Let's Think

Is respectable journalism a vanishing art?

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On two occasions during the recent 72nd session of the UN General Assembly the media failed to stand up to proper reporting standards, again underscoring what look like the vanishing art of respectable journalism.

For the record – we are not admirers, or fans, of Donald Trump and not amongst his apologists.

Matter of fact, we have before, and again said that Trump is a symbol of what is wrong with the American political system. It is a corrupt system where money buys power and influence with the result that mediocre and disagreeable individuals like a Donald Trump can get to the top.  

It is also a system that allows for many Gupta-like parasites to operate with impunity.

We admit, however, that we do find Trump’s “America first” idea appealing and wish that some of it could rub off on President Jacob Zuma in a positive way.

With that off our chests we are ready to confess our dismay with the almost hysterical reaction to the trivial matter of Trump’s mispronunciation of Namibia as “Nambia” during a luncheon in honor of African representatives at the recent UN General Assembly session in New York.

The initial reaction and ridiculing that followed Trump’s slip of the tongue was one of amusement but turned into annoyance and irritation when almost everyone jumped on the bandwagon to belittle and ridicule him for the faux pass.   

He is not the first, nor will he be the last, head of state to mispronounce the name of a country.

It also remains an open question how many of those trying to outdo each other in mocking Trump, particularly in the US media, can locate Namibia on a world map, never mind knowing and pronounce the name its capital or head of state.

 In 1979 of the eve of my (Piet Coetzer) return home to South Africa from a stint as correspondent in Washington, an American colleague excitedly told me he is going to Kenya in a few months for his honeymoon and asked me to let him have my number. “I’ll give you a call and maybe we can have drink together,” he said. Ironically, I was heading for a posting in Namibia.

 American ignorance  

Ignorance about the world beyond their own borders, however, runs much wider and deeper in American society. In 1983, I was back in the US as guest of its State Department on a study and speaking tour.

At a university in California I’m asked to talk to students about change in South Africa and its 1983 constitution. A map of Africa is put up on a flipchart stand for me to indicate to the students where the country is located that I’m talking about.

As I start speaking, I move towards the map to enlighten the under-graduate students, I discover that the professor has put up a map that is at least 22 years outdated. It still indicates my home country as the “Union of South Africa.”

Now, in a supposedly shrinking world, called a “global village,” ignorance seems to be rather spreading than diminishing. 

What is really disheartening is the superficiality and plain ignorance shown by most of the international media, South African media included, and their failure to censure and take Trump to task with the same gusto as they  did on his mispronunciation, when later in his speech he smugly told those present, including Namibia’s President Hage Geingob, that Africa has "tremendous business potential" followed by his demeaning remark that, "I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you; they're spending a lot of money."

If ever there was a remark that demanded a rebuke, this was it!

For all of those wailing about all the evils of colonialism and the wrongs of the past, here was an opportunity to reprimand Trump and his unwarranted remark which to our thinking exposed capitalism and arrogance in all its ugliness. All we got was a punch-line shallowness.

Zimbabwe

The same goes for the praises heaped upon Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe for his “gutsy performance,” his “inflamed speech” and “voice of reason” as media outlets described his “admonishment” of Donald Trump at the UN.

When it was his turn to address the UN General Assembly, the 93-year old Mugabe, who was caught on camera sleeping, or rather “resting his eyes,” as the state media in Zimbabwe prefers to refer to their leader’s tendency for frequent naps during official engagements – this time, ironically  during Trump’s controversial speech – Mugabe cut lose.   

"Some of us were," Mugabe said, "embarrassed, if not frightened, by what appeared to be the return of the biblical Giant Gold Goliath," and he continued with, “Are we having a return of Goliath to our midst, who threatens the extinction of other countries?”

Mugabe, to his credit, also voiced particular concern over Trump's plan to withdraw the US from the Paris accord on climate change.

While it is difficult not to agree with what Mugabe has said, particularly on climate change, the message meant very little coming from him.

The hypocrisy is glaring coming from a man that has ruined his country, politically and economically, has no respect for democracy and the rule of law, has ordered the killing of scores of his countrymen and has rigged elections to stay in power.

Mugabe deserves no respect or admiration and his admonishments should be put in perspective by a media lacking dismally in critical, fair, and credible reporting, as we apparently have entered an era of ‘punchline reporting,’ under the pressure of the instantaneous entertainment of social media, instead of well-considered, balanced information dissemination.

by Garth Cilliers & Piet Coetzer

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