“Though we affirm the right to freedom of association for every South African to belong to any party, journalists in this country must set themselves apart from political associations that tamper with objective reporting and analysis.” – ANC Eastern Cape elections head, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, writing in the Daily Dispatch.
“MTMSA will today be launching its campaign to radically transform the media industry in South Africa and to specifically target media houses who have shown political bias and racially skewed editorial, reporting and procurement practices.” – Wesley Douglas, media statement 12 February.
As the two quotes that anchor this article indicate, much has been recently been made by the ANC and its associated affiliates about the alleged political bias of a newspaper editor, Brendan Boyle and of the now-suspended Donwald Pressly, the Western Cape editor of Business Report, an Independent News and Media SA title.
I have never met either man but I respect both.
However I do not have to defend Boyle against an attack on him in the Daily Dispatch by the ANC deployed cadre, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, because in his typically measured way, he has done that himself.
“His point would be well made in relation to the deployment of political cadres to the newsrooms and executive offices of the public broadcaster and are relevant also to the launch and takeover of newspapers as the South African media experiences the greatest upheaval in its history.”
Boyle’s remark about deployed cadres at the SABC exposes the extraordinary hypocrisy of deployed cadres like Qoboshiyane. He conveniently ignores the fact that Snuki Zikalala and his successor Hlaudi Motsoeneng – who reach tens of millions in all 11 official languages whereas newspaper journalists reach tens of thousands in one language – got their jobs not on merit but because they are aligned to factions within the ANC . Whichever faction controls Luthuli House demands that their appointees bias the news in its favour. To the detriment of South Africa’s image as a country that respects media freedom, both Zikalala and Motoseneng have delivered spectacularly on that brief.
Hundreds of millions of people all over the world now know – thanks to the BBC, Sky News, Channel Four, Al Jazeera, CNN, Sky News and others – that Motsoeneng, Jimi Matthews and Nyana Molete, acting on orders from Luthuli House, unconstitutionally, illegally and unethically silenced the voice of the people and their growing antipathy to the Zuma faction when they censored the booing of the President on 10 December and thereafter deliberately did not interview Thamsanqa Jantjie.
Nothing that Boyle or Pressly have ever written has brought their employers or their country into disrepute and neither have they ever shown such overt party political bias yet SANEF, which seems to approve of them being suspended, has not called for similar sanctions against Motsoeneng, Matthews and Molete whose power to reach and influence all South Africans is infinitely greater.
Unlike the SABC which is funded by relatively powerless tax payers, privately-funded newspapers are answerable to company shareholders and market forces not political patronage determine their financial viability.
I was stunned but not surprised when I read the following passage in Douglas Foster’s outstanding book, After Mandela -The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa ( W.W. Norton, 2012) about his visit to the Star newsroom when Moegsien Williams was editor there during the Mbeki era
“Like most of his colleagues, Williams was unashamedly pro-ANC and an ardent pro-Mbeki partisan. He considered AIDS and Zimbabwe ‘blind spots’ of the president’s in an otherwise admirable record. Jacob Zuma, on the other hand, he thought of as a throwback and an embarrassment”. (Page 82)
That Williams should regard as a ‘blind spot’ the hundreds of thousands of his compatriots who needlessly died after terrible suffering because of his hero’s antipathy to anti-retroviral medication or the millions of Zimbabweans who have died, been immiserated or driven into exile by Robert Mugabe with the covert support of the ANC is a matter for his own conscience – what matters in a professional context is the newspaper that he delivers with the help of a massive revenue stream from ANC-provided advertising.
He is now the editor of the pro-ANC Gupta newspaper, The New Age, and whether he still considers our current President as a “throwback and an embarrassment” is of little consequence in this debate because how he votes is as confidential as how Boyle and Pressly vote. It is up to Guptas to decide whether his political allegiance is acceptable to them and up to the market to decide whether it wants to purchase the newspaper he edits – and the fact that The New Age has only released some very dubious information about is alleged circulation figures is telling.
I therefore do not agree with SANEF that a journalist who appears on a political party’s official list of candidates should resign. What could be more politically overt than the statement by Williams and the fact that editors like Zikalala and Motsoeneng were appointed to their positions by the ANC?
The crux of the matter is whether Boyle and Pressly have written politically biased articles and, had they done so, the affected political parties would not have hesitated to refer such articles to the press ombudsman.
That has not happened.
Had Boyle and Pressly stood for election and contested a constituency on a DA ticket then they would obviously have resigned, as John Scott did when he stood against and lost to the incumbent, John Wiley of the NP, in the Simon’s Town constituency in the 1987 general election and as Dianne Kohler Barnard did in 2004 when she left the SABC because of “increasing state interference” and became a DA MP.
Boyle and Pressly have served their country well as journalists and, in the twilight of their professional lives, apparently wish to continue serving their country, utilising the skills they have garnered, as politicians.
To suggest that journalists, uniquely, should have to surrender their jobs simply because they have applied for another job – and with no guarantee of future employment – is absurd and obviously contravenes constitutional imperatives.
I don’t think anyone takes Wesley Douglas and his plaint about “political bias” seriously. The fact that his inchoate organisation – supported by a motley crew comprising hungry pensioners, a bewildered boy band and an imperious Media Mata Hari tottering around on red, skyscraper stiletto heels – tried to illegally disrupt a a peaceful and legal R2K picket outside Newspaper House in Cape Town but has never staged anything similar outside the politically tainted Auckland Park headquarters of the SABC says it all.
Since 2005 the Afrikaans newspapers have based their approach on a broad South Africanism and after six decades of reading the English language press in this country I can recall, if memory serves me correctly, only one instance when an editor adopted an overtly political stance.
That was when Harvey Tyson, then editor of the Star, called on his white readers to either abstain from voting or to vote against the National Party’s Tricameral Parliament plans in the referendum held on 2 November 1983.
A former editor of the Cape Times , Tony Heard, in a letter to the newspaper on 3 December last year, wrote: “The Cape Times, though never a party organ (we hope it stays that way), nevertheless had a special relationship with the late Colin Eglin and his liberal cause. We at the newspaper trod broadly the same path for a generation in adverse conditions, seeking by persuasion to change the public mindset to foster an all-embracing South Africanism.”
The hope he expressed about the newspaper remaining politically neutral but cleaving to the liberal principles espoused by Colin Eglin and Helen Suzman has died stillborn – and how well he now knows that.
His daughter Janet is a potential victim in the appalling race-based purge now occurring in the company which employs her.
Both Rhoda Kadalie and Anton Harber have referred obliquely to this.
Kadalie went to the heart of what Boyle described as “ … the launch and takeover of newspapers as the South African media experiences the greatest upheaval in its history.”
In a recent article published in Die Burger and on Politicsweb she wrote: “In similar mode, Survé has started the great purge, ridding his media company of its senior editorial team. Bringing in the once respected Karima Brown from Gauteng, she has to replace the ‘purged’ with politically and ethnically-connected (my emphasis) crony journalists.”
That is the very real and present danger which should concern not just SANEF but all South Africans who value media freedom and our place in a world where such principles are held dear – not the minutiae of whether or not Boyle and Pressly might harbour future ambitions of serving their country in the political arena.