All journalists who would in future dare criticise the ANCYL and its leaders, must make sure that they do not have skeletons in the cupboard lest they get investigated by the league. Anyone who doubted that we are descending onto a banana republic must have their doubts cleared up by this extraordinary development. With all the shenanigans at the ANC Youth League and all the systemic corruption of ANC deployees and politicians in all possible spheres of society driving the news room agenda of many newspapers, the poor imperfect journalists will have to scramble to find some new things to write about.
To say that this is an ultimate assault on the freedom of expression is an understatement. We do not need far fetched examples to know that this is how repression starts. The media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has reported recently that the freedom of the press on our continent is in a parlous state. It says in its recent report that: “The DRC continues to be one of those African countries where exercising the right to information can lead to prison, hospital and sometimes the cemetery”. It also dubbed Sierra Leone “one of the worst press-freedom violators” following the imprisonment a few years ago of leading journalist Paul Kamara for four years on trumped-up libel charges. It says of Zimbabwe — where you could be arrested for poking fun at the president — freedom of the press there “simply does not exist”. (This must sound familiar to the likes of Zapiro.)
We are reminded of the tragedy of Rwanda where years after the genocide the government continues to “behave like a predator” harassing the press in that country. All over the continent, stories of journalists’ families being tortured and their homesteads being torched by intolerant regimes abound.
Interestingly, the media watchdog, in its many scathing reports, have always given South Africa high marks on the question of the freedom of the press especially after 1994. The ANCYL’s scandalous conduct is taking us back to an era worse than apartheid and threatens this good name. The apartheid regime, like the other regimes described above, investigated journalists as a matter of course, tailed them, tapped their phones and harassed their families and friends. This was done to break their spirit and shut them up — sometimes for good. In order to get personal information about journalists the youth league will have to do similarly shady things. It is heartening that Zuma has plucked up the courage to ask the question: “For what?” Well the answer is simple Mr president — so that the journalists can back off and not expose the rot that has set in, so that they stop probing where ANC politicians get their millions to sustain their lifestyles. It is not complicated at all.
This is a continuation of a culture of intolerance of dissent that is now taking on a new and dangerous dimension and instead of asking a bland question, Zuma must act to assure the country that this is not happening under his sanction. The best way is to order an immediate investigation against the youth league for fragrant violation of the Constitution that he has vowed to protect. Anything less will be seen as nothing but the tacit approval of the intimidation of the media: the birth of the new Idi Amin’s of our present and of our future.
Does all this mean that the journalists are innocent? Are journalists at fault for using underhand tactics to get information on politicians? Are journalists entitled to have inappropriate relationships with politicians to extract information? Do journalists do their profession well by being sucked into factional fighting of political parties? Of course not. The fourth estate must also urgently engage in some introspection about how some among them are fuelling the destruction of public confidence in the objective role of the media to tell the truth. There are just too many stories doing the rounds about journalists who prostitute themselves for scoops. Sanef has to look into this and not put its head in the sand. None of the weaknesses of the fourth estate however can ever justify the ANCYL taking the law into their own hands and probably abusing state apparatus to assemble a new arsenal of intimidation. If this is allowed one wonders what will be next? Prosecutors who are “not perfect”, being intimidated from prosecuting the politically connected? Investigators who are “not angels” being told to back off?
We cannot be a country that is guided by the lowest common denominator of our human frailties. One wonders whether the ANC will take a strong stance against this rot or will they turn a blind eye in revenge for all the bad dice that the media has been dealing them lately? Time will tell.