CityLife Arts

When Social Media gets it wrong: National School of the Arts not closing down

The advent of social media and the subsequent development of what is now known as citizen Journalism has a lot of benefits to society as this means the democratisation of access to media power. Citizen journalists, or rather people that have a curious mind, armed with a smart phone and have a social media account such as Face Book or instagram, can assume the role of ‘journalist’ by recording what they witness and broadcast it to the world within minutes of the event taking place. And many a major breaking news in the world is increasingly being reported by these untrained ‘journalists’, whereas in the past this has always been the domain and the privilege of the professionally trained media elite

There is nothing wrong with members of the public breaking news as it happens, as real journalists cannot be everywhere all the time where news is breaking, and may miss important news.

However there is another side to this practice of citizen ‘journalists’, and that is when through ignorance about the ethics of news gathering and broadcasting, that has over centuries guided how professional journalists cover news are, ignored. This system of ethical journalism has been perfected over years to make sure that news for example is reported on in a sensitive manner that protects the vulnerable or sensitive to certain public sensibilities. For example news organisations do not broadcast graphic scenes of an accident scene, with blood and mutilated bodies all over the place at a road accident. This is a practice that is done to protect the public from viewing extreme graphic scenes.

News organisations for example will not publish mere rumour without some sort of evidence to believe that indeed an event really occurred or to back up an allegation of wrong doing by those in power. Another good practice of journalism is not to publish names of accident victims, particularly the deceased until the next of kin have been informed.

Another ethical journalism practice is not to name a crime suspect until they have pleaded in an open court of law, and it does not matter that the journalist knows who the suspect is.

Now come social media and the arrival of the citizen ‘journalist’, who is untrained, and cannot tell how and when or If to publish a piece of information in their possession, and all the known rules of journalism are broken, day in and day out. Rumours are published as facts, suspects are named before they even appear in court and investigations are still in progress. Can you imagine publishing the name of a suspect who has been arrested and has not appeared in court as police conclude investigations, only for that person to be released because a mistake has been made.The suspect’s reputation would be shredded in the process and it is hard to rebuild what has been destroyed.

What is the point I am making? Well. On Sunday, August 9, a rumour circulated on social and was reported as facts, complete with comments by social media activists that one of the shinning stars of arts education, the National School of the Arts, a public school was closing down.  This was picked from a TV news item headline that incorrectly stated the National School of the Arts was closing down, instead of saying it was facing financial difficulties.

The first question is why would government allow such a well known and prestigious specialist arts school to close down, and one of only a few that impart arts education at high school level in the country. Many a visual artist or thespian who is successful today is a beneficiary of the National School of the Arts.  Can you imagine the panic such false news has resulted in, especially for parents who have applied for Grade 8 places for their children next year?

However some people in time prevailed to dismiss on social media what was patently false news spread by some ‘citizen journalists’, who without listening to the real details of the difficulties the school was facing went on social media and reported that the school was closing down.

“There are several posts on social media that the National School of the Arts is closing down. This is far from the truth. The school like most agencies has to raise funds to support its work; and this means raising significant amount of funding for bursaries for students and its extra-curricular programme. The school has appealed to donors for support. A newscast on television carried an incorrect strapline and this exaggeration has unfortunately spread like wildfire on social media. The School is not closing down,” wrote veteran arts administrator and playwright Ismail Mahomed

“I am so relieved – I was so shocked. My daughter went to that school,”’ responded anthropologist and well known music producer Dr. Sipho Sithole.

However CityLife Arts established that the school is not closing down and its doors are wide open, according to sources at the school.

CityLife Arts managed to speak to Brenda Devar-Sakellarides last night , who has been associated with the school for years, including being in the School Governing Board, but who is currently the artistic director of its famous annual festival of Fame festival.

“The school is definitely not closing down, and its doors are wide open. However the rumours followed an incorrect news headline on ENCA that was broadcast on Sunday, which insinuated that the school was closing down when in fact it referred to the difficult current financial position of the school.

The reality however is that the school currently is facing financial problems and If the school Government Board cannot raise funds in time, the school might be forced to retrench staff and the school Governing Board is currently working hard to raise the money and to try take the school out of this difficult financial position,” said Devar-Sakellarides’

Apparently the arrival of Covid 19 has precipitated the school’s financial distress, but the school is far from closing down.

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