“Never allow discussions on quality of journalism to be led by politicians, it is not their realm. Politician will never be friends nor admirers of constructive
journalism”. – Anonymous
Lindsay Dentlinger is an ENCA controversial South African journalist who was accused of racism after insisting on only black guests on her news interviews to wear masks. The incidents happened after the budget speech by the Finance Minister of South Africa, Tito Mboweni in parliament on 24 February. ENCA is a South African independent 24-hour news channel based in Johannesburg. Following the incident and public outcry, the channel issued a media statement, which for all intents and purposes was meant to apologise and put the entire saga to rest. However the statement has further angered most in South Africa.
The channel stands accused of trying to defend Dentlinger and of being out of touch with sociopolitical reality especially on matters pertain to racial
sensitivities in the country. Dentlinger certainly erred in her coverage; in a racially charged country like South Africa where incidences of racism are commonplace she should have known better. Moreover, what is more disappointing is the manner in which ENCA handled the situation; it was
an absolute failure on the side of its management and communication apparatus. Like most big institutions, ENCA underestimated the power and influence of social media in shaping the public opinion. Having said that, the Dentlinger saga has also presented an opportunity to discuss important matters in the field of news coverage in South Africa and the trappings of “Woke and Cancel cultures” in general. First, traditionally in South Africa after every budget speech, journalists line the steps of parliament to obtain reactions of the speech from opposition politicians.
The process is often clumsy and poorly produced at least for television. Journalists often run up and down soliciting politicians for reactions in front of live cameras. Ordinarily, anchors and correspondents in such setups rely heavily on producers to prepare interviews. Behind the scene preparations are responsibilities of technical team, consisting of camerapersons, soundpersons, producers etc. Coordina tion between the studio, field anchors and correspondents is also the responsibility of technical teams. Whilst it is important to chastise Dentlinger for her actions, South African media should introspect the quality of their journalist in general and training of their journalists, worse could have happened give the current state of preparedness and professionalism.
Whatever the truth behind Dentlinger’s actions, preparedness of technical her technical team could have easily prevented such an occurrence. South Africa continues to battle racism in all spheres of the society; journalists are amongst those accused of racism. This has given rise to heightened vigilance of all forms of bigotry on social media. Since the emergence of the #MeToo and #Black Lives Matter movements in the United States (US), there has been a rise of “Cancel culture” and proliferation of “Woke culture” across the globe including South Africa. Cancel culture, also referred to, as the call-out culture is “a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person”. Woke culture on the other hand is a term “that originated in the US, referring to a perceived awareness of issues that concern social justice and racial justice. It derives from the African-American Vernacular English expression stay woke, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues.
Cancel culture has consequently led to the destruction of a number of people’s careers often without recourse. Some those called out on social media are
later discovered that they are actually innocent of accusation laid upon them. In October 2017, Mike Tunison was added in the Sh-tty Media Men List a Google Doc that collected allegations of misconduct from anonymous, unvetted sources. Tunison was accused by someone (he didn’t know) of stalking,
harassment, and physical intimidation, and asserted they had filed a complaint with human resources at the Washington Post. According to Tunison, no such claim existed. “I ended up checking with HR and they were like ‘we have nothing on file.’
The only thing in my file that they mentioned was that I was forced to resign from the Post because I was writing for this crass sports blog Kissing Suzy Kolber, which is probably what most people know me from”. What is important to note in the case of Tunison is the weaponisation of the social media
to peddle untruths and destroy careers. The lack of due process, lack of evidence and subsequent ostracization of those accused is of great concern. In the case of Dentlinger what was concerning is how a less than a minute long video clip circulated widely in the social media by a politician managed
not only to create a debate but somehow managed to dent her career. In order to judge people’s bona fides; honesty of their past actions and indeed their journalism it must surely take more than a video clip.
Furthermore, journalists and media fraternity in general must be careful that social media activism in the form of Woke culture does not morph into a tool used by politicians to settle scores and pushback on journalism. Journalists must close ranks, self correct when necessary, criticize and sanction each other in order limit the role of external actors particularly politicians in their affairs. Racism accusations made against Dentlinger in South Africa were first raised by one of the leading South African politicians, Floyd Shivambu. Most journalists failed to identify the intent of Shivambu, which was clearly meant to smear Dentlinger and bring doubt to her journalism and the organization she represented. Shivambu is accused of assaulting a Netwerk24, a leading South African media institution, journalist at the Parliamentary Precinct in 2018. There is a danger in such an atmosphere like South Africa, where journalists are divided along racial lines; and competition to scoop each other out of stories outweighs solidarity; journalists end up siding with destructive forces. Cancel and Woke cultures are certainly growing practices and still lack thorough understanding in South Africa. Indeed, there have been positive outcomes on social media as a result of both Woke and Cancel cultures. However, they have become weapons for those seeking to settle scores.