An exploration into the role conceptions of investigative journalists at News24, amaBhungane, and Scorpio

Maputi, Sibongile Sydney (2021-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2021.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The normative role of investigative journalists has evolved from merely informing the public to actually getting involved in societal struggles through exposing and reporting on corruption and abuse of power. In South Africa, this evolution is supported by a strong investigative media culture and a conducive legislative framework – at least since the dawn of democracy. However, in the past few years there has arguably been a change in how local journalists are treated by people in positions of power, as well as the public. Open hostility, as well as physical and cyberattacks on investigative journalists pose serious threats to press freedom and have the potential to negatively impact the role journalists play in society. It is therefore worthwhile to describe how investigative journalists view their role in society amidst these types of challenges. The aim of this study is to explore how investigative journalists at News24, amaBhungane, and Scorpio view their role in democratic South Africa. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 13 journalists at these investigative units in order to address the research problem. Journalists were asked how they understood their roles and what they thought their social responsibility was. The interview data was analysed within the framework of normative role conceptualisation and social responsibility theory. The central theoretical departure point of this study is that investigative journalists describe their role according to specific normative guidelines and expectations. Through thematic analysis of the interview data, seven themes were developed which captured, amongst other things, how the journalists describe their roles, how they view the relationship between public interest and social responsibility, what threats they face and what skills are needed for the future of investigative journalism. In the final instance, this study concludes that investigative journalists at News24, amaBhungane, and Scorpio understand their role in democratic South Africa to be shining the light on state secrets and abuses of power. Despite the challenges they face, these investigative journalists still regard public interest as a key determinant of whether or not to investigate. By holding the powerful to account, advocating for social justice and exposing corruption these journalists understand that their work benefit taxpayers, and the most vulnerable members of society, and ultimately contribute to the welfare of society.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die normatiewe rol van ondersoekende joernaliste in Suid-Afrika het verander van bloot openbare bewusmaking tot daadwerklike deelname aan samelewingstryde deur korrupsie en magsmisbruik bloot te lê en daaroor verslag te doen. In Suid-Afrika word hierdie verandering onderskraag deur ’n sterk ondersoekende mediakultuur en ’n bevorderlike wetgewende raamwerk – ten minste sedert die aanbreek van demokrasie. Die afgelope paar jaar was daar egter ’n verandering in hoe plaaslike joernaliste behandel word deur mense in magsposisies, sowel as die publiek. Openlike vyandigheid teenoor, sowel as fisiese en aanlynaanvalle op ondersoekende joernaliste hou ernstige bedreigings in vir persvryheid en het die potensiaal om die rol wat joernaliste in die gemeenskap speel negatief te beïnvloed. Dit is dus nuttig om te beskryf hoe ondersoekende joernaliste hul rol in die gemeenskap beskou te midde van hierdie soort uitdagings. Die doel van hierdie studie is om te ondersoek hoe ondersoekende joernaliste by News24, amaBhungane en Scorpio hul rol in ’n demokratiese Suid-Afrika sien. Semi-gestruktureerde onderhoude is met 13 joernaliste by hierdie ondersoekeenhede onderneem om die navorsingsvraagstuk aan te spreek. Joernaliste is gevra hoe hulle hul rol verstaan en wat hulle dink hul sosiale verantwoordelikheid is. Die onderhouddata is binne die raamwerk van normatiewe rolkonseptualisering en sosiale verantwoordelikheidsteorie geanaliseer. Die hoof- teoretiese wegspringplek vir die studie is dat ondersoekende joernaliste hul rol beskryf volgens spesifieke normatiewe riglyne en verwagtinge. Deur tematiese analise van die onderhouddata is sewe temas ontwikkel wat vervang, onder meer, hoe die joernaliste hul rol beskryf, hoe hulle die verhouding tussen openbare belang en sosiale verantwoordelikheid beskou, watter uitdagings hulle het en watter vaardighede vir die toekoms van ondersoekende joernalistiek benodig word. Ten laaste kom hierdie studie tot die gevolgtrekking dat ondersoekende joernaliste by News24, amaBhungane en Scorpio hul rol in ’n demokratiese Suid-Afrika sien as een wat die lig skyn op staatsgeheime en magsmisbruik. Ondanks hul uitdagings hou hierdie ondersoekende joernaliste steeds openbare belang voor as ’n kernfaktor van die besluit om ondersoek in te stel of nie. Deur diegene in magsposisies tot verantwoording te dwing, maatskaplike geregtigheid voor te staan en korrupsie te ontbloot verstaan hierdie joernaliste dat hul werk ten voordeel is van belastingbetalers en die mees kwesbare lede van die publiek en uiteindelik ’n bydrae maak tot die welsyn van die samelewing.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: https://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/110027
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