Who the hell wants to stand at a state of the nation address holding your Samsung phone aloft and shouting #bringbackthesignal? Not me. Ferial Haffajee on the night government blatantly tried to censor parliamentary communication.
Doing so last night with colleagues in the media benches was a moment of profound discomfort, especially when the chant was taken up by some members of Parliament in the opposition benches.
And, especially when the ANC benches erupted in an opposing chorus of “ANC. ANC. ANC” – which is what the party does when it readies for victory. Or war. It was not easy because the media must be seen and believed to be non-partisan.
I know my freedom is owed in large measure to the ANC as is my progress in the world. If it were not for the party’s efforts and the Constitution it shepherded, I would probably be a retrenched clothing worker or low-level bank clerk as apartheid’s mad architects had planned for people of my colour. So to have the ANC glaring at us chanting journalists was painful on several personal levels.
I’m also old-fashioned and old enough to hold the National Assembly in august reverence and helping make that caterwaul was necessary but not easy. It was necessary because not to do so would have been to collude in a crude and stupid act of censorship.
The decision to jam the signal to prevent transmission of live reports from Parliament’s National Assembly had to be opposed. While a Cabinet minister alleges the media colluded with the opposition, in fact the chant was started in the media box because we could not work. It was taken up by the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters’ benches.
The jamming was but one of a set of egregious efforts to stopper information last night. The live feed was transmitted North Korean style, with clear censoring of the violence when EFF members were ejected. Then, reports suggest the security which hustled and heaved the EFF out of the assembly also attempted to stop journalists speaking to them.
And, overnight, the minister of social development Bathebile Dlamini threatened the media for our action, bringing to four the number of efforts to censor and scupper free expression.
All of these efforts must be opposed, but it’s worth noting that they are stupid too. In an era of open information and social media, you have as much chance of stopping information as we have of getting our president to #paybackthemoney.
Ferial Haffajee is editor of the City Press. This post was first published by the newspaper and is republished here with the permission of the author.
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