Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Nothing unusual about SABC…er, censorship

Since the ANC took political power and governance from white minority rule 18 years ago, the SABC has been a highly contested terrain.

What I have noticed is that the wise guys in the so-called private-owned media and their networks have the same predictable attitude to attack its integrity at every opportunity, even for the silliest mistake.

Maybe acting chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng had a legitimate reason to cancel the show of three so-called independent journalists discussing the ANC without any representation from the organisation. Or maybe he was mistaken. Or it is something that has not been done before but he was trying to do things differently. But the more I read commentary on the alleged banning of wise political editors the more I see how everything done to defend the SABCs choices will not be allowed to see the light of day.

And let the record show, I am neither an apologist for the SABC nor a defender of the ANC. But the wise guys in the so-called independent press — and their cohorts in academia and civil society — are going overboard in attacking the SABC’s choices. They are always going on about independence and objectivity as if these concepts are not subjective or a myth.

A critical reading of the press reveals neither balance nor objectivity in how the wise guys cover stories on the ANC, especially in the build up towards Mangaung. The wise guys in the press may be exquisite in their defence of freedom of expression and the media but they are delusional to think that anyone believes they are fair, correct, truth and objective when it comes to covering or speaking about the ANC.

Their fundamental belief is that anything that is done by the SABC leadership is always to protect the ANC. In fact, deep down they believe for journalists and radio talk-shows in the SABC to be regarded as independent they must not only expose the foolishness of the ANC leadership but fight for their freedom from political control.

It would seem that some journalists in the SABC ranks are beginning to buy into this false notion. What worsens the situation is the political naivety of its young producers. They seem to, now, believe that to be honourable they must do like former SAfm talk-show host John Perlman who snitched on some decision taken at the highest level. Anyone who believes in absolute freedom of the media must see a psychiatrist. The wise guys in the press know that if they do not please their profit-driven bosses they will be pressured or fired. So, they toe the line, too.

Maybe it is the same at the SABC. So, the biggest sin that has been committed by Motsoeneng is to require balance in how the ANC is covered. On the matter of balance, there will be no agreement. The guys at the SABC may seek for ANC’s participation on issues relating to the organisation. In contrast, the wise guys in the press may believe that covering stories on the ANC means shutting it out completely and giving it no space to breath. There is no right or wrong in this matter. But the wise guys in the press will attack anything and anybody that desires to make the ANC smell like roses. Their agenda is to undermine and, ultimately, destroy the oldest liberation movement in the continent.

You don’t have to trust me when I say the media is neither balanced nor objective. It always has an agenda, what they call an angle. Also, it suffers from a herd mentality. Why does the press condemn every decision of the SABC, for instance? Where is the diversity of opinion? And the freedom of expression, especially of the SABC top dogs, for instance? I believe freedom of expression happens only when we defend the right of those we disagree with. Motsoeneng is entitled to his opinion. But nobody is defending his and the SABC’s right to look at things differently. The wise guys in the press only want to shut them up so that courage, independence and fearless in the media always means being against the ANC.

What I know is that it is odd that the political party with the greatest support in the country has no media that supports or affirms its views. I have been an insider in the newspaper business and I know what is required for a journalist to rise in the ranks: not only be anti-ANC but make 1000% profits for money-worshiping shareholders.
So, what the hell is going on with this alleged SABC debacle? I think it is about time that someone stood up to challenge the wise guys in the press, especially their one-dimensional view of the ANC and herd mentality that does not promote diversity of views.

As I understand, it was journalists who were going to be referees on how the ANC is covered in the media. But these are the same guys who are players in the media game. I don’t understand why the Freedom of Expression Institute or some professors in ivory towers, for instance, are not questioning that.

But I believe the matter is not just about the alleged SABC banning of a talk show. They have explained themselves and people are free to differ. What Motsoeneng is perhaps pointing out is that those who accuse the SABC of bias cannot deny that they, too, are biased. In the opinion of the wise press guys there is nothing good that can come out of the SABC or ANC.

Maybe we should thank Motsoeneng for his guts to stand up to the wise guys in the press. Finally, there is someone who has a different understanding of balance that does not always mean an oppositional role of the media to the ANC. Who knows, we may have to thank him one day for bringing a different understanding and interpretation of balance. In a democratic society there should always be those who support the ANC and those who are opposed to the ANC.

The media – including the SABC – may need to be more introspective, keep an open mind when critics point out examples of bias and systematically work to stop getting caught up in commercial enterprise or political partisanship. After all, the role of the media is to inform and educate. Unfortunately, journalists and editors often give us their opinions rather than discourse that is fair, factual, accurate, correct and truthful.

Okay, maybe it is too harsh to ban a talk show. But let us engage Motsoeneng and the SABC to debate the meaning of balance to agree that objectivity is a myth. Neither the wise guys nor the SABC are innocent!

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