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Embedded Journalism and Marikana

Today I read an interesting article about the matter of embedded journalism (http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-08-24-marikana-the-matter-of-embedded-journalism#.UU89shdqng0.). It talks about the fact that there are conflicting ideas about what happened at the Marikana shooting. The version which seems to be the most popular and that has been the most fleshed out by television is that miners initiated the violence by firing at police first.  The problem with most of the coverage of the Marikana shooting was that journalists were standing behind the police and only saw their perspective. Jane Duncan feels that it looks like a lot of media companies are falling into the trap of embedded journalism these days, and says that the problem with where journalists were situated in this event is that one almost sees what occurred through the eyes of the police, therefore making it easier to rationalise their actions. What has come out from alternative reports however is that miners were not charging at police at all, but in fact police shot at them and they were actually fleeing.

The term embedded journalism originally refers to news reporters being attached to military units involved in armed conflicts (http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/03/15_mediatwar.shtml.). The journalists viewed the shooting from a point of safety among the police. The other problem with the Marikana event is that the miners have not been given much of a voice in the coverage of the whole incident. Instead the usual dominant sources such as the police and government have been utilised again and again. These sources in general tend to be seen as ‘credible’ and ‘legitimate’. Also, as these sources are used so often and by so many different reporters they tend to appear more reliable, even if they are not. The workers themselves are brushed aside as being the less favoured, less tolerated party whose voices are not trusted or respected to the same extent.

However there has been one researcher, Peter Alexander, who exposed an alternative account quite early on during the storie’s unfolding, one that challenges the mainstream account. His research leaned towards the possibility of a premeditated police plan, which saw miners running like bait right into the police line. Of course his research needs serious scrutiny too, and has been difficult to prove due to lack of eye witness evidence, but what is very important here, I think, is the need for two more balanced and equal sides to the story. Although this article was written in August last year, the point still stands that the coverage at the time was very one sided. There needed to be a lot more research done, interviewing of miners, eye witness accounts from other stand points before such drastic and accusing conclusions were made for all to read. One cannot have a huge story like this only represented from one side, especially considering the already present powerlessness of the miners, who are even more shunned and marginalised by the media.

This kind of reporting could have serious repercussions for workers in general, as miners felt a major sense of betrayal in the way that the story was represented.  If workers start to build a perception that journalists are running an agenda for the status quo, it will be difficult for journalists to get information out of them in order to get balanced representations of events. Workers will build a sense of mistrust and hostility towards journalists which will not bode well for the future of reporting in South Africa.

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