Kaunda Selisho
Lifestyle Journalist
6 minute read
20 Jan 2021
1:11 pm

OPINION: Celebs have the right of reply, whether they want it or not

Kaunda Selisho

Journalists do not need angry celebrities and other public figure putting our lives in danger simply because their relationships (which they themselves put out there in their reality shows) are the topic of the week.

Somizi Mhlongo, Simphiwe Dana, Anele Mdoda, Penny Lebyane | Picture: Instagram

The latest in a long saga between Somizi Mhlongo and the South African media has emboldened celebrities and fans alike to share some of the most uninformed and ill-conceived opinions on media conduct in recent history.

This after Mhlongo decided to doxx a journalist and swear at a news editor, following their attempts to solicit comment from the star regarding news articles they were working on.

Each comment in favour of Somizi’s actions is based on a lack of understanding of one journalistic principle; a principle that holds that celebrities (and other subjects of news stories) have the right of reply, whether they want to or not.

All aspiring journalists are trained on the basics of the job, and therefore, all news stories – from tax reform to rumoured divorces – are compiled using the same basic principles.

Every journalist is required to follow the necessary steps in compiling a story; finding the story, gathering evidence and eyewitness accounts to verify or dispel the claims of the story, giving the subject of the story a right of reply and in some cases, getting an expert’s opinion on the mater.

Due to the very important role played by the media and how powerful mass communication is, journalists are also held to an ethical standard enforced by a code of conduct. In South Africa, this is compiled and enforced by the country’s Press Council.

It is for these two reasons that journalist cannot just “make stuff up” and “report lies” and get away with it as so many people claim they do.

If they did, many a journalist would be embroiled in expensive court battles and would be considered unemployable, because submitting falsehoods on a regular basis (and losing court battles for lying) would make one a liability.

No media house wants to constantly pay out settlements to the people wronged by a journalist who could not be bothered to verify the contents of their work. And if people could publish anything they wanted to without consequence, headlines would be wild!

The South African press and legal framework is set up in such a way that allows individuals numerous ways to seek recourse against journalists who just “make stuff up” and “report lies.”

Anyone who claims this has been done to them and chooses not to take action is simply posturing as a means to sway public opinion. A feat that is fairly easy considering how lowly people think of reporters, especially entertainment reporters.

What is the right of reply?

The right of reply or right of correction is a concept that refers to the individual right to defend oneself against public criticism in the same venue where it was published.

In some countries, such as Brazil, it is a legal or even constitutional right.

Because of the importance placed on such a concept, it is not something journalists cannot skip past, as Simphiwe Dana, Anele Mdoda and Penny Lebyane would like them to.

Another question that has been raised as a result of this conversation is a question about why a journalist would contact a celebrity directly and not go through a manager or publicist?

The simple answer is that most South African celebrity managers and publicists do not bother to fulfil the most basic requirements of their job by fielding media queries. They do not answer their phones or emails, or even acknowledge receipt of communications.

Going directly to the source is, therefore, easier and the most likely way to garner a much-needed response.

Journalists are lazy

The rise in popularity of social media and the way in which it has impacted modern-day journalism has led to the pervasive (and incorrect) idea that journalists are lazy, stupid people, who scroll Twitter and Instagram all day and rewrite what they see on the same timelines that everyone has access to.

This is especially an assumption that is often made about reporters in the entertainment space.

While reporting on the goings-on on social media platforms has become a big part of news and content, the idea that journalists do absolutely no work anymore is just plain stupid and disrespectful.

One thing most proponents of this position do not take into account is the numerous news websites that exist for the sole purpose of presenting long-form investigative pieces across a number of topics.

Sites that people do not read due to their own preferences – preferences sometimes jaded by the aversion to paying for the news they consume.

“I’d like to read the article but I’m not paying for a subscription.”

Such people then fall into the trap of thinking “just because I personally have never come across something, it does not exist, nor has it ever happened.”

They also fail to account for the things brought to their attention by the very same people they try to lambaste in their “things the media will not tell you about” posts.

Admittedly, the profession has a lot it needs to work on improving, but for the most part, journalists are subjected to the utmost disrespect and abuse by people from all sectors of society.

We do not need angry celebrities and other public figure putting our lives in danger simply because their relationships are the topic of the week.

Especially when said relationships are things that they were happy to present to the public in the form a reality show, leaving the public with questions about said union.

Kaunda Selisho.

Kaunda is analogue girl navigating a digital world using the perspective provided by news. She has always had a desire to amass a wealth of knowledge on a range of varied topics and this is reflected in the content she produces. As a digitally adept social media user, you can always trust Kaunda to bring you up to speed on what’s going on in the world at any given moment.

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