Credibility of the media is fundamental to its legitimacy – Tshepo Mahloele

A commercially unsustainable media business compromises the quality of content as newsrooms shrink, and expertise and skills disappear, resulting in sub-standard content and disregard of elementary ethical rules, Mr Tshepo Mahloele, chairman of the Lebashe Investment Group, said this week.

At the end of June, Tiso Blackstar announced it had signed an agreement to sell its South African media assets, (among them Sunday Times, Financial Mail and Sowetan) as well as its broadcasting and content businesses to the Lebashe Group.

“What excites us about our acquisition of the Tiso Blackstar Group’s

media assets is that they are all fantastic legacy brands that over the

years have played a crucial role in South African society and in

chronicling this country’s history for well over a century now,” Mahloele told guests at a dinner hosted by the Press Council of South Africa.

Mahloele challenged the view that print “is going to fall off a cliff.”

“ This prediction is not going to happen anytime soon. We believe both print

and online models can be profitable on the back of good, quality

journalism and a product that is trusted by people. We further believe

that this platform can be extended over the continent.”

Quoting from an article in the latest State of the Newsroom report written by the Executive Director of the Press Council Latiefa Mobara and former Press Ombudsman Johan Retief, he said it painted a disturbing picture of the media landscape:

The report states that of the 533 complaints considered by the Press Council during 2018:

– neglect in giving subjects of critical reportage a right of reply, which

more often than not leads to inaccurate and unfair reporting, remains

the most common mistake made by the media..…

– Another nasty gremlin (is) the presentation of an allegation as fact

this tended to influence more than just the individuals concerned, as the

reporting adversely affected society. The unnecessary harm such

reporting caused the public was as bad as it comes..

This”, Mahloele said, “speaks to a crisis of credibility and legitimacy, (and) we need to be deeply concerned. The absence of credibility creates a

news lacuna that could only be filled by peddlers of propaganda, toxic

politics, racists, hate speech and fake news. Once the public start falling

for such propaganda, fake news and political toxicity, it’s a clear signal of

a breakdown of public trust in the media.”

It was disheartening, he added, to learn that 70% of the South African respondents

“worry about their ability to distinguish between information that is

‘real and fake’ on the internet”, according to the eighth annual Digital

News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at

the University of Oxford.

“The credibility of the media is fundamental to its legitimacy, and we must never forget that the media’s power and existential legitimacy are derived from the public trust. Without the public confidence and trust, the media will find it very difficult to operate. Some propagandists such as the Bell Pottingers of this world will exploit such trust deficit to advance their nefarious and iniquitous interests,” Mahloele said.

“ Public trust is a powerful weapon against any threat to the media, and an ingredient to our commercial success. It needs to be earned, cherished and guarded

jealously. We must never make the mistake to believe that freedom of speech and

expression were constitutionally bestowed upon the media industry for

some abstruse professional exceptionalism.”

They were, he argued, accorded to the media to the extent that we give expression and empower the public to exchange, disseminate, impart and receive information –

the constitution entrusted the media to be the custodians of these freedoms and rights on behalf of the public.

“Our editors will continue to enjoy editorial independence without any

proprietorial interference as long as they practice quality and ethical

journalism as prescribed by our editorial policies and the Press Code, (and) therefore, the Press Council’s stringent and rigorous accountability systems and regulations are central to our credibility and success,” he added.

He asserts that the media has been central to the defence of our democracy and its continued fight back against those who seek to destroy our country and

decimate our economy for their own gain.

But, he states, “with great power comes the requisite responsibility”.

“As an industry (we) need to regain our rightful place as custodians of truth and dispensers of expert opinion.”

He confirmed Lebashe’s support “for the important work of the Press Council, as this country’s key media self-regulatory body represented by both the public and media sectors, and by the Office of the Press Ombudsman, (and) with such respected legal minds such as Judge Philip Levinsohn, Judge Bernard Ngoepe and Justice Yvonne Mokgoro in its ranks, and the considerable media industry experience of Pippa Green as Press Ombudsman”.