The main headline above the fold of the edition of the South African Sunday Times for Sunday the 13th of November 2005: Zuma Rape Claim with the cutline reading: Police Probe allegation that the ANC deputy president sexually assaulted a guest at his house.
I shook my head when I read that headline and passed right on by without buying a copy (at R8,50 I think its a bit of a rip-off anyway). My main reason for shaking my head and voting with my wallet is the question bouncing around in my mind which is does it really matter what Zuma did in his home? The answer I arrived at was: yes it does. If he did do something he should'nt have to that woman he should be held accountable for it just like anyone else in South Africa, but he should only be held accountable if it has been proven that he did something and it has been brought to court- otherwise as far as this editor-in-chief is concerned, if I edited the Sunday Times, that Zuma story would have been a 250 words on page 3 if that, NOT on the front page.
But why do I take exception to this? I respected the Sunday Times once, it reported news which was factual and relevant, comment which was well justified and plausable analysis- it has quite frankly lost its way and gotten stuck in the donga which is tabloidisation. Lets talk about definitions for a moment: I use the term tabloid to mean a newspaper which reports on events and happenings in a sensationalist and unfounded way. I was insulted when many people called for a halt on the extensive coverage the Zuma trial and others have been getting. "Telling the journalists not to report on something? Freedom of the press I cried"- the reason given to this want for a media blackout was that Zuma had been tried and convicted already by the press and this I didnt buy into...until today.
In my opinion, a newspaper's job is to report facts and events in the most informative way possible- analysis should go on page 4 with it clearly labeled analysis, the Sunday Times was reporting allegations made against Mr Zuma as hard news FACT! The keywords here is allegations. It sounds to me that like the ANC is launching a smear campaign to try and discredit Mr Zuma even further- the sad part of it is that the Sunday Times seems to want to buy into doing this and thus reporting these new allegations in the way they did, they haven't dug beneath the surface and for that you need time- hence you run the initial story on page 3, dig a bit deeper, if you find out its an ANC smear campaign shout it from the rooftops! If it eventually comes to light that Zuma did in fact do something he should'nt have, then shout it with banner headlines and large font on the front page.
Ok, if you got this far so you either agree with me or you strongly disagree with me. Lets say that for argument sake that the Sunday Times is in fact trying to appeal to the tabloid readers and in so doing endevouring to increase its overall market share. Why is tabloidisation so popular? because it creates waves, it creates controversey and people love that don't they? Now, don't get me wrong, controversey is a journalists bread and butter- its what sells newspapers there can be no doubt about it, it can be colourful and interesting and it can be great. But, I say controversey has to create itself for the newspaper- not the newspaper create itself for the controversey. Let me explain, true controversey is the kind which you can slap on the page and it sends tingles up your spine when you do- manufactured (read bad) controversey is when a newspaper takes something which might be big and which might matter and make it into something that is big and does matter for all the wrong reasons- its one step away from creative writing ladies and gentlemen and not the type Hemingway did, his time is over.
I am not adverse to putting controversey in the newspaper I have been appointed to manage but I say lets create controversey with reason, and by creating I mean that something only becomes controversial once it has been read and digested by your readers.
Zuma is, in my personal opinion, is as guilty as sin. He has been tried and convicted in the public eye through the press before he has even set foot in a court room, this I admit and furthermore I admit that this is not entirely fair. "But why then defend the cad?" I hear you exclaim as you scratch your head with confusion. To this I say: the crimes Zuma is being held accountable for have gone to court- thats news, it was news when he was dismissed and it the corruption he may have been involved in is news and controversial news at that. But the team at the Sunday Times seem to be flogging a dead horse here when they dredge up this new gem- Zuma has been done and is now old news, "lets try and spice things up a bit so we can get as much mileage out of him" seem to be their thinking and that is controversey for the wrong reasons
Thanks for reading