Use of ‘buzz-words’ and insinuative terms in South African media.

Over the past decade or so, especially in the past four to five years, there has emerged a worrying trend in western media, mostly American, British and continental European media, to use ‘buzz-words’ and insinuative terms in their reporting.  This trend seems to be in response to the emerging use of words such as ‘homophobia’ and ‘islamophobia’ as well as various other ‘phobias’ in especially third wave feminist groups and movements.

Though troublesome, this trend has largely passed over South African media, however, just earlier today an article was published on News 24 that has fallen into this trend, and may set a precedent for this language use in South African media.

The article in question can be found here.

The article heads “Durban councillor responds to homophobic tormentor’.  This is a truly worrisome head.  Media is guided by the basic principles of honest, accurate, transparent, balanced, fair, and objective reporting, something which this head fails to do.

A ‘phobia’ is an irrational fear.  Thus the use of ‘homophobic’ describes the person in question as someone with an irrational fear of homosexuals.  This term immediately biases the reader against the individual in question.  It also has negative, pejorative connotations.  This term, further, is also what is considered a ‘buzz-word’, a word used to elicit certain emotional responses from the target, and the audience, whilst carrying no meaning in-and-of-itself.

The typical usage of this word does not reflect it’s apparent usage, and as such is misleading and inaccurate.  It’s obscure and hidden meaning misleads the uninformed reader and pushes an interpretation of the subject matter in a direction that the facts do not necessarily support.

It does not fall within the bounds of the codes of ethics of journalism to use such terminology in an article, other than when quoting a source.  The use of this term not only skews the reader’s interpretation in a direction not necessarily supported by the facts, but also demonstrates an attitude of the journalists, an opinion on what the person is like, which falls outside the bounds of such an article.

A news article, such as the one in question, is about presenting the facts, not the opinions of the journalist.  This is a dangerous and worrying occurrence that one can only hope does not take hold in South African media; a media that has remained largely unstained by biased reporting, false information, and prejudiced writing.


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