TV presenter Ernusta Maralack consoling a guest on her show Op seer se spoor. All the while, Maralack was the one in need of support.
TV presenter Ernusta Maralack consoling a guest on her show Op seer se spoor. All the while, Maralack was the one in need of support.

Journalists’ mental health in spotlight

By Robin Adams Time of article published Dec 5, 2021

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Most journalists are always on the clock. Breaking news doesn't follow a particular shift pattern and deadlines are forever looming. The onset of Covid-19, now in its fourth wave, has seen journalists digging deeper to tell stories.

Newspapers, online, radio and TV – journalists across various platforms are taking strain, and their mental health has once again been thrust into the spotlight.

A Reuters report found that journalists are suffering from sleep and eating disorders, higher-than-usual stress levels and increasing anxiety.

During the large-scale looting in Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng, news crews were on the front line through it all.

Journalists say reporting on rampant crime and corruption, gender-based violence and rape, the coronavirus and its skyrocketing death rates is taking its toll. Some reporters in Cape Town have also been the victims of armed robberies while on assignment.

The pressure is serious. All the while, journalists are trying to avoid becoming a Covid statistic.

Ernusta Maralack, host of the Afrikaans TV show Op seer se spoor, has become the latest journalist to drive home the message: "It’s okay not to be okay."

Her Kyknet & Kie programme examines the scenes of high-profile crime in South Africa. It focuses mainly on marginalised communities seeking justice. For the past three seasons, Maralack has put on a brave face. And then it all became too much and she broke down.

"I hear these (heartbreaking) stories for six days a week, for five weeks, when we film," she told Weekend Argus. "Journalists are human beings too and if you are confronted by the type of raw heartache I see in the people I interview for the show, it is very hard not to be affected."

Maralack said she was not afraid to engage or show emotion.

“But I don't allow my emotions to overwhelm [me], where I forget I have a job to do – getting the facts, asking the tough questions and telling the story.”

She said this season was particularly hard because the stories were just so heartbreaking.

“I broke down so many times that I thought I wouldn't be able to finish filming, and I had nightmares throughout the filming process. But I signed up for this job and I had to show up, just like the families showed up when they shared their stories. I couldn't let them down."

Behind the scenes footage from one episode shows Maralack sitting in a corner crying, while her guest consoles her. She said her colleagues were also a massive source of support.

"What also helped during filming is how we as a crew talked through the interviews we just had. It really helped in the sense that I could speak to people who were part of the same experience. People normally are worried about how I deal with everything, but I also feel for the crew. The soundman who has to listen to every single word; hear every cry in its rawest forms through his earphones. The cameramen who have to zoom in on the pain written all over these people's faces. And a director who has to ask me to speak to camera when I've just had a breakdown post-interview. So, talking when I feel overwhelmed and speaking up when I'm not coping, really helps."

Maralack added that her mental health is important.

“I will seek the necessary help if I feel I can't cope. These days, I say when I'm not okay. It really is okay not to be okay, and we shouldn't be ashamed of it.”

Kayla Phillips from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, said: "SADAG has worked closely with press and media over the years and really value their help in creating awareness around mental health and supporting the work we do.“

She said it was important for SADAG to partner with the media to look after the mental health of journalists who deal with high levels of stress, anxiety, trauma and grief on a daily basis.

“They also need support, and this is our way of giving back to them, during these difficult times especially."

Op seer se spoor show producer Bradley Joshua said measures were in place to help the team deal with the effect the stories had on their mental health.

"We have made a therapist available [to] the crew, for them to use as and when they see fit. We have also [told] Ernusta and the crew to advise us if there is anything else that they need in order to process what they have been engaged with through the making of this show."

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