When journalists play the ombudsman’s role

Scrutator did not know whether to cry or laugh when she heard that a local journalist was thoroughly beaten by a group of police officers after he tried to play hero.

Nkoale Tšoana, a reporter with Moeletsi oa Basotho, claims a group of police officers descended on him like a tonne of bricks after he tried to stop them from beating the driver of a taxi in which he was a passenger.

They beat him even harder when he waved his press card at them. While it is admitted that the police have no reason to use violence on any human being, a journalist or even a monkey, Scrutator cannot understand why Tšoana
was trying to play the ombudsman’s role.

His naivety got him pummelled. Yes, you heard me right.

But before you start accusing Scrutator of being callous and insensitive to the misery of a fellow journalist let her explain how she came to this conclusion.

You see, journalists are not public protectors.

They have no business interfering with the police whether rogue or honest.

Their role is to report on incidents and not participate in them.

They are observers and not participants.

Yes they can break up a fight or stop a crime but they do so not as journalists but ordinary citizens.

The moment they start brandishing their press cards to intervene in incidents, they cross the line.



So, were the police right to pummel Tšoana? The answer is an emphatic No!

Did Tšoana overreach himself?

The answer is a big yes!

The reasoning here is very simple.

A press card does not protect a journalist from the dozens of rogue police officers we have in our ill-equipped, underpaid and poorly trained police service.

Some of them have never seen a press card in their lives.

Put simply, some of them are functionally illiterate.

So illiterate that if you ask some of them what does half plus half make, they will look you in the eye and tell you, with a straight face, that it makes a loaf.

That is not an insult but a statement of fact that those who have tried to report a matter to the police can attest to.

Some of them will even ask you to write your own statement.

They also get irritated when you use words like “okra” and “possession”.

There are many in the police force who think that an okapi is a knife and not an animal.

You can therefore imagine how they will react when a journalist waves a press card in their faces and tell them to stop their high jinks.

Ask Tšoana.





So what was Tšoana’s problem if he was merely a victim of overzealous police officers, you may ask?

Well, he put himself in the line of fire when there was no need to. Rogue police officers will not stop beating you because you are a journalist.

They are rogue.

But Tšoana committed an even greater sin in journalism.

He became part of a story that he should have simply noted and reported in the next edition of his paper.

By so doing he became the story.

So where we were supposed to read a story of police brutality against a taxi driver we are now reading a story of a scribe who was pummelled by police officers because he was “obstructing their work”.

Courtesy of his own mouth we know that Tšoana was able to duck some of the blows, dash for his life and report the matter to the police.

But how about the story of the taxi driver whom he said the police continued beating as he rushed to the police to report his own case? Who reported his matter to the police?

Who observed the incident when Tšoana rushed to the police to report that some police officers had spanked him?

How will Tšoana report the matter if he was the first to flee the scene heading for the police station to report his own ordeal?

The poor taxi driver’s story is now a mere anecdote in a story that was supposed to be about him in the first place.

The story is no longer about how police treat the public but how they “abuse” journalists.

A story of police brutality has now been turned into a media freedom story.

Scrutator has a strong feeling that the only reason Tšoana decided that this was a story was because he had been beaten.

It’s not as if the journalist was beaten up in the line of duty.

The story would have been a totally different one if Tšoana had been beaten while trying to take a picture of the police doing their dirty deed.

It would have been an entirely different story if the journalist had been beaten while trying to interview the injured taxi driver or one of the police officers.




But who can blame Tšoana for this sad episode? After all he was only behaving like many journalists in this country.

No so long ago one of them, who has since been relegated to the fringes of this profession, used to collect signatures for petitions against decisions he disliked.

He also wrote stories about an institution that paid and still pays his salary.

Until Scrutator told them to start being serious we had organisations that used to issue statements on matters remotely linked to the profession.

Some scribes poop bile on radio stations with impunity.

Others go to political rallies wearing party regalia. Then there are those who write stories sitting on the laps of their news sources.

The list is endless I tell you.

The truth is that most of our scribes badly need training.

They are enthusiastic but incompetent.

They love the job but they lack the means to do it properly.

Until they accept that they don’t know that they don’t know this profession will forever be a laughing stock in this country.

Maybe Limkokwing can help in that regard.



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