Media must balance profit with truth – Jacob Zuma

It is important for the media to balance business imperatives and “truthful” reporting, President Jacob Zuma has said.

Presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj said in a statement today that Zuma welcomed public debate in the wake of his interaction with Tshwane University of Technology students in Parliament on Tuesday.

“The president’s view is that the profit motive influences content as media products need to sell in order to make money, and he warned journalists of the future to be mindful of this imperative against their role of informing the South African public in a balanced and truthful manner.”

Zuma had urged the students to keep open minds about the media’s role and the pressures it faced between profitability and the public’s right to know.

“He also emphasised the role of media owners and their responsibility to ensure that their products reflected a balanced view of the country and not only negative news,” Maharaj said.

A case in point was the South African media’s reporting on the country being ranked 53rd in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness index.

“However it failed to focus on the fact that our country took first place on the regulation of securities exchanges and second place on the availability of financial services.

“Further, the country ranked second out of the 148 nations for the availability of financing through local equity markets, and there were no prominent recognition of these accomplishments from the media coverage.”

Maharaj said Zuma expected newsrooms to reflect daily on the need to achieve proper balance.

Yesterday, Transvaal Agricultural Union (Tau-SA) president Louis Meintjies said the media had a duty to report on the facts of each story.

“Once the facts and realities addressed are positive, reporting will get positive, and Tau-SA will be the first to applaud such a situation.

“It will be difficult for any journalist to report positively about negative events. No journalist can report positively about a violent strike to readers, listeners or viewers,” he said.

According to the Mail & Guardian, Zuma told the students on Tuesday that the media’s reporting was so negative that even he felt like fleeing the country at times.

“When I am in South Africa, every morning you feel like you must leave this country because the reporting concentrates on the opposite of the positive,” he was quoted as saying.

Zuma said reporting was determined by media owners.

“Media is a business, it’s not what it says it is – a watchdog – it’s a business, they are doing business. The paper must sell, if the sales go down because the editor isn’t doing well, he’ll be dismissed.

“Who do you think, in reality, you serve when reporting: the interest of the public that you claim, as the media you stand for, or the interest of the owners and managers of the paper?”

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