Media coverage of racist pool incident leaves much to be desired

IT HAS become a stock type of news story in our country. A racist incident leading to outrage, promises of prosecution by politicians, opportunity for anti-racist lectures, a flash-point for hot-heads followed by calls for calm by moderates.

It is not tame media coverage which is to blame for the way in which we digest these stories, it is a total lack of engagement with the subject matter compounded by a flagrant disregard for news objectivity which is to blame. One may be forgiven for thinking journos like Eusebius McKaiser who believe ‘media coverage of Maselspoort racist attack is too tame‘, are literally barking up the wrong tree.

Witness the manner in which our print media along with its commentators (ranks and file influencers and opinion-makers), jump to their conclusions, treating readers like absolute morons requiring remedial aid for a disease known as racism, one associated with our nation’s egregious past? In the process editors fail to provide readers even the most basic facts of what is known about the story.

A video circulating on social media for instance shows a man pushing a youth into a pool. The situation rapidly escalates into a confrontation. Violence needs to be condemned, but why is this incident racism and not hooliganism?

Instead of focusing on the material evidence which follows, our media cover nothing more than the allegations, statements made by the boys, the police docket followed by the charges. The result is that New York Times scoops our media, as social media turns up shocking CCTV footage.

All the videos require further investigation.

The first color video circulating, requires that viewers turn up the sound. A man can clearly be heard telling a youth to ‘get out of the pool’. This is an objective fact, not an opinion subject to an affidavit.

The CCTV footage shows an altercation at the gate, people are turned back while one youth jumps a fence. These are all facts bolstering the allegations.

Another segment shows some people getting out of the pool when a black youth (the fence jumper?) jumps in — mere coincidence or rather an extraordinary detail, all adding to the allegations of racism at a Bloemfontein resort on Christmas Day?

Instead of maintaining an objective tone, the press unfortunately doubled-down on a well-known theme, (yet another racist access drama), pre-empting readers’ own appreciation of the facts — an unfortunate foregone conclusion to the story, one which is leading many to outright scepticism and even racism fatigue.

Such scepticism can only be tackled by rational discourse. Instead of pandering to any one contingent, our press should seek to mediate between what is objective reality and subjective opinion.

Published in part by Cape Argus 3 January 2023