Journalists and the risk of wearing political party regalia

Capturing moments of waves of green, yellow and black, red and black or blue in South Africa is not anything out of the ordinary, especially during election time. However, journalists and media personnel donning political party regalia is a subject that contains controversial aspects to it. According to the Press Council’s Code of Ethics, the media shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting and that conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the media’s independence and professionalism. These points were put in place by the Press Council, for what I can imagine, to be for good reason.

 

Journalists represent the organization that they work for, and to an extent the public as well. One could argue that a journalist working for a publication like Cosmopolitan magazine or Elle magazine are unlikely to have any political affiliations and that on their own time, a journalist should be allowed to wear political regalia. This is all good and well, but any of the readers could have strong political views and from there on, continue to not take the publication seriously. A journalist from any other general media organization could decide to wear political party regalia when they’re not on work time, however a journalist is never off the job. There are eyes everywhere. A reader seeing a journalist in political clothing will enable them to consistently scrutinize the publication and wonder if the meaning behind their words are biased towards other political parties.

 

According to John Steel, “in the modern context, freedom of speech is very different from freedom of the press, even though they share a similar philosophical and historical heritage. The capacity that a person has to air his or her views on a blog is of course significantly different to that of a corporate news organization.” Keeping this in mind, the South African Bill of Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression which includes freedom of the press. A journalist working for a corporate news organization has a lot to lose when wearing political party clothing and it could raise the question of it being unethical as journalists communicate with the public and members of the public could feel misrepresented if a journalist seems biased as well as the fact that journalists help shape and form opinions, which could be at risk if the journalist’s intentions are seen as unethical.

 

When Independent Newspapers’ group executive editor Karima Brown and Independent’s group editor of opinion and analysis, Vukani Mde were seen in ANC party clothing at the ANC’s 103rd birthday celebration in January of 2015, there was an immediate reaction to it. Mail & Guardian deputy editor Moshoeshoe Monare expressed his concern for journalists who aren’t shy about their political affiliations, saying “if you are going to openly nail your colours to a particular political party by wearing its regalia, how then do you expect other parties to relate to you? For example, if you openly support the DA or the EFF, how do you expect the ANC to treat you? The second problem is that when you become a member of a political party, you are expected to adhere to the discipline of that political party, then there will be a clear conflict of interest between your role as a professional journalist and a member and a sympathiser of that party”.

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Independent Newspapers’ group executive editor Karima Brown and Independent’s group editor of opinion and analysis, Vukani Mde wearing ANC clothing

In relation, Aristotle’s teleogical Golden Mean focuses on the concept of finding a balance between two extremes. The one being deficiency and the other, excess to the point of recklessness. Journalists need to control their political affiliations when it comes to their careers to where it won’t offend any of the public, but not to the point of throwing it in the public’s faces. Journalists cannot be unfair or biased when it comes to their work.

If one looks at it from Kant’s categorical imperative, if a journalist decides to wear political party clothing and every single other journalist decides to do the same – what would happen? What would the world’s public take from that and how would it affect elections or just the general outlook of politics? Although Kant’s categorical imperative focuses on the individual and their intention, if looked at from a universal perspective, views begin to shift.

Therefore, I believe that journalists have a right to support a political party but their views on the party and their support for the party should be kept to a minimum when it comes to their work and they shouldn’t be as quick to expose those views to the public as their profession requires them to remain unbiased, fair and balanced.

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