That there are two sides to a story is one thing, but assertions that there are two sides to truth do not follow to be convincing. And whether headlines to a story are good or bad is an area sub-editors are gifted with to enjoy the right of way to pass. Headlines may be unhelpful, but indicative of license the media world has gifted sub-editors with to wield.
Truth though only has one side. If truth had many sides, chameleons would have stiff competition to be title holders to changing colours to suit prevailing circumstances.
That there may be many sides (visible and invisible) scrambling for truth, either to stifle it or expose it, does not change truth nor cause it to have as many sides to it. Truth is one. It is a story battling to get to the truth with a potential to have more than one side. Conventional wisdom holds that there are two sides to any story. Hearing one side necessitates hearing the other side. It is the deliberate power of balance that puts up the exercise of impartiality.
Reporters should remain mindful of the temptation of heeding to orders that say: “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
Truth-telling or truth-seeking for its fullest expression is not a celebrated undertaking. It invites enemies. It diminishes friends. In the words of a song ‘God bless the child’ there is a stanza stating: “When you’ve got money, you have lots of friends crowding round your door; but when it is gone, they don’t call no more.” The same is applicable with power.
So, it is not impossible for truth to be a loser or for a lie to be a winner.
Headlines may be unhelpful, misleading, or guilty of courtesy bias, but ought to be attention-grabbing, provocatively sassy to be a reader proposition.
The standard operating procedure in reporting is that there is more than one side to a story. To be exact, there are two sides to the story. It becomes even more complex when there is the presence of a hidden guiding hand behind the story to serve the interests of perception shifters.
What remains though is the pursuit of the whole truth to establish the visible and to dig deep for the invisible to bring up the bitter taste of truth; raise the stench of undetected malady; to let the muffled voices to be heard; and to re-inaugurate touch of reality to those that have lost it. To paraphrase Soren Kierkegaard, people do not love the truth because it is the truth. If they did, they would have loved it when it was powerless and losing.
And because it is truth it suffers. Most people love the truth after it has become victorious and powerful. For the gullible, following power is always alluring no matter how hopeless. To others, standing by the truth is life itself without which there is no reason to live. Out of these martyrs emerge.
It is only men and women of substance that stand by the truth through all its seasons, be it in defeat, victory or buried in the graves of mass deceptions.
There may be more than one truth to one side or even to both sides. There may even be instances where both sides go underground or undercover to deny the story life to breathe. In these circumstances, the instructions are clear: ‘See no evil, hear no evil’. Silence is golden. Speech is silver and not worth investing in.
The moneyed billionaires, the powerful, the most favoured and preferred; the beloved and most esteemed celebrities and superstars are seldom found having the searchlight of accountability shined on them. They are never wrong until the situation proves hopelessly otherwise. Their adversaries are never right as that gets into the way of narrative enforcement.
The objective of one telling the story, if trustworthy, credible, and independent of either warring sides, including the institution or entity which the teller of the story may be attached to by way of employment, is to make available the whole truth whose sum total is made of parts established from either side, willingly or unwillingly and by dogged digging the belly of the beast.
The reason for the need to establish to whole truth is that one side may understate its case, wittingly or unwittingly, and the other side may overstate/exaggerate its case or even trigger the silencing of sources by intimidation, blackmail or even assassination to suppress the emergence of whole story.
So, the possibility of half-truths, truths, falsehoods, distortion of facts at the gathering of information through to packaging up final stages of editing, may miss or diligently cover-up what the initial story was on course to reveal. The story in the direction of revealing the truth may be sabotaged, moderated, spun, or killed by the editors not to see light of day for whatever reason on the strength of the editor’s word being final. In this case, the story dies in part or in toto.
The story proves to be a nuisance with further disclosures, leaks, and whistleblowing to see careers put on the line; buildings put on fire, records shredded or eventual death. All these are ingredients of attempts made to kill the story to deny the whole truth being told.
That the story has more than one side makes a case for two sides to be heard. The many truths that may emerge constitute the whole truth to the story depending on the limits of facts at the disposal of one telling the story by publication deadline.
The embeddedness of journalists adds to the whole truth being denied in the story told as it happened in the false claims of the weapons of mass destruction to justify invasion of America and its allies in Iraq.
That sometimes it is hard to accept the truth where hearing lies is desired, does not change the picture of the reality that unhindered facts are capable of painting. In accepting that there are two sides to a story does not suggest that there are two sides to the truth. Truth is one. By Corporate Strategist, Writer, and Freelance Journalist, Oupa Ngwenya.
Written by: Lindiwe Mabena