“The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day or just World Press Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.”
Mail & Guardian
“Never before has the M&G urged readers to oppose the ANC. But we do so now because the aim is to make the ANC more effective and responsive. It is to hold it to the values it espoused in 1994. It is a tactic that should be palatable even to those who have historically supported the party.” Mail & Guardian editorial 02/05/2014
“Die enigste opposisieparty met ’n bewese geskiedenis in regering is die DA, wat deesdae na groter, vinniger spronge vorentoe mik, want Helen Zille sê ’n DA-oorwinning is dringend.
“Sy is reg en verkeerd.
“Sy is reg, want die ANC sal elke verdere jaar aan die bewind gebruik om grondwetlike instellings se fondamente te verswak. Die ANC se meerderheid moet dringend krimp. Sy is verkeerd as sy sê ’n stem vir kleiner opposisiepartye is vermors, want dit ‘verdeel’ die opposisiestem.
“Ons kiesstelsel is proporsioneel, so selfs klein partye kan verteenwoordiging kry in die parlement.
“’n Stem teen die ANC is ’n stem vir demokrasie – mits jou party die waardes van die allerbelangrike Grondwet konsekwent aanhang.” – Rapport editorial 03/05/2014
“… And the policy changes have resulted in a big difference to the business climate, not to mention a great raft of legislation that is business negative. The Zuma administration is manned by people who have a profound distaste for business, misunderstand it badly, and generally distrust people in business outside of a select group of client businessmen who have one eye open for government largesse.
“For the Financial Mail, this is a crucial issue. Consequently, and somewhat reluctantly, the ANC does not get our endorsement this time.” – Financial Mail editorial
How fitting, as we celebrate 20 years of democracy, to acknowledge the role that journalists in Southern Africa played through the Declaration of Windhoek in creating a symbol and also an awareness of how vital the Fourth Estate is in ensuring that democracy remains vibrant.
Newspapers are generally circumspect during the hustings. They are only too aware that their survival depends on maintaining the goodwill of people whose political affiliation covers the broadest of spectrums. The considered decision, then, of the Mail & Guardian on 2 May to urge its readers to vote against the ANC has little local precedent. Their move was followed by Rapport, which said in an editorial a vote against the ANC is a vote for democracy. The Financial Mail, again in an editorial, said it was “reluctantly” unable to endorse the ANC in these elections, notably due to its “profound distaste for business”. All three titles belong to different media companies.
In historic terms how significant is this? I live in a retirement complex with Stewart Carlyle who was a reporter in parliament from the sixties. I asked him if he could recall an occasion, because I couldn’t, when a newspaper last openly urged its readers to not vote for a specific political party. He said he could not recall any such instance but that Harvey Tyson, the former editor of the Star had urged his readers to vote “no” in the referendum of 2 November 1983 which led to P W Botha’s Tricameral Parliament being introduced. The exclusion of blacks from this body led to the UDF being established.
Minister of propaganda
The front page lead in this issue of the Mail & Guardian was headlined ‘Maharaj for Minister of propaganda’ and you can judge just how suited he is for this task by reading page 33 of Richard Calland’s outstanding book, ‘The Zuma Years – South African’s Changing face of Power’ (Zebra Press, 2013). The subject is Maharaj and Nkandla and this is what it says:
Maharaj then tells me something really noteworthy: he suggested to Zuma that he, Maharaj go down to Nkandla and take a look for himself, ‘through the bunker and the whole damn thing.’ And the president says to me “Go on, it’s a good idea.” But I didn’t.’
Why not? ‘To a certain extent, what I am telling you in this example, (it) isn’t going to help me in my job to know more, because I have to ask a different question, is this a matter where I stand or fall? If I find something significantly unacceptable, will I say goodbye?’
‘So you don’t want to put yourself in that position?’ I ask.
‘No, I would have had a crisis.’
This is extraordinary. Maharaj, whose seniority in the ANC and his own proud record as a liberation fighter would have enabled him to stand up to Zuma , could not bring himself to do so because he was afraid of what he might find if he looked too hard. Perhaps he is not the first spin doctor who has turned the other cheek in order to avoid knowing too much about his or her principal, but it is still a pretty astonishing admission. And it answers my question: Zuma does not have anyone who can say ‘no’ to him because if Mac can’t, then no one can.
Maharaj must have felt subsequently vindicated in his ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ approach to Nkandla because the interview with Calland took place in February 2013, a year before the Public Protector released her damning report, ‘Secure in Comfort’.
ANC’s Auckland Park puppets censor again
Also on the eve of Press Freedom Day, a number of civil rights organisations including R2K, the SOS coalition and the trade union, Numsa, protested about biased reporting and news censorship outside the entrance of the ANC’s Auckland Park branch. Unsurprisingly this was not reflected on the SABC’s flagship 7pm TV news bulletin that evening even though the chief censors, Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Jimi Matthews, were able to watch the protest from their palatial offices.
Along with news bias and censorship by omission (the most dramatic version being the censorship of the booing of Jacob Zuma on 10 December when every major news agency in the world was here for the Nelson Mandela funeral formalities and broadcast this shameful news corruption into hundreds of millions of homes throughout the world) the banning of political advertisements by opposition parties has become a new tool in the arsenal of a bumbling ANC.
The de facto ruler of the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng and his fawning courtier, the Zuma-deployed chairperson of the SABC board, Zandile Tshabalala – who would not know what the word “conflicted” means if you wrote it on her forehead with a luminescent marker – presided over this farce. It did nothing other than heighten public awareness of otherwise unremarkable advertisements and bring the state broadcaster, through comment on social media, into further disrepute throughout the world.
The extent to which Luthuli House has corruptly suborned the SABC can be gauged by this casual, throwaway, last-sentence reference in the Sunday Times of 4 May in a story about Julius Malema’s pre-election campaign: “His entire campaign has been marred by attempts by former comrades in the ANC to frustrate the EFF. If they are not disrupting his rallies, stoning his supporters in East London or refusing him permission to use municipal stadiums in Tembisa and Atteridgeville, they get the state-run SABC to ban his election adverts.”
Censorship by omission, however, remains the ‘state’ broadcaster’s main tool of oppression on behalf of the ruling faction in the governing party. I have written about the origins of this policy in 2002 – what I call the SABC’s ‘Eureka Moment’ – and the legal lacuna in the Broadcast Act that permits this. Censorship by omission is one of the most significant impediments to broadcast freedom in South Africa. This is because the SABC has an audience of radio listeners and television viewers which is probably close to 30 million people, many of whom, particularly the rural poor, rely exclusively on the SABC for their news in their own language. By simply not broadcasting what the ANC does not want those 30 million people to know, the SABC achieves the objectives of Luthuli House.
‘Orgy of fraud’
The most frightening of recent news stories – deliberately not covered by the SABC for obvious reasons – was the ruling by Judge Robert Lagrange in the Johannesburg Labour Court. The case was brought by trade union Solidarity on behalf of a Colonel Johan Roos, an auditor in the SAPS Crime Intelligence Unit. He blew the whistle on the astonishing scale of looting which was taking place on the watch of Richard Mdluli. Mdluli is the man the Zuma administration is frantically trying to protect and keep in his position in the same way that the Mbeki faction tried to protect Jackie Selebi.
Jacques Pauw broke the story of the Johan Roos dossier in a front page lead in City Press nine months ago under the headline ‘Orgy of Fraud’.
(Johan Roos dossier)
Pauw’s follow-up story in City Press on 27 April under the headline “Judge slams Nathi, Riah” is not only a damning indictment of the ANC but a damning indictment of the state broadcaster because if you log onto the SABC news website and type “Colonel Johan Roos” into the search bar the predictable result is: No results. Type “Judge Robert Lagrange” into the search bar and the only result is a story on a previous labour court victory by Solidarity in August 2012.
In his ruling, Judge Lagrange criticised police minister Nathi Mthethwa and national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, saying they showed a “disturbing inertia” in responding to the Roos dossier – but it went far beyond that. The Roos dossier revealed not only that “crime intelligence members were involved in murder, torture, fake hijackings and wholesale looting of the unit’s secret slush fund” but that Roos’ home was broken into, there were attempts to intimidate him and he was moved to a different department to shut down his investigation into Mdluli. (Not quite as bad as the fire-bombing of the home of Elsje Oosthuizen, the SABC’s head of internal audits in 2007 after she exposed the looting by one of the state broadcaster’s feral elite, Dali Mofu’s friend and business partner, Mafika Sihlali – but still…)
The most troubling of the Judge’s findings was that Mdluli had ignored a subpoena to appear in court: Lagrange said in his judgment that as well as Mdluli refusing to honour a properly served subpoena, the police failed to invoke provisions of the Superior Courts Act to force his appearance in court.
That left the police with their only other witness: former crime intelligence head Mulangi Mphego, who also featured prominently in both Roos’ testimony and his dossier.
Mphego undertook to consult with police lawyers but did not honour this commitment.
Above the law
In any functional, competitive democracy this would topple governments but in a de facto one-party state, Mdluli, with the endorsement and support of Luthuli House, is above the law. The ANC is clearly happy with this because its only but predictable response has been through the SAPS which lodged a complaint against City Press with the Press Ombudsman for reporting that Mthethwa knew about the allegations contained in Roos’ dossier but did not act on them.
The people of South Africa need to know about this – it lies at the heart of the evil and utterly corrupt vendetta which saw the hugely capable Glynnis Breytenbach being persecuted and driven out the police force.
This is a story which cries out for second phase, in-depth investigation and the best-resourced broadcast investigative unit in the country is the SABC’s Special Assignment programme. One of the stentorian and excruciatingly repetitive bits of self-aggrandising puffery which blights SABC TV news bulletins on its DStv international news channel (404) is: “We dig dip! (sic) We probe! We investigate!” That “dip-digging” is certainly not happening on the revelations of Colonel Johan Roos. Type his name into the search bar on the Special Assignment website and the predictable result is: No results. This extraordinary story has been in the public domain for nine months!
The tens of millions of people who rely of the state broadcaster for their news have heard nothing of the Lagrange judgement because the news parasites who are an integral part of the ANC’s ‘Hlaudification’ project at its Auckland Park branch have suppressed the story.
How does the international press see us?
How, on World Press Freedom Day, does the international press report on our 20 years of democracy?
For some three decades I have benefited from the political insight of Dr Leopold Scholtz who, until 2007, was deputy editor of Die Burger but is now based in The Hague as the European correspondent for Media 24’s Afrikaans dailies. On the eve of World Press Freedom Day he wrote an opinion piece in Die Burger headlined, ‘South Africa held in contempt abroad’. Citing three recent and critical articles in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Guardian and the New York Times, he attributes this to the governance of the ANC in general and the Zuma administration in particular, saying that when South Africa is featured in European newspapers, which happens rarely, it is in the middle of the newspaper and in negative terms.
Right there, you find justification for the Mail & Guardian’s recent editorial stance which breaks with a decades-old press convention of editorial neutrality on the eve of an election. The Mbeki faction of the ANC and, to a greater extent the Zuma faction have squandered the international goodwill that Nelson Mandela achieved for us.
‘BMW-chauffeured horse thieves’
One of the few positive stories about South Africa recently in an international context was TIME magazine listing Thuli Madonsela as one of its 100 most influential people in the world. How ironic then, that the last time our country was voted by TIME as among the best in the world was when Alide Dasnois, Janet Heard and Tony Weaver headed the team that put together the 7 December Cape Times tribute to Nelson Mandela which TIME acclaimed as among the 14 best newspaper tributes to him in the world. Our joy, our patriotic pride was short lived because it was precisely that international tribute that the Iqbal Survé cabal – Karima Brown, Vukani Mde, Aneez Salie, Wesley Douglas et al – tainted and sullied. Stupidly, they sought to use this triumph as the excuse for the subsequent purge of senior white journalists. They clearly regarded them as potential whistle blowers and unwanted gatekeepers in their increasingly successful quest to turn a once respected newspaper into a mouthpiece for those who Daily Maverick’s Richard Poplak so wonderfully describes as “Jacob Zuma and his merry band of BMW-chauffeured horse thieves.”
One of the journalists who did have the option of alternative employment – and there are many who would like to leave Survé’s servile stable but do not, as yet, have an option – is Ann Crotty. She summed up her reasons for leaving the Independent (sic) Newspaper group by saying that reporters want to write for people not for newspaper owners.
One of the things they teach you in television news reporting 101 is that the last sentence in your 60-70 second report must take the story forward. Let me close then with the welcome news that Caryn Dolley – who clearly agrees with Crotty – has become the latest reporter to leave Newspaper House in Cape Town and will henceforth write for the Sunday Times. I have little doubt that she will thrive in her new environment without Survé’s malevolent shadow looming oppressively over her. Others will surely follow her example just as they did when Survé’s broadcasting counterpart, Snuki Zikalala, took control of the SABC news department in 2004.