Monday, June 9, 2014

'Springs Monster' - was the media fair?

Journalists' main goal is to ensure the right of citizens to truthful and important information, which allows them to form an adequate impression about social processes, their essence and importance, about the situation in the modern world. The journalist bears responsibility before the society in general, before the law and before the professional association. The social responsibility of the journalist requires that he acts in accordance with his personal ethical standards. However, there comes a time when the journalistic ethics are questioned, it can be a story published, a comment made or a simple status on social networks. Ethics can be defined as moral principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conducting of an activity.
Recently a story broke about the tragedy which happened in Springs where it was alleged that a 35year old held his family hostage for years. Though the neighbours knew, no one was able to come forward and report what was happening in the house, until an 11-year-old boy ran away. The media covered a story in different angles, some speculated the mother did not want to tell the world of what was happening because she feared that without her husband they will be destitute. Social media also broke the story giving their views on what ‘might’ have occurred in the house. The name that was thus given to the ‘alleged’ man was “Monster” and his home referred to as the “house of horror”.
By so doing, the media violated the rights of the accused, they painted him as a ‘monster’ and referred to his house as ‘a house of horror’ whilst having no idea or concrete evidence about the living conditions of his home. The South African law state that the accused is not guilty until proven guilty. What the nation did was to judge a 35-year-old before he was even sent to court. They drew their own conclusions on the matter thus tempering with the case. For example, the case of Oscar Pistorius; when the story of Reeva Steenkamp being shot broke, everyone had their own assumptions the media houses even had sketches of what might have happened before Oscar was even tried. That caused confusion, not only to the citizens but the judge was also said to have been biased and misled by what he had seen or heard from the news.
City Press published a story on the 3rd of June, titled “Neighbours of ‘Springs monster’ too scared to ‘interfere”. The story lacks evidence, it shows that there was not enough time to gather all the evidence. The only person whom the City Press relied on for information was a tenant who rented a back room of the accused. The information which they got from their source couldn't be verified by anyone. The wife didn't say anything, the police also had no comment and so neither nor did the social workers. In this case, then there is no telling whether the information brought forward was accurate enough. The neighbours didn't want to interfere, so the title suggests, they might have had an idea of what was going on in the house but since they did not even comment that makes one really doubt the credibility of the only source the City Press could find.
A 35-year-old was scrutinised, given names and might have lost any sort of respect he had. The accused was defamed. In media law defamation refers to “any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person's reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person. [It] may be a criminal or civil charge. It encompasses both written statements, known as libel, and spoken statements, called slander.” If not found guilty I believe that the accused has every right to sue the media, the media labelled him as a monster (someone who is a large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature). Should he be not found guilty he still has to go back and right all the wrongs made by the media?
Everything was blown out of proportion by the social media. Citizen journalists had all the pictures and facts that they published before the “alleged” had even appeared in court. Some of the tweets read “#springsmonster. A 36-year-old man arrested for keeping a wife, 5 children locked in Springs upmarket house for years torturing and raping them”, “The Beeld newspaper must be congratulated for breaking that story in this monster in Springs who's been molesting his kids.” There is no way that one can be sure about what has happened in the house of horror because the people who experienced the living conditions first hand, were not able to comment. Whatever that is said by Dixon may and may not be true. Sometimes what you see is not what you get.


  1. Well articulated argument. We often have no time to think of the implications of our reporting in the rush to meet deadline and beat the competition.

  2. Well articulated argument. We often have no time to think of the implications of our reporting in the rush to meet deadline and beat the competition.

  3. @Lucas, Only seeing your comment now. Haven't visited my blog in a while. Thanks for the positive comment. The point you're raising is true, we do need to be extra careful when reporting because we never know what damage it might cause. And having said that, it's easy to do something and extremely difficult to undo.