Differences in how the South African news media report on the health of former president Nelson Mandela as compared with those from other countries were among the topics discussed Wednesday as members of the Quad-City Times Editorial Board met with four South African journalists.
The visiting journalists are with a 21-day U.S. State Department-sponsored program. In addition to the Quad-Cities and Iowa City, other U.S. stops include Washington, D.C., Chicago, Denver and New Orleans. The goal is to get a better sense of the relationship between elected officials and the media.
In South Africa, journalists are sensitive to doctor-patient confidentiality and report only what is released officially. The official explanation regarding Mandela is that the country's beloved leader is in "critical but stable" condition.
While there is a lot of speculation about his actual condition, journalists respect his privacy and do not repeat information that foreign journalists might glean from non-official sources, the South Africans said.
On a topic of common concern, Liezil Cerf of the government's communication and information service said that because much of South Africa's population is young, journalists will be reaching out more on social media such as Twitter.
Between 3.5 million and 5 million young people will be eligible to vote for the first time in the next South African election, she said.
Regarding the differences between American and South African journalism, Mmoba Solomon Seshoka, a spokesman for the executive mayor of Cape Town, said he was taken aback by the fact there is no requirement for "right of reply" in this country.
In practice, American journalists try to get comment from differing viewpoints as a matter of fairness and to better explain an issue, but they are not bound by law to do so.
The guests said that each of the three communities they have visited so far — Washington, D.C., Chicago and the Quad-Cities — was quite different, but added that they were liking Iowa.
"We really enjoy Midwestern hospitality the most," said Lester Keith Kiewit, a reporter for the eNews Channel.
They also were impressed that the state, because of its first-in-the-nation caucuses, gets visited so often by politicians seeking the presidency.
Vuyani Richard Green, the parliamentary editor for the South African Broadcasting Corp., was impressed to learn that the chair he was sitting in during the discussion in the Times boardroom had once been occupied by Barack Obama when he was a candidate for president.