By Chante Schatz
South African media has become saturated with alternative facts and this has been echoed by the leaders of the country. “The entire government has implicated the way in which fake news is spread.” These were the opening remarks by Ebrahim Fakir, program director from Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute (ASRI), who briefly reminded the audience that this seminar was one of the two-part series on South African public debate.
The seminar, hosted by ASRI and Wits Journalism, was aimed at stimulating a discussion facing public debate facilitated through the media in South Africa today.
The seminar largely focused on the question of, what’s the problem with public debate in South Africa?
Three panelists, namely, Marius Roodt also known as Shelly Garland, he of the Huffington Post hoax; researcher and journalist Angelo Fick for eNCA and political analyst and journalist, Karima Brown led the discussion.
On 17 April 2017, a piece called “Could It Be Time To Deny White Men The Franchise” was submitted to the Huffington Post’s blog, by Roodt who had initially pretended to be feminist scholar by the name Shelley Garland. This then later sparked controversy around editorial decisions at the HuffPost, formerly Huffington Post, resulting in the resignation of it its editor Verashni Pillay following the incident the incident.
At the seminar, Roodt noted that he did not think this would become such a big topic of discussion.
“The aim was not to target Verashni or the HuffPost. My issue was, that there was a lack of editorial discernment in the South African media. There was a lot of fake news that there had been put out there”, said Roodt.
“In South Africa, we would be better served if media organisations came out clearly with where they stand and on who they support politically.”
Fick also took to the podium to discuss the role of the media and organizations. He mentioned that we all have these different organizations that serve a role in society such as our government, universities, and even churches. Fick questions how we look at those organizations and how it affects society’s way of communication.
Fick added how the tensions of the 90’s were not properly dealt with and have now come back with a vengeance as society still uses race to make sense of the world. He addressed the role of education in society as well.
“Democracy needs critically literate citizens. In South Africa, education is not conducive to this. If you do not have critically literate citizens then the democratic system has failed”.
Brown took the stage as she discussed the role of the journalist. Brown mentioned that for her, journalism was about change. “Changing society, providing a platform for those who choose not to hear – it is about confronting power, exposing all power, not just political power”, said said.
The political analyst added that as a journalist, mistakes should not be frowned upon. “I do not think there is a journalist alive who has not made a mistake, we have all made mistakes, it is our response to those mistakes that define us,” said Brown.
“South African media needs to grow up about a range of things because we are under threat” says Brown as she refers to the realities of this profession in media.