The ailing world leader Nelson Mandela is presenting a unique media challenge.
On a daily, if not hourly, basis, journalists are getting updates about the failing health of Mandela, who may well be the most admired person on the planet. It’s hard to come up with a name of anyone who has given more inspiration to all of us.
Whenever someone as widely respected and appreciated as Mandela makes news, the task is to keep the world informed.
But when Mandela garners unsolicited headlines, there is the matter of privacy. This is the same thorny question as always, here in the digital age. But when we are speaking about someone of Mandela’s stature, the stakes are raised enormously.
Yes, Mandela belongs to the world because of his courage, convictions and devotion to peaceful causes. He may be South African by heritage but he belongs to all of us now.
Yes, Mandela made mistakes and has flaws. How much should reporters and historians dwell on any of his shortcomings, when the temptation is to raise him to an impossibly moral and ethical.
Separately, it’s like that John Lennon,for instance, would have been bewildered and maybe even horrified by the way the media gave him sainthood status after he died in 1980.
Covering the twilight of someone as distinguished as this icon forces journalists to consider and reconsider how they approach their jobs, too.
Do journalists owe anything to Mandela’s immediate family and blood relatives?
Naturally, reporters should and will try extra hard not to distort any of the news coming from the great man’s spokespeople.
But the temptation is great — maybe too immense, at that — for competitive, working journalists to be the first to present the latest update.It would be nothing short of sinful if exaggerated or erroneous information slipped out to the world via the global media.
As recently as the Boston Marathon bombings in April, we have seen glaring examples of reporters who got carried away from information form misinformed, overzealous sources.
It would not be acceptable to issue a correction in the event of a mistake.
Journalists had better exercise prudence and restrainton this story.
The whole world is watching.