Exposed: Sports journalists are biased, sensational and partisan

Sports journalists have it far too easy. So I interviewed a number of well-placed sources and experts on the standards of our rugby, soccer and cricket writers.

“It is time somebody took at hard look at this,� one of them said. “Our sports journalists only write about conflict, when things are bad or when someone gets hurt. They don’t want to write about when things go well. When did you last see a story about a rugby game when no-one punched some else? Or a report on a soccer game that said there were no fouls? When did they last run a list of all the Boks who are NOT injured?

“It is just sensationalism. They just want to sell their newspapers, and don’t care about anything else.�

This view has been supported by research, which shows widespread bias in sports coverage. “In 99% of the coverage, reporters showed blatant support for the national or their local teams,� said one media studies professor. “They often ignored the views of the other side, and did not follow the basic journalistic ethic of fairness and balance.�

A Ministry of Sport spokesperson said there was too much speculation, rumour and use of unnamed sources. “They say this one scored a try or that one missed a kick. But where do they get this from? They don’t even tell us who their source is, and sometimes I think they don’t even watch TV. Certainly no the same channel as me.

“And when we deny it, they just ignore what we have to say. Something has to be done.� He hastily added that the government supported media freedom, so you could rely on absolutely nothing being done.

A Youth League spokesperson put it down to xenophobia: “Where do you see more hatred of foreigners than in the coverage of sports. Do we encourage our youth to love our brothers from Zambia or the Congo on the soccer field? I think not.�

A police spokesman denied that we had a soccer hooligan problem like Britain. “Oh, no, nothing like that at all. We rough up foreigners because they are stealing our jobs, not because they beat us at football.�

A Rhodes University academic said the problem was that the reporting failed to put the story into context. “How can you write about our soccer team if you don’t take into account the nature of the society we live in and the impact of globalisation? People will think it is just a game.�

And another: “There is just not enough coverage of rural sports. It tells us how little the media has changed since 1994.�

A cricket expert cited the example of how the media treated Hansie Cronje. “They went on and on about the games he threw for money. Did anyone count how many games we won just because he was paid to win? There’s two sides to every story.�

Cosatu believes that the problem can be traced back to when the government introduced Gear. “If you can’t get the tripartite alliance to work together as a team, what kind of example are you setting for Bafana?�

Trevor Manuel said that the problem with that “despicable rag�, Noseweek, was that it had no rugby writer. “If they wrote more about decent things and stopped sticking their noses into my private business, then I would be able to stop reading them,� he said.

The head of SABC, Dali Mpofu, said he would call a commission of inquiry into the allegations. “To show our seriousness, I am going to get a team of 115 eminent experts to conduct a two-year commission of inquiry, costing millions. They will take evidence from everyone, including all viewers, and find the evidence to blame some poor cameraman who was just doing what he was told. Then see how you feel.�

The Presidency said it was time we challenged the way the Western media portrayed Africans. “All they show is war and conflict. Do you think if Zidane was Swiss they would have screened that headbutt again and again?�

Jacob Zuma wasn’t asked for comment, but he gave one anyway. “I call for an end to action replays,� he said. “It is trial by media.�

A Democratic Alliance spokesman said the problem was caused by corruption, affirmative action or the lack of respect for minorities. As soon as they found out which, they would launch a vicious attack on someone.

Colleen Lowe-Morna, a well-known rugby analyst, said she was absolutely certain that this had nothing to do with gender equality.

*With thanks to This column first appeared in Business Day

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