The PW tweet and the ongoing fallout

Postings can damage trust in journalists

What are the implications for a journalist who praises a former apartheid leader and recalls the era of his rule with some nostalgia? Evidently, it does not go down very well in post-apartheid South Africa and provides a lesson to everyone in the profession to think carefully before making public postings on social media or elsewhere.

Paul Kirk, the journalist whose tweet got the DA’s Kohler-Barnard fired has faced the court of public opinion. A few weeks ago, he posted a message on facebook and twitter that has gained him public censure:

“And so the new head of the Hawks – found to be without integrity and dishonest by the High Court – has suspended Ace detective Johan Booysen over a typing error. This is a bloody circus. Please come back PW Botha – you were far more honest than any of these ANC rogues – and you provided far better services to the public – we had a functioning education system, functioning health system and the police did not murder miners on behalf of government toadies as they do now.”

His controversial views may have remained just that in his small corner in KZN where he is hardly known but then high-ranking DA politician Dianne Kohler-Barnard re-tweeted this post bringing it onto the national public stage.

Paul Kirk Post

Kirk’s first reaction was to defend the posting as a piece of satire. (Paul Kirk on SA FM). Media professionals however have not been impressed.

One of his former employers, The Citizen newspaper, moved to distance itself from his views declaring that the journalist had left its employ about two years back.

The Citizen would like to clarify that Paul Kirk ceased to work as a Durban-based correspondent for our publication more than two years ago, and his views certainly do not reflect those of The Citizen in any way whatsoever. It is regrettable that he is being associated with this company, and to set the record straight – there is no link between Kirk and The Citizen newspaper or online properties.”

Mathatha Tsedu, Executive Director of the South African National Editors’ Forum described the views in the tweet as ‘reprehensible’.

Paul Kirk

Paul Kirk

“While it is reprehensible for a journalist, or anyone else for that matter, to hold such views, it is not a crime in South Africa to support apartheid or PW Botha. Orania is a living example of this,” he said.

“In the age of social media, those who propagate indefensible opinions, in any event open themselves up to the court of public opinion and more often than not have to live with the consequences of espousing repugnant views,” he said.

Veteran journalist and author John Mattison, said Kirk’s comment was “tinged with racism”.

“It does not come across as a satirical message. The post is really destructive, untrue and it gives the feeling that the person sending it has racial prejudice, whether he is a journalist or not.”

A young media graduate of the University of the Free State, Valentino Ndaba was upset. She had harsh words for both the journalist and the politician. She described Barnard’s action as an “insult to Black South Africans” and referred to Kirk as someone who “feels entitled to rub his offensive opinion in people’s faces”.

The Journalist was unable to reach Kirk for comment.

While Kirk’s freedom of speech should be respected, the backlash from the public and from journalists themselves indicates that such statements are likely to affect the standing of a journalist in society. It may well affect their ability to do their work because of issues of trust between themselves and consumers of news.

Botha presided over apartheid’s most repressive years. During his reign thousands of South Africans were killed, injured or detained. He was a key figure in the total onslaught strategy which saw huge violence being unleashed in the townships of the country. In previous decades he was central to the painful and dreaded forced removals of millions of the country’s citizens.

He was once quoted as saying;

“I am one of those who believe that there is no permanent home for even a section of the Bantu in the white area of South Africa and the destiny of South Africa depends on this essential point. If the principle of permanent residence for the black man in the area of the white is accepted then it is the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it in this country.” http://www.azquotes.com/author/43067-P_W_Botha

BACK TO TOP

Discussion