In the public interest : news values, ethics and the need for a new focus in South African journalism.
The dramatic transition from South Africa's previous apartheid political system to a democratic dispensation, has posed unique challenges for the media. Ethical practices per se are difficult, with joumalists being faced with the demanding position of having to act ethically on a tightrope between a totalitarian heritage and a newly emerging democratic nation. This thesis begins with the mapping out of a new theoretical model of ethical practice for South African journalists - a model that is open-ended, context-sensitive, and emphasises critical and creative thinking, as well as diversity and relativity in the process of moral decision-making. Considerable debate - both nationally and internationally - currently surrounds the ethical role of joumalists. In South Africa, these polarised positions have tended to emerge as the two main discourses evident in the local press: the watchdog discourse, broadly corresponding to the libertarian theory of the role of the media; and the nation-building discourse, which approximates to the egalitarian or social responsibility model. This thesis argues that the two discourses are not necessarily mutually exclusive; the theoretical framework does not exclusively support either normative theory as such, but rather facilitates the fostering of both sets of values represented by each respectively. The case studies examined in this thesis are all underpinned by this idea. Attention is given to an examination of the violence coverage in KwaZulu-Natal, demonstrating an ethical breakdown in reporting during the years of apartheid, which shadowed journalists into the transitional period after the unbanning of the ANC and the lifting of all Emergency Regulations in 1990. The concepts of privacy and hate speech are examined, illustrating a lack in the culture of the South African press, of any concise articulation of its journalistic mission or what is expected of journalists. Finally coverage of the country's HIV/Aids pandemic is examined, the ethics involved in reporting such coverage are explored, and the ethical implications of an advocacy role vis-a-vis HIV/Aids, and reporting in general, are discussed. The thesis ultimately attempts to map out an ethics that creatively seeks to guide journalists in both binding people together, and exposing what is wrong between them, in order that they may participate in the crafting of a new moral order.