A lot has happened over the last few months while we have all been away from campus, but perhaps the biggest news is, in fact, related to the news. Reports of censorship within the SABC and a refusal to cover violent protest action by the network, as well as several SABC journalists being fired, highlight the power of media.
To us, as students and ‘the youth’, it may not seem like a very big deal because we’re not the ones watching television regularly. What does it matter if our state broadcaster isn’t covering protests? We were all using Twitter and other social media anyway so it doesn’t really impact our news consumption. However, SABC is watched by almost 50% of the population who watch TV, and they have 70% of the radio listenership.
This means that the SABC has the power to alter how a large portion of the South African population views our country and the events which take place in it. This is especially important with the upcoming local elections, given that media outlets have the power to alter our positions regarding political parties.
If the SABC opts for a ‘sunshine journalism’ approach in their coverage, the majority of our population will not be exposed to dissent within the country and opposition to political policies. Although it may seem as though this doesn’t affect us, as students, it is never a good option to underestimate the power that the media can have on the mind-set of a country.
Many of us have experienced this first-hand over the last year. We have seen how the media has the ability to misrepresent events and sway the public’s opinion of how events transpired. We have witnessed how the choice of a few words can alter perceptions and how the selection of information can falsely depict reality. This may have been why several students, myself included, now distrust mainstream media and instead choose to seek out alternatives.
While many of us are able to choose from a wide range of media outlets and be exposed to multiple sides of the story, as well as track first-hand accounts via social media, this is not the case for everyone. There is a large part of the population with limited to no Internet access, as well as lacking a sense of distrust in mainstream media. These people are either not able to be exposed to multiple media outlets or choose to only trust one outlet, without confirming the information elsewhere.
This is where censorship in the media has the ability to stifle change. If we are not exposed to multiple viewpoints and all sides of the story, if we are not able to see both the good and bad sides, we will not be informed enough to know what needs to change. It is through protest action and dissent among the population that we are able to see which areas need improvement.
We have seen it on our campus, with the removal of the Rhodes statue and the recent move by the University to insource workers. We are vehicles of change. However, in order for that change to occur, we need to know what needs to be changed.