FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Who will guard the guardians?


Hardly a day passes without my meeting someone who has lost faith in the media.

Sometimes it is because they are unimpressed with the choice of stories, such as reportage on the lives of royals or showbiz celebrities they do not like or had never heard of before.

Other media consumers profess their inability to trust what they are reading, hearing or seeing because of media professionals who insert themselves and their agendas into stories.

There is no accounting for personal taste and if you are not interested in Harry and Meghan, for example, there are millions of others who are.

It is the second reason that concerns me. It speaks to the credibility of the media.

This is not just a media business problem. It is a societal issue.

With problems in virtually every area of life, South Africa needs those who will defend the promise – as well as the gains - of the post-1994 dispensation more than ever before. It needs those who will hold power accountable and defend the proverbial “man in the street”.

By power, I do not only mean political power. Of course, political power must be made to account, but it is more than that. Corporates too need to do right and be called out when they do not.

Virtually every area of life in South Africa needs someone who will call out those in power to do right. Those who can, remove their children from the public education system. The Competition Commission is forever finding that some of the more successful businesses are involved in underhand activities and babies die from preventable illnesses in state hospitals.

Those in charge of ensuring the prosecution of alleged criminals decry the levels of corruption and ineptitude in the National Prosecuting Authority. Stories of criminals making deals with prosecutors and presiding officers are a dime a dozen.

Journalism needs to step up. It must decisively answer the question famously asked by first century Roman poet, Juvenal: “Who will guard the guards themselves?”.

It is a crying shame that there are organisations, public and private, that would rather invest in a spin-doctor cleaning up their mess than they are about putting their money and minds in doing what is right the first time.

The only beneficiaries of an untrustworthy media are those happy to continue performing their nefarious acts. It is those who will unfairly profiteer from life-saving medicines as much as it is those in government who hide behind the “white media” cliché to escape their accountability.

This is why the media, if it is to play its role as the “guards of the guards”, must start taking its role seriously and avoid the temptation of going for the low hanging fruit of carefully spun media statements or worse, treating social media posts as reliable source of news.

This requires media owners who have a bigger picture view of the role of such business, given the harsh reality of the media economy.

Journalists and editors too must play their role. The media can only effectively play the role of the “watcher of the watchmen” if it regularly reflects on itself and consciously takes steps to improve its offering and purges itself of those whose interests are selfish and short term. The battles are drawn. Media professionals and owners can either be part of the problem or the solution.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.