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Unbecoming conduct and the ANCYL’s attacks on the media

By Nelly Shamase

In the midst of Oprah discovering she had a sibling, the re-instatement of culpable homicide charges against former Bafana Bafana player Bryce Moon and the unveiling of Zanele Magwaza-Msibi’s new breakaway party; one story has managed to captivate me more than any other this week.

And the winner is: the ANC Youth League versus award-winning journalist Piet Rampedi.

Now I must tell you, anything involving this particular youth organisation always captures my attention.

And from what one can gather from various media reports over the past few years, foot-in-mouth syndrome has found a firm foothold in these parts and this week has not been any different.

Let’s go back a bit.

Who can forget the drama surrounding the youth league elections in Bloemfontein circa April 2008? Even youth league president Julius Malema was later quoted as saying the election and the conference itself were characterised by “unbecoming conduct”. Luckily for Juju, he clinched the title two months later — even in the face of “unbecoming conduct” from his rivals.

But therein lies a contradiction of sorts.

It seems that the league is quick to lash out against anyone who dares to spew anything that they might find offensive; even if those they perceive to be detractors may have merit behind their utterings.

Dirty public spats involving Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, the general secretary of Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi, and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande attest to this and the list goes on.

But none has intrigued me more than the league’s below-the-belt attacks on the media.

Or to be more precise, journalists.

Who can forget the unfortunate public shaming of BBC journalist Jonah Fisher at the hands of Malema during a media briefing in Johannesburg in April last year?

Here’s a gentle reminder.

Fresh from a trip to Zimbabwe — where he condemned Morgan Tsvangirai’s party while coming out in support of Robert Mugabe and his land reforms — Malema called for a press briefing so he could fill the media in on his expedition.

During his address, he derided Tsvangirai’s party for operating from air-conditioned offices in Sandton.

Fisher then pointed out — and rightly so — that Malema himself had a house in Sandton and a barrage of insults flew, resulting in Fisher’s untimely dismissal from the conference.

Oh come now Juju, what “unbecoming conduct” from a man of your stature. And it’s not as if Fisher was telling tales.

Dumisani Lubisi, who was the investigative editor for City Press at the time, knows only too well what happens to journalists who dare write “stories” about the league.

Weeks after the paper wrote about tender controversies involving Malema, the league outdid itself by releasing personal details of Lubisi and his immediate family, including bank details, ID numbers and residential addresses.

This is intimidation at its best and if this is not “unbecoming conduct” then I don’t know what is.

Now back to present times.

This week,  Politicsweb posted a statement released by youth league spokesperson Floyd Shivambu.

This statement was a response to a complaint lodged on behalf of Malema. The complaint, which was made to the press ombudsman, was related to a series of stories written by Rampedi of City Press regarding shoddy infrastructural workmanship conducted by a company purportedly owned by Malema in Limpopo.

Their complaint to the ombudsman outlined numerous points they felt were unjustified but the ombudsman only ruled in their favour on two; namely that the front-page picture was misleading and that reports that bridges constructed by this company, which Malema allegedly has interests in, had been washed away.

This is not a major victory for the league if you consider the initial — and more substantial — complaint lodged. But that did not seem to matter to Shivambu when he drafted his statement.

He trumpeted their success and went all out to insult Rampedi and the newspaper. He criticised “City Press and its vindictive lousy Journalists” while stating that they are “strongly convinced that the Newspaper should take action on the lousy Journalist Piet Rampedi, whom we said time and time again … was involved in witch-hunting”.

Wow!

I realise that the league feels wronged but Shivambu’s choice phrases can surely be classified as “unbecoming”.

He then goes on to say that the league wants Vodacom to rescind Rampedi’s Print News Journalist of the Year Award.

Now the league may have some grounds for this. Reason being that Rampedi won the award based on the stories the league lodged a complaint against with the ombudsman.

One could easily argue that the two points the ombudsman found fault with in Rampedi’s reporting could have given him an edge over his competitors; thus landing him this highly sought-after accolade.

However, Shivambu’s post-statement actually detracts from the point he’s trying to make.

Here’s how I see it: at times you may have sound reason to lodge complaints and ask for certain requests based on that, but statements and utterances peppered with unnecessary insults take away from the core argument you are trying to put across.

Try and shy away from “unbecoming conduct”, it does nothing for your image and only paints you in a bad light to those who have the intellectual capacity to understand the issue as a whole.

With that being said, I look forward to the league’s next statement with bated breath.

I pray it won’t be “unbecoming”.