Should SA journalists show their true colours or not?

Journalists are human-beings and human-being can be journalists too. With this in mind one’s humanity can easily be influenced with one’s views of the world and in turn influences how one may think when it comes to one’s profession. In this case, the act of whether a journalist should wear certain political party regalia in public is the issue; is it right ethically or not?

According to Daily Maverick journalist, Marianne Thamm, in her opinion piece; True colours shining through: Should journalists be draping themselves in party political colours? “Journalists are human and by nature gravitate towards specific ideologies and ways of thinking shaped by a myriad of influences and factors. We are not blank slates”. She then also continues by saying, “Ultimately, however, our job is to monitor and hold power to account – whatever its colours”.

As a journalist is seen to be someone who holds a certain position in society, a position that should never be influenced by politics. A journalist is seen to be someone who should not be ‘for’ politics and more for writing about it. Looking at it in a humanitarian point of view everyone is entitled to their own points of view in politics. As a citizen of South Africa you can belong to any political party you want. So how can wearing party regalia actually influence one’s thinking? Can one not be as objective as when one is wearing a normal sweater?

One should know that as a journalist wearing party regalia is not illegal. There is not a law that states that journalists who wear party regalia can pay a fine or face a jail sentence. According to the SA press code 2.1.; “The media shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the media’s independence and professionalism.” Meaning that journalists should not allow any of their personal views based on the latter infringe on their reporting of news. In this case the political part stands out the most. It doesn’t in any way state anything about political party regalia (yet?).

This may seem as a deontological way of seeing things. One lives by a set of official rules; in this case the official rules could be the South African Press Code. Because it is nowhere stated in law that one may not wear political regalia, it could not be too wrong. The deontologist within the journalist will decide to wear the blue shirt anyway because he/she would feel like it is not wrong because nowhere in the press code does it state that they may or may not wear political party regalia. Plus everyone has the “freedom of association”.

The incident where Karima Brown (Independent Newspapers Group Executive editor) and Vukani Mde (Opinion and Analysis Group editor) posted a selfie of themselves in ANC regalia on their way to the 103rd birthday celebrations of the party caused quite a stir in the public eye. Yet according to a SAPA article the press ombudsman didn’t see much wrong in what they were doing. According to SAPA, “The press ombudsman cannot judge two journalists for wearing ANC attire at the ruling party’s birthday celebration because their behaviour was not followed by publication“.

Yet as a journalist one should know the consequences of wearing a political shirt and that you’d immediately be thrown under a certain umbrella; your integrity, objectivity and balance will be questioned immediately. So when you know the consequence of your action and decide to act on what you think the consequence may be, you are looking at it in a teleological sense. The teleologist within a journalist will immediately think of how wearing a political party shirt could look in the eyes of the public.

One can look at this in various contexts as one does not only have political reporters wearing party regalia but also other journalists within other fields e.g. entertainment, environmental, lifestyle etc. Would it be much of a problem if these kinds of journalists were wearing party regalia on duty? Not much, because they do not report on politics even though politics involves a lot of things and not just political party regalia. Even though politics is everywhere wearing party regalia in those certain newsrooms should not be much of a big deal.

All these situations could maybe work in print media, but not in broadcast media like television. Even though an entertainment journalist wearing party regalia could not be as wrong as one would think it would be, but seeing them report on entertainment on television would make for another story. It would be complex to see Bonang Matheba wearing a Democratic Alliance shirt on E! News or Denise Zimba wearing an African National Congress hat on V-Entertainment. Yet on Social Media during election-time in August, one would see various celebrities (those working in the entertainment industry in specific) wearing party regalia; from ANC jumpsuits to DA caps.

Which brings one to the next point of context; the higher ones’ standing in society the less you are able to do as you please, in this case wearing political party regalia in specific. If one were to see a student journalist or a journalist who is not as well known yet for their work might be able to get off free from wearing party regalia, but if one were to see someone like Ferial Haffajee boasting with a Pan African Congress shirt or news readers like Lynette Francis or Lukhanyo Calata wearing an ANC shirt, that would be quite confusing too.

Looking at this overall, one may come to the conclusion that in this case of journalists wearing political party regalia falls in line with Immanuel Kants’ Categorical Imperative ethical framework. It deals with the issues that one has a duty to ones’ conscience. In this case the journalist who is wearing the political party hat knows that he/she is supposed to monitor power at all times and not visibly show support.

At the end of the day as long as a journalist is objective and balanced in their way of reporting; its party affiliation should not matter at all.

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