All media organisations thrive on stories that will drive more traffic to their site or increase their sales. But News24 seems to be going the extra mile with their latest bout of sensationalist “stories” based on speculation and hearsay with one source in one of the stories taken completely – and probably deliberately – out of context. The danger with publishing such low effort articles is that people who are not aware of the issues will interpret what they read as fact. Furthermore, many might not take the time to read properly and in detail to notice the statements are not backed up by any facts.
News24 probably licked their lips when they discovered that two men were killed inside a mosque in Malmesbury on 14 June. Before you judge me for assuming a lack of empathy on their part, keep in mind there’s a common saying in newsrooms: If it bleeds it leads. This unfortunate incident at the mosque presented the news giant with an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of Western media’s contempt for all things Islamic.
In the early hours of Thursday morning two worshippers were stabbed to death by a Somali who was shot dead by police when he attempted to attack them. Since this story broke, News24 has been milking it for all its worth, clearly trying to paint a picture of divisions, sectarianism and a possible flare up violence within the Muslim community. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Since the Malmesbury attacks, News24 published several articles but I’ll dissect just a few of them.
Caryn Dolley wrote an article claiming that there were “intense divisions” among Muslim clerics across the country in the wake of the Malmesbury incident, and that these divisions stem from a peace accord signed several weeks ago. However, a few paragraphs below she wrote that there was “no established proof” that the attack was related to the accord. These “divisions” were highlighted by Dolley herself – not clerics – when she tried to turn a tragic incident into sensationalist drivel that News24 was probably hoping would increase their stats. If you read the article closely you’ll see that Dolley uses old quotes from press releases and social media that were published before the Malmesbury incident, as well as a voice note from one person who is unidentified. She uses quotes outside of context to create the impression that there’s growing tension.
It was later established that the attacker had bipolar disorder. This clearly indicates that the reason for the attack had nothing to do with sectarianism, divisions and peace accords – this was also proven by police. But News24 just wouldn’t let it go that easily.
Also on Thursday, an imam and his wife were shot at during an attempted hijacking near Phillippi. That area is notorious for hijackings and smash-and-grabs. I, too, have been a victim of a smash-and-grab near that area. But it seems like News24 wanted to create an impression that Muslims were increasingly coming under attack by mentioning two mosque attack incidents at the end. I’m pretty sure that it was just an attempted hijacking and had no relation to any mosque attacks or even religion, for that matter.
In yet another article written by Dolley published on Saturday, she claims that there were fears relating to sectarianism in the Muslim community after the Malmesbury incident, though it was proven this incident was not related to any sectarianism. She further states that tensions have been simmering between Shias and Sunnis in South Africa and quotes only one source, who speaks mostly of violent tensions in other parts of the world – not in South Africa. Journalism 101 states that a story should have multiple sources and not be one-sided.
There have been discussions in the Muslim community and in Muslim media in South Africa about possible divisions within the community. This has been discussed in the same way News24 would run an opinion piece or a newspaper would publish a column. It’s speculative and based on opinion and should remain as opinion and not fall under a breaking news headline.
I’m not going to deny the fact that there was an attack on a mosque believed to be Shia not too long ago. This is an isolated case and does not mean there are fears, sectarianism and divisions across South Africa, as News24 wants us to believe. Attacks of any kind on any religious group or structure should never be okay or endorsed. Yes, people have different opinions on Sunni and Shia Islam. But News24 using a tragic incident of a mentally ill man attacking Muslim worshippers to further their agenda of creating a perception of increased tensions and possible Muslim-on-Muslim violence is wholly irresponsible.
One of the first things I learned while studying journalism was that journalists have the power to shape people’s opinion, and therefore we have to report responsibly. It’s clear to me now how News24 plans to shape public opinion – with rumour and speculation.