How much coverage should journalists give expelled former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema? There are murmurings that he is being kept alive by the media, and should get less of the oxygen of exposure.
I believe we must confront head-on those who suggest the media should play down his utterings, or give him less or no coverage. It is extremely dangerous for journalists to start deciding who is or isn’t newsworthy on the basis that someone is in or out of favour with their party, or loses their official position.
On this basis, we would have stopped covering the PAC when it broke away from the ANC. Or Bantu Holomisa when he was pushed out of the ANC. Or the Progressive Federal Party when they left the United Party. Or Frederik van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Boraine when they left the PFP and parliament in the 1980s. It is self-evident that these people did not become irrelevant when they broke away, and in fact may have become MORE relevant and newsworthy.
There are others who broke away from their parties, and failed to make a mark thereafter. They faded from media coverage.
The question editors need to ask about Malema is whether his voice still matters, still has resonance, whether he still has followers and influence. If these things start falling away, then coverage should diminish. But to try and bury his voice when it is still resonant, when he clearly still has a following and a political influence, would be a serious abrogation of our journalistic duty.
Clearly, editors and reporters have to watch closely and be cautious not to overplay Malema’s voice just because he is good at creating publicity and handy with his rhetorical flourishes. Clearly, it is important to put his role in perspective, and provide context, particularly when he appears to be on a self-serving and opportunistic campaign to save his skin. It would be wrong to carry his voice without putting it into the context of where he comes from and how he currently fits in (or doesn’t).
But to deliberately ignore or play him down would be to try and hide reality from our readers and viewers – and that would soon fall flat.