When current affairs are characterized by fierce political and economic warfare, the media landscape bears such an important responsibility with regards to informing and updating the general public. This responsibility has however not been exclusive to media outlets and information centres. Social media and related applications have also changed the way content is interpreted and disseminated.
The South African media during apartheid served to entrench and support the ruling system of segregation and white minority rule. This was the case both in print and broadcast where the balance in context bred much complicity and misunderstanding of the horrors faced during the pre-democratic era. This is well understood when we consider the ownership patterns of the media landscape. The subjugation of black masses and the profits made from their pain shows how it seemed a matter of the one who pays the piper to select the tune.
The intricacy of objective news straddles on the question of interpretation: can media outlets afford to just report on the injustices and inequalities of society and remain apathetic about the content they are covering? Media houses are not to be deemed to not have interests of their own- the jig has long been up. The media has still not well accounted for what exactly was their role during the apartheid regime as well as demarcate what their responsibility will be in the democracy we are currently experiencing.
While we cannot police the next person from sharing her own version of the story, there seems to be much found wanting when it comes to media houses responsible for covering the notable events, weather and sports they exist for. This should be practically easy (and noble of media outlets) considering how we should all have the values of a free and fair democracy enshrined in our hearts- no? Does the South African media quite frankly share the ideals of a non-sexist, non-racial free and open democratic state?
The role of information is powerful as a social engineering tool. An informed citizenry is expected to help keep a balance in the forces that be in matters of accountability. The information we receive from watching and reading the news is to also help provide feedback on the efforts and concessions being made in the name of the public's interest. Having trustworthy access to trustworthy content allows the citizenry to take greater advantage of the opportunities and privileges made available by the state. The reconciliation process that the country needs to go through is also assisted in the shared understanding of the diversity which characterizes its people. Media outlets are therefore agents of change and freedom- they better our ability in making valuable decisions based on the information we have.
The fourth industrial revolution is well surging through industries and with print media taking a blow, there is pressure to digitize mediums of communication. This calls for investment in the media landscape as the pace of news updates happen much quicker than before. Furthermore, the need to equip the men and women on the ground on the complexities behind narratives will empower a citizenry in continuing public discourse on plateaus appreciative of both sides of every coin. This is where the call for much more affordable data rates becomes a matter of national importance simply because there is a higher dependency on the internet as well in facilitating a democracy in action. This also exposes a vacuum in the intellectual rigor to be expected from the social media diaspora. The tools of content creation are available to the ordinary people who were only limited to being consumers of the news yesterday but can now broadcast their own on their personal platforms. The effects of this open aerial battle have called for adaptation on the traditional players as well as exposed the power previously marginalized voices can now exercise (to achieve effective legitimacy should art, skill and professionalism be an interwoven thread in the whole framework).
Notwithstanding, the internet today is being flooded with what is being popularized as "fake news" and misinformation which places an extra responsibility on the reader to sift through what is apparent propaganda as well as equitable trustworthy news. There is a need for the reader to be critical of the headlines and the facts framing a narrative. It truly does matter how characters and roleplayers are described. Interpreting whether the glass is half full or half empty could probably be the difference in whether or not you see your president as a hero or a criminal who should be behind bars. Discerning the interests of the entities involved in any story (which is usually part of a greater web of stories) is becoming crucial as the contestation of narratives has much more at stake than newspaper sales.
The media landscape in South Africa today has gained much traction with critical perspectives being shared relating to the mitigation of the antagonisms visible with regards to class, gender, race, and power. This has created more spaces and platforms in ironing out matters of media hijackings for political gain as well as the credence affordable to independent houses and the cloak of activism worn in the discourse of relaying key points for viewers and readers. This has brought forward questions of ownership and its role in fulfilling development goals for a common society. One only has to read the bill of rights in understanding that the map towards the utopia described therein as a journey needing the assimilation of all role-players committed to the same agenda (as far as constitutionally possible). The right to freedom of speech and accessing the information needed to exercise it gives protection not only to the mouthpieces of our time but also the recipients who depend on the knowledge in fulfilling their duties as responsible citizens.
It is therefore important to hold news bulletins with much scrutiny- this is part of our responsibility in continuing our (inter-)national conversation. The news we watch and read shape the views and opinions we have, not only of our government but also the affairs surrounding its socio-political climate. Ideally, it would be quite convenient if the news could be told "objectively" and without "bias" and "prejudice" but the jury is still out on the "possibility" of such being the case.
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