South Africa

RIGHT OF REPLY: Media should guard against fake news ahead of the 2019 elections

As the African Transformation Movement continues to attract hundreds of thousands of people and is making its presence felt, there are unfortunately some mischievous, unfounded and incorrect media reports aimed at discrediting the party.

This right of reply is in response to the following article in Daily Maverick: Can Mzwanele Manyi get into the national Parliament?

The upcoming 2019 national elections provide the right temperature for the political vitriol, mudslinging, character assassination and of course fake news to proliferate — thus grabbing the media headlines. Not only has fake news become part of our current lexicon, but sadly part of our daily reality.

With the stakes ever so high in the upcoming elections, this calls for the media to be ever-watchful and discerning. This can never be over-emphasised, as fake news has crept in into some media houses and become embedded in some journalists. The phenomenon of fake news has highlighted the need for the media to confront the enemy within. This is because the peddlers of fake news are no longer only those without identity — who operate in the dark disseminating false information.

Late in 2018, the country’s media world imploded and came down tumbling. This was after the Sunday Times’s confession about the false stories it wrote over the years, which potentially destroyed people’s lives and careers. It was indeed the hallmark of fake news, misinformation and a concerted effort by some in the media to push for a certain narrative.

Although the Sunday Times was the main player caught in the misinformation scandal, the truth is that the damage extends beyond the newspaper. The entire media fraternity has been severely dented. The public trust has been broken by the media. This was but some of the countless cooked-up stories, which through some pseudo journalists made it to the front page of newspapers, leaving behind a trail of destruction of people’s lives, tearing families apart and causing irreparable damage to people’s characters.

With the electioneering by various political parties intensifying, the media has to maintain its integrity by reporting fairly, objectively and disseminating accurate information to the public.

But already, there are signs that some journalists and commentators are still reporting incorrectly on election stories.

As the African Transformation Movement (ATM) continues to attract hundreds of thousands of people and is making its presence felt, unfortunately, there are some mischievous, unfounded and incorrect media reports which are aimed at discrediting the party. One wonders how some of these false reports, which fail to reach basic journalism standards, ever make it to the print.

A number of these fake media reports include false accusations about the ATM’s president, Vuyolwethu Zungula, as being a former leader in the DA. Some have repeatedly lied and continue to do so, about the party having links with the disgruntled faction within the ANC and its former president, Jacob Zuma.

The common thread in all these stories is that no single attempt was ever made to get the leadership of the ATM to respond to the spurious allegations, as the Press Code dictates. When gathering and reporting news, the code obliges the media and journalists to: Take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly; present news in context and in a balanced manner; and verify the accuracy of doubtful information.

It is the responsibility of the media to stand up for ethical journalism and to call out those among them who are degrading the profession through the spreading of fake news. DM

Vuyolwethu Zungula is president of the African Transformation Movement (ATM).

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