Reporting on Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela frail photo

Frail Nelson Mandela is not being helped by the overzealous media

Nelson Mandela, Madiba, was hospitalised once again last month. His recurring lung infection appears to be getting worse and he is visibly frail. This article, however, is not about Madiba’s health. What is interesting, and rather less than savoury is the current media frenzy around him.

When one thinks of so-called ambulance-chasers, personal injury lawyers that scavenge accident victims in hospitals for clients, images of the lowest evolutionary rung of the legal profession come to mind. The last couple of weeks afforded many in the media industry to sink to the same level, if not deeper. At least ambulance-chasers aim to get something that would benefit their victims (in addition to themselves).

The scale of the travesty varies both by media company and reporter. They range from stand-offish, rather indifferent but respectful coverage by the BBC to an all-out sensationalist assault by the likes of the American CBS network. Ironically, it is Deborah Patta previously famous for eTV’s Third Degree that is aggressively covering for CBS, Mandela’s progress, or lack thereof.

Witnessing photographers and journalists scrambling around trying to get the last photo of Mandela alive, or the first one of him dead, makes one cringe. But this is in fact what they are waiting for. Mandela’s death is far from being a historic event – at least there is no indication or even reporting around what might happen in South Africa after his death… that might have provided a modicum of justification for the reporting frenzy.

The public, of course, have been all but swept up with the media hype. What is worse, is that conflicting reports, and likely many that have not been verified are capturing an unsuspecting audience. For example, Mbeki’s and current government officials’ statements about Mandela’s current condition appear to be miles apart from some media networks. They suggest he is weak but recovering. Patta and CBS on the other hand, claim that many of Mandela’s internal organs are operating at 50 percent, insinuating that the situation is very much touch and go.

“We’re told he hasn’t opened his eyes in days and is unresponsive. We also understand that Mandela family members are discussing just how much medical intervention is enough for an old and very sick man.” … Deborah Patta, CBS

And all this based on unnamed sources – hardly good, or even responsible journalism.

To a large extent, BBC’s Andrew Harding was quite right in his blog statement:

“We do not want to be lied to, but neither do we expect to be given private medical information. And so, when a US television network boldly declared this week that it had confirmed information about the state of Mr Mandela’s internal organs, we shook our heads, declined to re-Tweet, and understood the genuine, bitter fury of Mr Maharaj.” … Andrew Harding, BBC

In the end, the question of Madiba’s dignity is what is left hanging. Conflicting statements on his health, reporting on family squabbles and the like will certainly not add to what is a great man’s legacy.

Journalists have the responsibility to both respect privacy and individual dignity, whilst avoiding self-censorship of what they know to be true. That is a fine line and a subjective one at that. It is also the line that separates excellent journalists from the trash.

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Newsview would like to take this opportunity to thank Nelson Mandela and to wish him well. While it is unlikely that current events will tarnish his legacy, the editorial team hopes that media companies, both foreign and local, report responsibly and take cognisance of the importance of Nelson Mandela to the South African public.

Speaking of responsibility, readers who have checked out our updated South African online casino legal post or this in-depth article should be sure to gamble online responsibly. With the forthcoming elections in South Africa next year, Newsview will be doing a special feature on gambling of a completely different kind – the kind that Julius Malema is banking on to return to the South African political limelight.