Is it a case of bad journalism focusing on sensationalism, or is it driven by a rush to judgement despite lacking substance?
I'm referring of course to the front page story in last week's Sunday Independent with a large bold screaming headline: ISIS RECRUITS IN SOUTH AFRICA accompanied by a subheading: "Up to 140 have joined terror group, and three have died in combat" (see here).
The answer? Its not either or; its both and much worse. My analysis of the report leads me to conclude that not only is it worse than merely bad journalism, it is misleading, grossly irresponsible and borders on Islamophobia.
The story by Solly Maphumulo kicks off by ascribing an emotive adjective to the Islamic State (Isis) as "murderous". This is a departure from ethical journalism where hard news stories carefully avoid mixing fact with reporter's personal opinion.
Even if its true that Isis is associated with dastardly inhumane killings, the framing of adjectives by reporters defines their bias as this story clearly reveals.
A number of core allegations presented as "facts" exemplify how blatantly distorted the report is by its failure to corroborate any of these.
My list below of some describes them as myths, for until credible evidence is brought forth to substantially prove these damning allegations, they will remain myths.
Myth 1: "The murderous Islamic State (Isis) is active in South Africa..."
Myth 2: "...and has been recruiting citizens to fight in Iraq and Syria"
Myth 3: "So far, three have died fighting for the terrorist group"
Myth 4: "The Sunday Independent understands that up to 140 men have left South Africa to join the group"
Though the source cited is Iraq's ambassador to South Africa, Dr Hushaim al-Alawi, it must be clearly understood that diplomatic immunity doesn't extend to allegations without proof.
In any event, al-Alawi is not the source regarding the figure of 140. He said that he was not aware that 140 SA citizens had joined Isis. So who is the source of such a dangerous claim?
Despite reading through the report with a fine comb, I failed to find any source Maphumulo cites or relies on. The only possible clue is his reference to the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) who released a statement early last week, seeking a probe on the allegations.
It means that the original source may have been the ACDP, while the Iraqi ambassador may have been sourced to obtain "juicy" bits such as deaths being covered as motor vehicle accidents.
Or al-Alawi's fairy tale about an unidentified man attending Friday prayers in the company of an anonymous "friend" at an unidentified mosque in the Eastern Cape where an unidentified "speaker" used "inflammatory language".
Such rubbish is featured in a lead article in a paper that since inception has prided itself as a serious read, far removed from gutter journalism.
And to reinforce the storyline's Islamophobic angle, readers are reminded of the so called "White Widow" Samantha Lewthwaite.
How does she tie in with the Isis-SA recruitment story? Maphumulo fails to explain this. The only objective conclusion one can draw is that he threw her into the mix to add spice to his article which lacks integrity.
In my reading between the lines, I won't be surprised to learn that the hidden source is none other than a deeply wounded Israeli lobby, bent on spreading fear and alarm about "Muslim terror threats".
The ACDP, as we know is closely aligned to the lobby. And shocking disclosures by City Press investigative journalist Jacque Pauw exposed links between Mossad and Israel's embassy in dissemination of news about Lewthwaite.
So while the story is structurally weak, why indeed has the editorial taken on a strident tone?
All the myths cited above and the fact that al-Alawi is not the original source, is shockingly overlooked in a scathing attack. In addition it is unjustifiably and uncharacteristically alarmist by raising the spectre of bombs in taxi ranks, schools, shopping malls and places of worship.
Being anti-Isis should not degenerate in media reports that lack credibility and carry a distinct smell of Islamophobia.
Iqbal Jassat is Executive: Media Review Network, Johannesburg
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