Editorial: Fake news has no place in SA media

In an era where “fake news” has become a buzzword of note, South Africans now also have fake bloggers to contend with.

The storm around the Huffington Post’s publication last week of a controversial post titled “Could it be time to deny white men the franchise?” shows little sign of abating.

Many objected to the content itself, slamming it as racist and divisive.

HuffPostSA’s editor, Verashni Pillay, defended and promoted the piece, raising questions from some quarters about the platform’s perceived agenda.

But it got worse. It was established (through proper, old-school journalism, it turns out) that the purported writer of the piece did not even exist.

Pillay has been branded incompetent (she was forced to apologise for the publication of a false report last year, while at Mail & Guardian) amid calls for her to be axed.

HuffPostSA’s reputation has been blighted and, all the while, some members of the public’s lingering distrust of the mainstream media continues to grow incrementally.

Responsible, ethicallydriven journalism is more important now than ever before. So it is vital for editors not only to make sure there are appropriate checks and balances in place, but that those checks and balances are being applied as a matter of course.

Even once a writer’s authenticity has been established, every column or post a newspaper chooses to share under its banner has to be properly interrogated.

But it is no easy task, as many in the industry will surely concede. Newsrooms have shrunk but workloads haven’t.

Editors and journalists are feeling the pressure from all sides. And through it all attempts to curtail freedom of the press are incubating in the background.

Everyone is fearful of making mistakes. They happen all too frequently and it is important that we, as newspapers, take ownership of those mistakes.

Yet despite the numerous challenges newsrooms face, those who take this responsibility seriously will at all times strive to do right by readers and share content that is well posited, accurate, verifiable and fair, even if it does provoke. Our existence depends on it.

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