Freedom of Expression; this is the ultimate aspiration that every journalist, right across the world strives for. However, what happens when these same media workers and organisations scandalously limit our freedoms as citizens by inhibiting us from commenting online on certain news stories that they produce? Is the phrase ‘Open Journalism’ then still applicable? Sit back and relax as I play Devil’s advocate and unpack this theme thoroughly.
Mini recap guys: Open Journalism, which is very similar to citizen journalism refers to news that is generated, not only by journalists, but also by the members of the public. Their contributions can be in the form of pictures, tip-offs or even just simple comments made at the end of a news article.
We find ourselves in an age when the media as an entity is evolving. It is therefore only natural that the members of the public should be able to provide their input and voice their opinions in the production of news, from start to finish.
In this way, reporters are able to gain new insights into existing stories, get ideas for great possible follow-up pieces and unearth the hidden truths that lie beneath the surfaces of seemingly straightforward occurrences.
The citizens can also take reporters to task when they produce rubbish, or have fluffed of fabricated any given information.
By media houses, such as News24 closing their ‘comments’ section for certain news stories, the media industry-in my opinion-is taking two huge leaps backwards; once again enforcing the old beliefs of the media being a closed system, with no development or growth taking place in the industry.
Audience members could also become suspicious as to why they are able to comment on certain articles and not on others.
The members of the public simply have to eat whatever media workers feed them, and this gives the impression that their views and thoughts don’t really matter, which can in turn, be seen as journalists or ‘The Fourth Estate’ actually talking down to their audiences.
On the flipside of the coin, a few media houses, such as the Mail and Guardian have provided legitimate reasons as to why, from time to time, they have closed the ‘comments’ section of their news posts, and this is precisely why I felt myself torn between these two arguments.
For one, media houses do not want people who are actually interested in following their news stories to be distracted by the silly and nonsensical comments, which often take away a lot of the merit of the news piece itself.
Come one, let’s be honest guys; how many of us have looked at a headline on the Huffington Post’s news feed that read: ‘Fat boy kills dog over Bacon’ and immediately went straight for the comments for some cheap, shameless entertainment? I know I have.
Many a time, people-like myself-don’t even bother reading the artcicles and simply browse through the comments in order to decipher and comprehend the meaning that the writer was attempting to convey, and so, the gist of the text often remains lost in translation.
Moreover, although diversity of viewpoints can definitely lead to more thought-provoking conversations; comments made are, more often than not, mean, petty and sometimes even prejudiced, which could lead to hate-speech and God knows we have enough of that in the world.
Well there you have it folks, I have presented to you both cases, both for and against the issue of the ‘comments’ section being closed by certain news organisations. I am neither team Sparta, nor team Troy…after all, aren’t ethics and objectvity our bread and butter?