Paula Fray challenged journalists to “remember the faces” behind the “big issues’ they covered. Speaking at a seminar on “Community Voices”, Fray of FrayIntermedia noted that stories had become accounts of “he-said-she-said” battles between officials. “Nobody speaks to the communities that are really affected, the human face is forgotten,” she said.
“Where were the policy journalists when e-tolling was still being proposed years ago?”
Citing e-tolls as an example, Fray explained the different stages a piece of legislation goes through before it becomes law.
She said the debate among citizens and community members should start while the law is being drawn up, when people can still influence the direction it takes. “Where were the policy journalists when e-tolling was still being proposed years ago?
That’s when the debate should have started because by the time they (the media) broke the story, the debate had already been framed and it had become quite a middle-class he-said-she-said game.”
While Fray said she understood the financial and time constraints journalists faced in the newsroom, she urged them to ask tough questions and not to be intimidated. “I know it’s not easy but many of these problems are universal to all newsrooms and you need to push past them.”
Gcina Ntsaluba of Corruption Watch shared his experiences trying to access information from the government and state-owned companies. He explained how to use the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to get records from these entities. Using examples of stories published by the City Press and other Media24 publications, Ntsaluba gave real examples of how the Act could give more depth and “exclusivity” to a story: “We all love exclusives here and this tool helps you access some exclusive information.”
A community journalist in the audience spoke about the apathy of community members to the work done by community journalists. Fray said this attitude could be changed by a different approach from journalists themselves: “People become disengaged because they no longer see themselves in these stories. Make the stories about the communities who are affected and it will tell a better story and involve the very people you want to see reading your work.”