One thing I love about my job – and it’s probably the scariest – is that I have the power to make people believe what I
want them to believe. Most times information becomes known through the media. Therefore journalism can be a very pressurising field, as you have to ensure that all the facts are told as well as all sides to the story.
So far during the short span of my career I have encountered many eye-openers, the latest one being the Hangberg issue where the Western Cape Premier Helen Zille evicted dozens of families and demolished their housing structures on the Sentinel that overlooks the Hout Bay harbour and the mountainous backdrop. I was there on the first and second days of the evictions (21 and 22 September). The first day was hectic. Naturally, emotions ran high when residents witnessed their houses being thrown down and they started throwing stones and petrol bombs at the law enforcement officers, who then retaliated with rubber bullets.
The spokesperson for the City of Cape Town, Kylie Hatton was also on the scene, feeding information to the media, and what she was relaying was not entirely the truth. She maintained that the “shacks” were unoccupied. I was up on the mountain being taken on a tour by one of the residents. People were crying in front of me because they did not have a place to go to anymore. I saw furniture underneath the caved-in walls, yet the City kept saying nobody was living in the houses at the time of the demolitions. The structures weren’t even shacks, but bungalows and wendy houses for which loans were taken out to erect them.
All city officials were worried about were the injuries of the law enforcement officers, but when asked if they had a record of civilian injuries, they could not answer, however that inability spoke a thousand words already: The community isn’t that important. Four people lost their eyes because they were shot at with rubber bullets. And to cover their tracks the City published photographs of residents throwing bricks, stating that the four people were in those pictures. Of course any ordinary reader of the newspaper would believe it. But my colleague and I were smart (I’d like to think so) and took our own photographs of three of the four people and then requested the photographs in the City’s possession. Two of the four definitely were not in those pictures. The other one I am not so sure about.
Since the first day of demolitions, I spent a lot of time in Hangberg and got to know some of the residents. I listened to them. I observed. And when I returned to the newsroom I made a point of broadcasting their side of the story, since I could see from other media reports that the public was being fed half-truths and the Hangberg residents were made out to be the “baddies”. Residents actually phoned to thank me for spending time with them and “helping” them. At that point I felt truly blessed for being granted that opportunity.
I know what it’s like to work under extreme pressure, panicking when you see your stories for the day are not panning out. It’s so damn easy to add a little white lie or to twist a quote just to satisfy your editor or spice up your story. Therefore, not even I trust everything I read or see in the media. It’s so unfortunate that we have to rely on these entities for information.
The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to makethe guilty innocent, and that’s power. Becaue they control the minds of the masses. ~Malcolm X