun", despite the well- known problems with crime.
So where did the "truism" about "bad news sells" originate? I don't know, but it is patently self-serving and bears no scrutiny.
With this in mind, my question to SA's media is: "What is your intent?" With what sentiment is that headline written; what is the purpose of its placement?
Why would Business Day feature Kimi Raikkonen's win on the Monday after the Boks won the 2007 Rugby World Cup?
Why was Dale Steyn's integrity called into question by Beeld and The Times so quickly over a totally unsubstantiated allegation?
And while you consider your response, let me make it perfectly clear that this is not some kind of naive plea for cotton-wool propaganda. It is simply to challenge those who choose to be negative and destructive as opposed to positive and constructive — and, let's face it, there is the world of difference between being positively critical, which is constructive, and negative intent, which is destructive.
Let me cite another example, a little more recent and topical. "Confed Cup Team Robbed" read the headline in The Star. This on the day Bafana Bafana were due to play Spain in a crucial Confederations Cup match in Bloemfontein. Let's deal with the headline first and then placing of the story. First, the headline was factually incorrect as the article (or part of it) was about an alleged theft, not robbery — a big difference. And the story itself was purely speculative, as subsequent findings revealed. So there was a negative sensationalist sentiment — robbery vs theft — which was destructive in its purpose. Surely the interests of the nation would have been better served with a headline wishing Bafana Bafana well as they took on the top team in the world, with the dodgy theft story relegated to where it belonged until the facts emerged.
What is particularly irksome is how quickly the bandwagon of success is climbed when predictions of failure are proven wrong (simultaneously identifying another target in the hope that, this time, failure will prevail). Witness the reporting of the Confederations Cup — a sow's ear became a silk purse, with a 75% pass mark from Fifa.
With this in mind, and as next year's Soccer World Cup approaches, I think it fair to ask: what exactly is the media's intent? Will we continue to see negative sentiment, with the intent of wanting us to fail?
Will we see the usual suspects of crime, security and transport dominating, knowing that the more those are highlighted as problems locally, the more they will be picked up internationally. In fact, it is interesting to note that foreign journalists often say the reason for our poor image abroad is because of negative local reporting, so it's clear the problem starts at home.
So how about a new deal for 2010 based on positive sentiment and constructive intent. One that seeks to help our country succeed as we audaciously box above our weight yet again. One that helps us meet the challenging objective of staging a wonderfully memorable, world-class World Cup. One that help build our country's brand in a way that mirrors the pride we all have in our achievements as a nation.
By all means be critical but let your intent be positive, and before placing that headline, ask the simple question: w ill this help our country in this cause or will it fuel negativity and self-doubt locally and abroad? Surely when the event is over it will be more satisfying to feel that you played a constructive role in its success rather than being proven wrong again or — worse — revelling in the unlikely event of our failure.
To date, SA has had two miracles, economic and political. The third — social cohesion — awaits, and this is what the World Cup will help to deliver. So let's get to it.
* Carstens is FirstRand 's brand director, seconded to the 2010 Soccer World Cup as chief marketing officer of the local organising committee. This column first appeared in Business Day.