The article ’‘Eviction hits kids hard’’ (The Citizen, 07/07/2011, p.4) failed to provide a nuanced and in-depth coverage of the eviction of “nearly 2000 people” from a derelict building in Johannesburg’s central business district (CBD).
The article reports that the building was considered unsafe as its electricity connections were illegal and it did not have safe evacuation equipment among other things.
When such evictions are carried out, the effect they have on children is often forgotten thus it is commendable that the article took the angle of how the evictions affected children in reporting on the issue.
However, the photograph published alongside the article was insensitive. It showed a mother and her children as they were being evicted from the building. This failed to respect the children’s right to dignity and ultimately act in their best interests.
There also seems to be no effort made to humanise the story by hearing the woman’s account of the incident. This leaves the reader wondering whether the woman and her children were photographed for sensational purposes only.
The article also fell short of broadening the issue. It mentions that the eviction was part of a joint operation between the police, emergency services, the Environmental Health Department and the Urban Management Department, but there seems to be no effort on the part of the journalist to broaden the issue.
Given that South Africa is grappling with an increase in the number of children living on the streets,The Citizen could have used this opportunity to take government to task on what it is doing to reduce the number of children living on the streets especially after such an eviction. Instead, the Emergency Management Services spokesperson is the only official accessed describing the building as extremely unsafe.
The Citizen could have also unearthed the interests behind the eviction. In other words, whose interests are served by evicting nearly 2000 people? Such interests could have been exposed by considering how reporting on the issue is in the “public interest”.
While we recognise that good reporting is often synonymous with ‘objectivity’, asking probing questions does not imply subjective reporting. Therefore, journalists need to ask questions that elicit responses that help the reader understand the nuances and complexities surrounding the issue(s) being reported on.
In addition, we recognise that journalists working for daily newspapers like The Citizen are constrained by deadlines and space. However, time and space limitations are no substitute for substance.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) maintains that media need to provide nuanced and in-depth coverage of issues in a humanised way. To get it right the media need to think about how issues are in the public interest otherwise they risk being sensational.