Guy Berger
Guy Berger

Media campaign gathers reinforcements

South Africa’s journalism schools have joined the movement to keep the country’s media and information environment free.

More than a dozen schools signed a Journalism Educators’ statement, released on Monday, which rejects the trilogy — the media appeals tribunal, the Protection of Information Bill and intimidation of journalists like Mzilikazi wa Afrika.

“We are concerned about what all these developments signal to young South Africans wishing to start a career in journalism,” says the educators’ statement. It declares that shortcomings in the media can only be addressed on the basis of freedom.

Such unprecedented unity and assertiveness amongst the country’s journalism teachers is another unintended effect of the current threats to media freedom. It mirrors the way that the same threats have mobilised editors like never before.

An example is the bold action by the SA National Editors’ Forum last week to go to court to successfully block a parliamentary committee from meeting with the SABC behind closed doors.

It’s a case of the proverbial hornets’ nest having been thoughtlessly kicked. When the concerned critters begin swarming, they respond in unpredictable ways.

For example, the drafters of the ANC document on “Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity” apparently thought their entire range of media concerns would be engaged with.

Instead the editors’ response has (understandably) narrowed to the danger of the tribunal on the one hand, and also extended into the separate issue of parliamentary transparency on the other.

Although the editors did not make the connection, there is in fact a link between the two issues. Ultimately, it is the same institution that last week sought a closed session with the SABC, which the ANC sees as being the appropriate body to investigate and appoint its tribunal.

A related matter, which may yet attract the attention of the hornet “swarm”, is the role of Parliament in appointing members of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) — something that is often promoted by enthusiasts as the model for their tribunal.

What is conveniently forgotten, however, is that since a law change in 2006 the Icasa council appointments are made by the minister of communications from a slate suggested by Parliament.

And even with this set-up, the ANC is now wanting even greater power for the government. This is evident in a draft Bill tabled in June which gives the minister unfettered power to directly appoint the members of Icasa’s compliance and complaints committee, a body which would have separate authority from the council, according to the Bill.

All this foreshadows a similar symmetry ahead in which a tribunal starts off on the basis of being effectively appointed by Parliament, then subsequently turns into appointment by the minister from a choice of parliamentary nominations, and which then ultimately becomes appointment directly by the minister.

It’s an extremely far cry from ANC reassurances that a tribunal would keep press freedom intact. In fact, sincere tribunal enthusiasts, especially, should use the Icasa model to look down the line and see where their initiative will lead.

Will they? This group failed to foresee the antagonism the tribunal proposal has aroused, including even a lack of appetite from alliance partner Cosatu. They also lacked insight into how stakeholders such as the journalism educators would respond to the proposals.

For instance, the statement by the educators does not even deal with the ANC policy document’s call for “developmental communication” to be part of the curriculum. For those who teach and train the country’s journalists, that is clearly not the primary issue on the table as long as there’s the tribunal threat.

On the other hand, perhaps the educators ought to pay closer attention to the wording of the curriculum matter in the ANC’s discussion document, which asks: “What interventions can be made in respect of journalism curriculum in order for developmental communication to be mainstreamed as opposed to sensationalism”?

Implied in this wording is that the journalism teachers are at least partly responsible for journalism deemed by some to be “sensationalism”; hence the need for “interventions” to change what they teach.

The flawed reductionism in this reasoning is one thing; much worse is a potential threat to academic freedom.

What looms here is a possible scenario as is unfolding in Kenya — where not only do journalists have to be licensed by a statutory regulatory body in order to practise, but sights are also being set on licensing that country’s journalism schools as well as those allowed to teach in them.

It may be a surprise to some ANC people that journalism educators have now joined the “swarm”. It’s time, however, for the ruling party to recognise the legitimate concerns that are driving the widening scale of resistance to the current media and information proposals.

  • me

    “It’s time, however, for the ruling party to recognise the legitimate concerns that are driving the widening scale of resistance to the current media and information proposals.”

    The ANC will do no such thing….Even if Jesus arrives tomorrow it will be to late to save South Africa

  • Siobhan

    Bravo for the Journalism Schools! Well done. It’s beginning to look as though the ANC have once again ‘scored an own goal’…

  • http://southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

    The new laws and Media Tribunals have little or no influence in shaping the decisions of whether one want to go into the profession. Young South Africans wanting to take up journalism share the same concerns as budding journalists all over the world – can they earn a livelihood in an industry being shaken up by a tectonic shift with the internet and globalization, where ALL newspapers and publishing companies are struggling to survive.

    One only hopes that more black South Africans (Africans, Coloureds and Indians) are attracted to the profession for the right reasons, and more entrepreneurial blacks start up media companies to break this stranglehold our media conglomerate exerts on our current print media dominated by white journalists out of touch with the aspirations of the majority.

    Cosatu’s stance on tribunals is driven by its corrupt leadership that prefers playing petty politics rather than fulfilling their primary mission of fighting for workers rights. Other stakeholders from our media elite are too arrogant by their outright rejection of tribunals. Our media elite would be better served if they worked with our government in creating tribunals that are even more fair, transparent and efficient, instead of arrogantly trying to justify their failed ombudsmen model that cannot work in the SA context anyway! What you call the “swarm” is really a bunch of journalists largely acting in their own self-interests yet again.

  • shaman sans frontieres

    Thank you for this, Guy Berger.

    More, if journalism is understood as a practice that can be controlled via interventions in media schools, the drafters of the proposals then fail to get the basic point that journalism knows no boundaries.

    What journalists do overlaps with what historians do, and professional analysts, and novelists, and rapporteurs and travel writers, and documentary film-makers, and poets, and preachers, thinkers on every topic from constitutionalism to human rights to cultural geography to political philosophy to theology to heritage to the whole wide world of informed opinion and ideas. The government just doesn’t get it, do they?

  • shaman sans frontieres

    and of course economists. and politicians themselves. and every subversive citizen that keeps a private journal, gossips over the back fence, writes things for blog sites, etc ….

  • HD

    If only the media mobilised itself similarly around the encroachment of the ANC led state on other spheres of society…

  • Peter Joffe

    Is it not fascinating that the great Julius Malema is now attacking the fat cats in BEE for their self enrichment as well as that of their families and friends?? If the Media Gag was in place even he would not know what is going on. So a gag on the media is good for some but not for others? Malema wants a gag on the press when it concerns his ‘business’ interests, but not on the ANC, including Zuma when they too plunder the treasury. We cannot fight crime if we don’t know about it. We cannot rectify failures if we don’t know about them. The media is not there to attack anyone in particular, they are there to expose what is wrong and help get it fixed. All the praise and glory that will come from the ANC’s tame newspaper will not help us build a better nation. If we are in the dark, the country will remain in the dark and it will get darker.

  • RubinB

    Just how sick the ANC is, was illustrated this morning by Ben Turock on SA Morning Live, when he gave one example of how the press distorts the “facts”: His example: the Times headline: “Zuma shops while Strikers ruin SA”
    According to him Zuma was not shopping, although Turock admits the article was quite okay.
    I can suggest a more appropriate headline:
    “Zuma fiddles in China while SA burns”
    I am still desperately waiting for examples of press wrongdoings, and they are not forthcoming!

  • Alan

    Guy, don’t you think that until institutions that are not directly affected add their voices, that it’s all spitting in the wind? Where is the business community (relishing getting away with murder by using political connections to censor reports of their wrong-doings?)?

    As for the “developmental journalism,” it sounds to me like Soviet style approaches to news and art.

    And all this talk of sensationalism. What a red herring! It’s sensational to learn that the trusted leaders of the country are taking massive bribes in return for biased decision making on spending public money.

    It’s also critical information for voters seeking to use their votes to endorse effective, efficient management of their beloved country.

    You’ve got to wonder how that story would have been reported “developmentally” instead of sensationally.

  • http://isoleso.co.za Brian

    Quite insightful i must say,im currently pursuing my studies in Journalism as well and i must attest to the fact that the current issue at hand hits home and carries personal relevance,what’s mind boggling for me is that what ever im studying seems to play out practically…im just concerned of the state of Journalism that will be in the future…..

  • http://hardcopyink.com MLH

    Mary Jones has a baby: no news/pay for placement in B&Ds.
    Mary Jones has 10 babies on the same day: big news.
    Mary Jones has baby with president: breaking news.
    President has Mary Jones’ baby: sensational news.
    Mary Jones and president never meet: no story.

    It’s not the writing but the news that qualifies the story. The president (in this case) just needs to make sure he does nothing untoward and he won’t even feature.

  • Robin Grant

    @Dave Harris – You are only fooling yourself if you think that the media tribunals will have little or no effect on the career choice of budding journalists.
    Being a journalist is not about the pay cheque. Journalism is not a job – its a calling. Being a mouthpiece for a dictatorial regimen is not a job for a journalist – its a job for people like yourself.

  • edgar alan poet

    why is the media so silent on its white predominated, untransformed state?

  • Judith

    Many NGOs have also added their voices against the Media Tribunal and the PIB, as we believe that our work will also be compromised by them

  • tottie

    One would think that politics has its own hazards, like anything else. The risk includes incorrect reporting, because the truth is never an ally of a ruling party, in particular.

    Immediately a person gets involved in politics he forfeits privacy, because he lives at the public expense, and naturally, the public wants to get every detail about him. Celebrities have to run for their lives from the paparazzi in fear of bad publicity. Businesses employ public relations to control damage from bad reporting, in a bid to protect their image.

    Politicians have nothing to lose because they do not invest capital when embarking in politics. Instead they get to control the public kitty, sometimes without the qualifications to do so. If they get their ‘careers’ damaged by incorrect reporting, they have a choice of leaving public life, and lose nothing. And, in our case they get promotions even when they have been convicted for corruption.

    On the other hand, the person who is forced by law to foot the bill for lavish lifestyle, has no choice until the next election. By then the damage is long forgotten.

    How about telling the truth for once?

  • George Smiley

    If the ANC starts fiddling with academia curriculum in future, then I wonder how this would affect the worth of a South African degree on an international level.

    It’s obvious just from glancing at the UK Guardian forums on the tribunal/Bill topic, that people there are not that ignorant or impressed by the ANC as they used to be in Mandela times.

    I am beginning to feel relieved that I got a UK degree, even if it means paying off debt for years down the line. No matter what the UK government of the time does, it will never be as stupid as our SA one and the value of a certificate should at least hold. But man, a Rhodes, Wits or UCT degree was worth “gold”.

    Or am I just worrying for nothing? I mean, who would have thought SA could come to what we find ourselves before, now??

  • Mark Robertson

    Journalism’s tragedy, and blessing, is that like sociology and politics, it is an interpretative not an absolute science. This is a tragedy – the state feels it has the right to interfere and tell people what they must read or think – the hilarious “What interventions can be made in respect of journalism curriculum in order for developmental communication to be mainstreamed as opposed to sensationalism”? However it is a blessing that the state doesn’t even try to intervene in exact science, which has immutable facts that can’t be turned into propaganda, lies and distortions, which most politicians thrive on. like air traffic control, navigation rules or airline pilot procedures. If it did, there would be burning wrecks all over runways worldwide.

  • George Smiley

    Or perhaps to pose the question differently: If you had a serious ailment and you had a choice between a doctor trained in, let’s say, Germany (or Switzerland), and a doctor trained in an African country (where freedom of speech and up to date technology and practices are somewhat lacking).

    Which would you choose?

  • Kweku Hanson

    Dave Harris makes a good point. White journalists are out of touch with the aspirations of the majority which is black, as we all know. Therefore it stands to reason that those white journalists need to be controlled, possibly even re-educated, until such time as they can be replaced with black journalists who can correctly represent the views of the majority of South Africans.
    The same goes for our judiciary. We have had enough of the white judges who come from the apartheid era, or even from Southern Rhodesia, who automatically find whites innocent and blacks guilty. The judiciary needs to be transformed, and as Paul Ngobeni wrote, the myth of incompetence in black judges needs to be debunked.

  • Benzol

    From my experience during WW2 in Holland, growing up in a “resistance” family, I can safely say that a suppressed news mechanism becomes better by the day to get the real news across.

    Anybody in SA remember the columns of Pieter Dirk Uys?

    draconian laws can make journo’s more creative, more gutsy.

  • Claire

    I’m currently working my first job in the media industry after having studied journalism. It certainly is legitimate to be concerned about the future of the industry and the teaching of journalism (I can already see the beginnings of an exodus from journalism to PR). Woe betide us all when teachers of journalism are told to teach the ANC’s version of developmental journalism. My teachers were of the opinion that a commitment to the community one writes for and a drive to rise above the mediocre was the best form of developmental journalism. Journalists cant do that with the ball and chain of the media tribunal etc attached.

  • Bongz

    I must first concede that I haven’t read the proposed bill , but I agree that media needs more freedom , but at the same time we need to question the attitude and reporting of the media.

    If we take the report that suggest that Mr Zuma was shopping while RSA burn. Such headlines which are not factual at the time when workers are fighting for an increase , the media lies and say while the government doesn’t want to give an increase , your President is busy on a shopping spree , so clearly this cannot be right more so that it’s all lies.

    The media drives the perception of this country and most people in this country rely solely on the media for information due to obvious reasons , therefore how we report has to be accurate.
    Another example was when the times reported that 20 miners died at the mine , but we later learned that it was only 4 , when this was questioned the editor said they know what they are doing and still need to investigate the story , but the story was already printed. There is many of such reporting , but what makes me puzzled is that the editors will have editors forum and come out and say the media is doing great there is nothing to improve. There is also no where that you read of malicious reporting and punishment. The journalist will say retraction in the media fraternity is considered the harshest(Daaaa..)

  • Kwame

    @Bongz, I agree with your analogy. Personally, I say thanx to the ANC for highlighting this long over due debate on the media. Its gud to see people taking the democratic opportunity to express their views on this matter.

    Ironically, the media seems not to be comfortable with such a process, and instead they have attacked the process never mind the content. For example Mr Guy Berger recently chanted in his blog ‘No need for a debate on the media’ and I have to ask why if the process itself is everyones right to freedom of expression? what is the media afraid of?

    I’m of the view that this debate has hit a pandorox box where hidden agenda’s lie in the quest to control public perception and freedom of thought. Guy Berger is not giving the whole story, afterall he is a journalist that is sitting on the other side of the fence. Hence, I encourage all not to take the media’s take at face value.

    The future for me is media diversity, and more open sources that will give the previously disadvantaged better platforms for expression coz clearly they won’t find expression in the current media that is in my view of ‘western values’.

    I am for media freedom, I am for freedom of expression by all citizens and I am for an independent body that will give recourse to aggrieved members of society that are not happy with the rulings of the ombudsman.

  • andrew

    @George Smiley. South African trained doctors are some of the best in the world. Germany sends trainee doctors here to get experience. I would rather be treated at a state trauma unit here than in Europe thanks. The Media Tribunal is another matter

  • George Smiley

    andrew

    I realised later that my comment may be misunderstood.

    I actually fully agree with you.

    My interest was in trying to take the current ANC approach to it’s logical conclusion.

    Also, while I understand the topic under consideration is the press and not the medical world, an analogy like this appeared to be the simplest way to bring my point across. It would be a situation such as that, where one would “play safe” as it were.

    Perhaps it was a long-winded way of saying that right now SA still has outstanding academics and professionals, but push the current programme further and we may end up like any other African country. Qualification-wise in respect to reputation.

    I guess this goes without saying.

  • Larry Lachman

    When the ANC imposes this media tribunal and Information control act, will the editors and owners of the print media have the courage and fortitude to deny the ruling party advertising space for their future election campaigns? – no matter how much the ANC will offer in payment.

    It seems that if the media houses are to be regulated to their detriment, and democratic and constitutional freedoms are to be threatened, then perhaps a little leverage is in order. In fact, why not give free advertising to the opposition. Only fair.

  • Rory Short

    @Kwame the best judge of the media is its consumers namely the public. No independent panel, which sadly could always be subjected to political influence, can replace public choice.

  • Foom

    “Dave Harris makes a good point. White journalists are out of touch with the aspirations of the majority which is black, as we all know. Therefore it stands to reason that those white journalists need to be controlled, possibly even re-educated, until such time as they can be replaced with black journalists who can correctly represent the views of the majority of South Africans.”

    @Kweku I can’t believe you actually committed that fascist line of thinking to paper. First, I reject your assertion that journalists are out of touch; second, I reject your proposed cure, which is nothing more than centralized control and creepily implies some kind of camp is needed for journalists. FORCED REEDUCATION! Yeah, that’s always worked out well.

    The best way to solve this is to train more black journalists and the the Media Control Bill (which is what it is) is going to reduce the number of people of ANY race entering this profession.

    Your proposal, essentially, is “Killing the patient will remove all signs of disease”.

  • tottie

    I wonder what would be left for debate if the race-centred terms like ‘white’ and ‘black’ were left out of this debate.

    Even if these terms, including ‘transformation’, had other meaning other than political, one would struggle to find ‘black’ or ‘white’ truths even among non-politicians. These contructs are socialand cultural, and bear no meaning except when used as political weapon to elevate immoral dysfunctional behaviour to a sublime level. No ‘black’ person can counter a ‘white’ person when he claims his ‘white’ viewpoint. The same applies to a ‘black’ viewpoint. These are oxymorons that render the points made by their claimants inaccessible from those not part of that race.

    They kill the debate without raising any argument. Worse, they excuse the claimants from responsibility for what they claim. Belief in these phenomena does not depend on the will and cannot be commanded at the pleasure, and therefore one apportion the blame to his being socialised into a belief that their skin colour predict their values, personality, and even moral fibre.

    Therefore, the believers can excuse themselves from the rigours of argument, supposed to be the effect of reasoning and reflection, terminating in some conclusive principle.

    We used these vague terms with high-pitched eloquence during the ‘struggle’ to leave no room for reason to our ignorant audiences during the struggle, they do not help anyone now that we are faced with real issues.