Journalists under fire: ‘Let us not be silent’

BY NTANDO THUKWANA, August 15, 2017


In a time of threat, intimidation and lies, producing quality reporting has become increasingly perilous for reporters and news outlets.

From left: Dan Moyane, Mahlatse Gallens, Peter Bruce, Annika Larsen, Thandeka Gqubule and Micah Reddy. Photo/Karen Mwendera

This message was hammered home by six South African journalists who spoke of the risks and dangers media have to navigate, during a panel discussion at the Menell Media Exchange in Johannesburg.

The high powered panel was chaired by eNCA news anchor Dan Moyane. The panellists were South African National Editors Forum chairperson Mahlatse Gallens, Tiso Blackstar editor-at-large Peter Bruce, eNCA reporter Annika Larsen, Thandeka Gqubule of the South African Broadcast Corporation and amaBhungane’s Micah Reddy.

Moyane said, there is a need to “defend the institution of journalism to ensure a vibrant democracy that holds the executive to account and uncovers corruption and lies.”

Gqubule said she believed there was “a systematic, well-thought-through campaign to curb media freedom and influence the way we report.”

“The problem with intimidation is that it works,” said Bruce. “It leaves a mark on you”.

In June, about 20 members of the Black First Land First (BLF) protested outside Bruce’s home following a column he wrote about the politically-connected Gupta family. BLF members assaulted Bruce’s colleague, Business Day editor Tim Cohen.

Gallens said newsrooms need to provide trauma counselling and urged journalists to support each other.

“Beyond being heard, we need to have the media houses investing seriously in trauma counselling,” she said. “We need to get into a project that it is not just journalists protecting media freedom but that South Africans are actually doing the defending for us.”

Larsen said editors had a larger role to play in protecting journalists by taking “a zero tolerance approach to bullying.”

“We play a very important role in this democracy and part of what we are going through is a reflection of the crisis in our country,” said Gqubule. “We need to claim our role through the rise of dense resistance. We must bring the best journalism. Journalism can sell out, but we journalists of South Africa must never do that.”

Beer prizes for busting news myths: Monitoring fake, dodgy and unreliable news



If you want to get the attention of most journalists, free beer often goes a long way.

Presenter William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa. Photo/Zinhle Motlopye

This was the device that William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), used to grab the attention of his audience of journalists when he offered free beers as a reward for correct answers in a quiz on fake news.

Bird and Thandi Smith, also from MMA, shared a platform at the Menell Media Exchange at The Campus in Bryanston, Johannesburg.

The pair tested their audience’s skill in identifying the difference between fake and real news using extravagant case studies. For one question, they displayed a fake news story about Blade Nzimande allegedly opening a school of magic, and a real news story about Zimbabwean families using goats to pay school fees and asked the audience identify which one was true and which one was fake.

Two journalists who had their media savvy tested were Hot 91.9 fm’s head of news, Gladys Sithole, and news reader Kwanele Kunene.

This is what Sithole and Kunene had to say about fake or dodgy news and mis- and disinformation:

Gladys Sithole, head of news

Do you trust the media? It depends on who the media are, what your personal experiences are, and also what [story] they are telling. But I do trust media in general.

Do you think the journalism industry fails to tell true and accurate news? Everyone has their own truth and it can take a completely different turn, depending on what the issue is.

What do think should be done in terms of the truth and trust in the journalism industry?  The deviation of content, especially when a media [organisation] calls an interview with an analyst news.

Which media do you follow and trust, and why?  I follow 702 and internationally I follow Al Jazeera and BBC because they are reliable and I believe they produce stories based on facts.

What would be your overall perspective on the session on fake news? I personally feel like the conference has really given me tools that I can use practically, because a lot of the time we attend conferences where they tell us about tools that we should go and implement, without showing us how to use them.

Kwanele Kunene

Do you trust the media? I do trust the media, but only to a certain degree. You cannot trust anything, especially if you are not involved in [making] it.

Do you think the journalism industry fails to deliver true and accurate news? Yes. Because you are a journalist, you do want to tell the truth. But sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s true.

What do think should be done in terms of truth and trust in journalism? I think the problem of relating a story to your past experience as a journalist must be avoided, because it diverts the public from the real story.

Which media do you follow and, or trust? Why? As a newsreader, I follow media that people generally trust, like News24, eNCA and SABC.

What would be your overall perspective on the session on fake news? I found it very interesting. My intention was to gather information because I did not have the journalistic background. Having people differentiate between fake and dodgy news was something that I never thought of.

Slide from the presentation. Photo/Zinhle Motlopye

News app helps sniff out dodgy news websites



Media Monitoring Africa has launched a new free tool to help root out websites sharing dodgy content via social media and the internet.

The tool is a Google Chrome extension called “NewsCred.” To download NewsCred go to the Google Chrome Web Store, search for “NewsCred and download the extension. (Go here for instructions on how to download and use a browser extension)

Once you’ve installed the extension all you need to do is click on the NewsCred icon in your browser while you are on a website. A popup window appears with a message either warning that the site is dodgy, is credible or is trusted and registered with the Press Council. MMA continually updates details of dodgy and credible sites.

NewsCred identifies a dodgy site, left, and a credible one, right. Photos/Raymond Joseph

“One of the red flags of fake news sites is that the text is hard to copy or select when it is opened,” said MMA director William Bird.

Some tips from MMA to help you avoid sharing dodgy content:

  • Consume news from diverse sources;
  • Always check the quality of a story and its sources;
  • Google is your friend, so search to check who else is reporting a story;
  • Check the URL to make sure that you’re on the correct site. Be aware of slight changes to the names of a publication, like;
  • Check the advertising on the page. Fake sites often publish over the top Get Rich Quick, Weight Loss and other bizarre ads;
  • Google the author of the article to check if they exist, who they are and their previous published work;
  • Know your brands and watch out for sites that pretend to be the real thing;
  • And always think before you share. If you’re not sure, don’t share it!

MMA, a non-profit organisation, works to ensure a responsible, quality media which enables an engaged and informed citizenry in Africa and across the world.

Journalists bursting their professional bubbles



All consumers and producers of media talk about being trapped in subjective filter bubbles where ideas and beliefs are amplified and echoed back. But how do journalists contribute to this phenomenon, and how do they burst the bubble?

Journalists should use a bottom-up approach to reporting and storytelling and interact with diverse sources to escape the bubble. They can also do extensive reading and research, engaging with alternative views they may otherwise disagree with.

The all women led panel including from left: Asmaa Malik, Nina Callaghan, Silindile Khanyile and Khadija Patel. Photo/ Odwa Mjo

These issues were discussed Saturday at the Duke Menell Media Exchange by a panel that included Khadija Patel, editor of the Mail and Guardian; Slindile Khanyile, editor of Isolezwe News; Nina Callaghan, Assistant Director of Children’s Radio Foundation, and moderated by Asmaa Malik, assistant professor at Reyerson University.

Journalists operate in their own professional bubbles, often talking to the same sources or allowing brands to dictate the focus of a story.

Story construction goes through a variety of editorial choices, with the ideal of objectivity at the basis of each story. However, Patel argued that it is not always possible to separate subject from story, including the journalist.

The editor of the Mail & Guardian Khadija Patel discussing how journalist need to burst out of the filter bubble. Photo/Odwa Mjo

Patel said accuracy is more important than objectivity when creating a story, valuing truth over a balanced viewpoint.

Young journalists today are outspoken and opinionated, willing to take a stand on issues such as those that face the LGBTQIA community, no matter how risky, said Callaghan. “While there are exceptionally brave individuals, I don’t think there are exceptionally brave media houses.”

Callaghan argued that journalists need to amplify the stories and lived experiences of those who otherwise may not have a voice, as these people are experts in their own right.

Journalists should be spending more time on the ground in unfamiliar settings and reading more widely, exposing themselves to other stories, ideas, and beliefs, said Patel. Then the media itself may be able to exit the echo chamber.

Audio/Amy Pieterse