From this point on, things devolved into mad mayhem. Malema and the EFF were having none of it. EFF member after member got up to ask for an answer, growing ever more demanding and animated as they did so. The speaker slowly but steadily lost control. By 45 minutes it was a shouting match. The speaker then asked for security to remove the EFF. – Tweet of the Week: Zuma vs Malema: A Question Time circus –Gareth van Onselen, Business Day 22/8/2014
This was when things really became bizarre. First the sound was cut off from the live feed so those watching on television could not hear what was going on. As the EFF MPs refused to leave the House, Parliament’s security personnel tried to remove journalists from the media bay to prevent them reporting what was happening. Then visuals from inside the chamber were cut off. – The day madness ruled: Mayhem in Parliament as EFF demands Zuma #PayBackTheMoney, Ranjeni Munusamy, Daily Maverick 22/8/2014
Regimes that like to control the lives of those whose taxes allow them to live in luxury know it is vital to control the news “our people” receive.
The problem comes when growing antipathy and desperation causes the people to rebel and a tightly controlled script goes awry because many of the people have not only stopped singing from the same hymn sheet but no longer believe it.
The point is made by a chronological timeline using three examples that culminate in the cutting of the audio and picture feed from parliament on 21 August and the state invoking its powers in an attempt to drive the Fourth Estate out of the parliamentary chamber.
21 December 1989
It is just a fleeting moment of stunned surprise. The dawning realisation that the status quo has ineluctably changed and so too has any predictable future.
The camera mercilessly captures for posterity the bewilderment of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu on 21 December 1989. It is the defining moment which signalled the end of communism in Eastern Europe.
At 1:02 in the YouTube clip of his final speech in Bucharest the crowd starts booing and at 1:21 the producer at the state broadcaster cuts the transmission
Wikipedia provides the background and the context.
10 December 2013
On the day of the Nelson Mandela memorial Service at the FNB stadium in Soweto there was a similar moment, one which could prove just as telling in our political history. Watch these clips which show President Jacob Zuma’s face as the crowd erupted in furious booing.
Now watch the look of stunned surprise on the face of cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) at 25 seconds into this YouTube clip as he struggles to articulate his amazement about what had happened and, presciently, what the implications are. Within a few months President Jacob Zuma would flee parliament, driven out by Julius Malema, the man he unleashed on the country with the confident prediction that he would one day lead the ANC.
However only those who watched the live SABC broadcast of the memorial service would have, very briefly, seen this incident which was headlined locally by eNCA and, internationally, by every major news agency in the world. Those who were not able to watch the live SABC broadcast but only tuned into the SABC television news bulletins that night would not have seen anything in this regard.
“Cut away! Cut away! Cut away!”
The reason became apparent the next morning, 11 December, when City Press broke the story of how the SABC manipulated not only the live broadcast but that evening’s television news bulletins. The City Press story was then conveyed by the world’s leading news agencies to billions of people all over the world by broadcast, by newspapers and through the internet
While TV news broadcasters across the world led their bulletins with the booing of President Jacob Zuma at the memorial for Nelson Mandela yesterday, SABC’s prime-time newscasts all but erased the incidents from history.
City Press has learnt from six independent sources at the public broadcaster’s news division that various instructions were given to ban broadcasts of the booing.
In the SABC news studio, the crisis was managed, according to insiders, by Nyana Molete, the national TV news editor.
Sources say he strode into the control room in Auckland Park calling: “Cut away! Cut away! Cut away!”
This, they say, was in line with the decision in a meeting before the broadcast to avoid broadcasting any incident that might embarrass the ANC leadership.
Two separate sources confirmed that SABC radio reporters in the field received instructions over their cellphones when the booing happened. They were observed not commenting on or covering the crowd’s displeasure.
Another source told City Press that staff preparing the evening’s news bulletins received instructions, said to come from head of news Jimi Matthews, that the booing incidents would not be included and that booing should not be referred to, rather “unruly behaviour” by elements in the crowd.’
While eNews and eNCA made the booing their headline story, SABC3’s 7pm news bulletin and prime-time 24-hour news channel coverage all but ignored it.
Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird confirmed this, saying: “There’s no mention of booing from our observation so far. Not in the SABC1 headline bulletin or the SABC3 headline bulletin. There’s not even mention of an unruly crowd.”
(On December, 15 City Press carried a graphic –the FNB Stadium applause-o-meter – which showed that while the crowd cheered most loudly for Barack Obama it booed Zuma on no less than four occasions: at 11:52 when he walked on stage, at noon when his face was shown on the big screen, again at 12:59 when his face was shown on the big screen and at 2:49 as he began his speech and, as a consequence, an exodus from the stadium started.)
21 August 2014
The happenings in parliament last Thursday are the stuff of recent and very vivid memory but, what is important in the context of media history and analysis, is the contrast in the way the event was covered by the private enterprise company eNCA and the state-controlled SABC.
On 21 August the angry crowd at the FNB stadium in Soweto was replaced by their baying parliamentary representatives, the EFF, and the booing was replaced by chants – “Pay back the money!”
The natural instinct of those controlling the audio and visual feed from parliament was to cut the feed, understandable because in their perception the ANC pays their salaries. However, when parliament briefly reconvened, they were forced to restore it.
As always Thinus Ferreira was way ahead of the pack when it came to reporting the way in which the three television stations were packaging and presenting the unfolding drama at parliament. Comparing their news coverage, he highlighted what he saw as the SABC’s ineptitude and its routine censorship by omission and he posted his first story at 16:02
At 18:55 he posted a report with this headline: As SA parliament erupts, eNCA on DStv shines with insta-excellent coverage, SABC News and ANN7 shock with lack of real-time news.
To me the essence of the drama was that the Speaker, Baleka Mbete, lost control of the House and what was relevant as far as TV news coverage is concerned is the way in which the SABC structured the story. What was not communicated was the tension evoked by the rapid erosion of her authority and, as a consequence, the way the situation spiralled out of control.
Genuine news organisation
On the 18h00 news eNCA ran the ENTIRE half hour up to the weather report on the drama, dropping advertisements, the financial markets and business news as well as the sports slot – that is the way a proper news organisation responds to a breaking news story of this magnitude.
It played the whole eight minute clip showing the inexorable and growing chaos. This element was downplayed by the SABC, which deliberately used much of the limited airtime it devoted to the story to what happened outside the House after the sitting was adjourned.
When the visuals of the chaos in the Chamber ended, eNCA logically brought in its reporter in parliament, Paula Chowles. Reporting live, she logically had Julius Malema and the DA’s Mmusi Maimane standing by and what followed was a riveting 10-minute interview. They then crossed back to the news desk where Angelo Fick was waiting to provide his always cogent and articulate analysis of what had happened. For the 7pm bulletin they brought in Justice Malala to do the analysis.
There was no live crossing on the SABC’s 18:30 bulletin. It devoted only 10 minutes to the story, cut out the progressive and embarrassing way in which the Speaker lost control and for their studio analysis used news reader Natasha Thorp interviewing in-house political analyst Vuyo Mvoko. He did his best not to embarrass anyone. The thrust of Thorp’s questions was not President’s Zuma’s obfuscation or the Speaker’s partisan behaviour but that the EFF had brought parliament into disrepute. Mvoko nodded acquiescently.
The SABC has by far the biggest news team at parliament and some experienced and talented specialist political reporters – one thinks of Lukhanyo Calata and Abra Barbier – but none of them featured in the SABC’s news insert. Why not?
Leave nothing to chance
The answer is that those who control the news in Auckland Park wanted to leave nothing to chance. They wanted total editorial control so a tightly edited package was done as a presenter voice over. They could not risk their reporters doing what Chowles did – interviewing Julius Malema – because if such an interview had been conducted and then not used, the EFF would have swiftly capitalised on such censorship. And if they had interviewed Malema and broadcast what he said it would have evoked the wrath of Luthuli House. Phil Molefe was suspended more than two years ago for having the temerity to disobey a public instruction on 8 August 2012 from Blade Nzimande to forthwith cease broadcasting news stories featuring Malema and former President Thabo Mbeki. That, it seems, is still seared into the corporate memory at Auckland Park.
So how did the SABC’s parliamentary reporters experience what happened? We don’t know because contrary to all reporting conventions of normal news organisations, they were not allowed to tell us in the SABC’s main television news bulletin of the evening.
We are indebted to Andrew Donaldson of the Cape Argus for this report:
Reporters were instructed to leave the press gallery. We too refused to move. A strange stand-off ensured. We had an idea that if we left the chamber, then we’d miss seeing the EFF being ejected from the chamber in the sort of ham-fisted manner in which they’d recently been bundled out of the Gauteng provincial legislature. And, some minutes later, from the floor of the otherwise deserted chamber, Malema looked up at the press gallery and laughed, “Don’t go, you press people. Stay there!”
Riot police carrying the full panoply of their trade, body armour loaded handguns, riot shields and batons were summoned and their commander, Western Cape Police Commissioner Arno Lamoer, then instructed them to clear the parliamentary chamber which at the time was only occupied by the EFF members of parliament and reporters. All this, as Ranjeni Munusamy has pointed out “… while the parliamentary mace was still positioned in front of the Speaker’s bench. This signals that the National Assembly is still in session.”
Gwede Mantashe has since decried the failure of the police to use force against the EFF members and media representatives but had they done so the damage to South African’s already battered image would have exponentially increased.
Can one deduce from this that the ANC wanted the South African public to know as little as possible about what was happening in parliament?
In closing: Vindication is normally a pleasant experience but an article I wrote for this website, Epitaph for the Cape Times was, to my sorrow, vindicated the day after the EFF challenged President Jacob Zuma in parliament about his failure to adequately answer a question on his financial reparations for Nkandla.
For 138 years the Cape Times has been part of warp and woof of the lives of the city’s residents. Its front page has heralded momentous events, both glad and sad, and its editorials have analysed those events.
In August 1985 after P W Botha delivered his Rubicon speech we knew that the political landscape had changed irrevocably and, as we watched the escalating tension in parliament in August 2014, we were left with the same sense of unease.
At the weekend, Mondli Mkanya in a City Press article headlined A game-changing moment in our country’s politics wrote: Several fundamental things happened on Thursday:
The President fled parliament. The bulletins and the next morning’s headlines did not put it so bluntly, but there is no other way to interpret President Jacob Zuma’s inability to finish his session.
On that afternoon in his helpless state, his lame duck status was confirmed.
Secondly, the Speaker’s authority was thoroughly undermined, not just by the unruly EFF members but by her own party. It was obvious to the dumbest imbecile that Baleka Mbete’s mandate was to protect Zuma, which is in violation of her constitutional duties.
Thirdly, Parliament took the odious step of inviting the police into its hallowed sanctum, a most terrible precedent.
The people are speaking
So what did the Cape Times carry as its front page lead on Friday 22 August and to what did it devote its editorial?
A recommendation by Archbishop Desmond Tutu that more black players be included in the Springbok rugby team …
But the people are no longer listening.
The SABC’s own market research, Project Kindle, shows that all South Africans regard its news broadcasts as politically tainted and controlled by the ANC. Furthermore, audience research shows that for every person watching the main evening news on the SABC’s 24 –hour television news channel, two are watching eNCA.
Furthermore, people with decades of experience in Cape Town’s newspaper market tell me that the financial break even point is a daily sales figure of 35 000.
However the latest figures indicate that the Cape Times has shown a recent 10% drop in daily sales to 31 784 (its 2012 daily circulation figure was 34 523) and the Cape Argus a 12% drop to 29 170.
The people are speaking.
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