While South Africa is grappling with high unemployment; poor quality education; poorly located and inadequate infrastructure; unsustainable growth path; unequal distribution of resources; ailing public health system; poor service delivery; corruption; and racism (see the National_Planning_Commission_Diagnostic_Overview.pdf), it is disturbing that the Sowetan 15/08/2011 chose to lead with a story featuring sexually explicit material.
What is of critical concern to Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is why the Sowetan chose to run with the story as a lead and how they reported on it especially given that City Press had reported the same story on the previous day (14/08/2011, p.6), in a less dramatic and more balanced way.
The story in the Sowetan is focused on a video of a male correctional services officer and a female police officer allegedly having sex at a government hospital where they were “supposed to guard a suspect they had transported… for a medical check-up” (Sowetan, 15/08/2011, p.2). It is alleged that the video was made by the male correctional services officer involved in the act without the knowledge of the female police officer. The video ended up in the hands of a friend of the male correctional services officer who in turn sent it to a number of people.
Despite the fact that the Sowetan explained the reasons they carried the story on the front page as well as on its editorial page, the manner in which the story was covered is disconcerting. It would appear that the story raises more questions than answers. The first question: Had the Sowetan not accessed the video footage would they have run the story?
A close reading of the story reveals that there was no failure on the part of government in terms of dealing with the issue since the police officer involved has since been dismissed and the correctional services officer is on suspension pending disciplinary proceedings. This being the case does the story really warrant such prominence and dramatic images? More fundamentally perhaps, what is the actual story, if not to sensationalise and thereby increase sales?
It is clear from the editorial that the newspaper understands what sort of debates the story may raise. But other than people talking about it in their offices, their homes and on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, what else?
Further, given the Sowetan’s recent decision to publish a column by Eric Miyeni (Sowetan, 01/08/2011) that not only perpetuated racial stereotypes but was also potentially defamatory and offensive (see MMA’s press release titled “Avusa media needs to be accountable”), it is deplorable that the notion of “minimising harm” seems to have evaded the newspaper, because the story could potentially have devastating consequences on the families involved, especially the children. It is not clear how considerations for their privacy were balanced against the desire to report the story.
Other than carrying graphic images from the video footage, the story on page 2 (The 15-minute bonking that ruined officers’ lives) also provides graphic details of the officers having sex. While the Sowetan blurred the images because of the “prospects that children might gain access to them”, revealing graphic sexual detail in writing is little different. In addition, the pseudonym given to the man of, “Big” combined with references to the woman “hastily taking down her tight pants” serve little purpose other than to titillate and reinforce sexist stereotypes.
It is indeed true that the Sowetan “should not pass judgement” (see editorial) but mentioning that both the police officer and the correctional services officer having sex in the video are allegedly married and therefore cheating on their spouses is judgemental. The fact that the two are married to other people is completely irrelevant to the issue.
MMA is not arguing that the Sowetan should not have reported the story. However, the story could have been done differently with emphasis on the response by the SAPS and Department of Correctional Services for example or given that this is women’s month it could have looked at sexual relations within the high stress positions like SAPS and Correctional services, rather than focussing on the sexual prowess or lack thereof of the officers.
While it is true that “the uniform, the badges, the venue [government hospital] of the act itself and the time used belongs to the people of the Republic of South Africa”, the question to be asked is whether South Africans are facing bigger challenges which warrant more attention than officers having sex on duty?
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