The Press

Press on, Press on

There was a beautiful moment, a few days after voters changed South Africa, that was offered by Gwede Mantashe the national chairperson of the humbled African National Congress (ANC).

Seeing the previously unquestioned support for the ANC evaporate on the score boards of the Independent Electoral Commission, Mantashe attributed the party’s demise to biased media coverage. Specifically, he said the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and Newzroom Afrika had agitated public sentiment against the ANC.

Mantashe was, of course, absolutely correct. He could blame the media; if not the media he identified, for leading voters away from the ANC, and he could certainly accuse some media people of being biased. But the question was, biased against what?

Mantashe sounded exactly like the National Party

Mantashe sounded exactly like the National Party (NP) from 1973 to 1990. At the time, the NP was doing its utmost to make the unworkable policy of apartheid … work. As apartheid proved not feasible, the NP turned on its critics with hurt and cruelty. People living mostly in townships and squatter camps rejected the conditions of their lives, along with deaths in security police detention and not having a say in their future. However, the NP leaders said people rejected apartheid because the English Press had told them to. Just like Mantashe, the NP blamed the Press for their rejection. To hear Mantashe sound like the NP was just beautiful.  

If some significant sectors of the Press did one thing during the NP rule, it was to never present apartheid policies as the norm; to never report apartheid as something to be acceptable. Countless brave English newspaper reporters, and then brave radio reporters and writers in other language mediums, recorded the horrors of apartheid, in the many ways apartheid played out. To repeat, such people never presented apartheid as something acceptable. Such people were biased against apartheid, as did most of the world. Some writers among them sided with the Progressive Party, from 1959, even if silently. I hope history records the name of media people who captured the ills of apartheid in the cause of telling the South African story. Apartheid for such media people was never permanent and their task was to report on its going.

I tried to get a senior job on the SABC

Fast forward to Mantashe 2024. I do not see nor hear SABC news. But I doubt Mantashe was correct. I wager that every person in the top ranks of the SABC was appointed because they were members of the ANC, or open supporters. I tried to get a senior job on the SABC a few years back, and did not even get an interview. The 100 percent black owned Newzroom Afrika ran a vote for change campaign in the run up to polling day. Good for them. And thank you.

In a repeat of what had happened in reporting the apartheid story, countless media people have in the past 30 years written about corruption in a biased way. Countless media people have never presented corruption as the norm. They have never reported corruption as something to be acceptable. Some such people work on the dwindling mainstream titles but mostly on online publications, upon which readers increasingly rely. I hope history records the name of media people who fiercely made exposing corruption the news.

To such media people I say: Press on, Press on.

I read the 2024 election coverage with great annoyance at times. The phrase watershed election made me apoplectic with rejection. If anyone can point to any democratic election that was not a watershed election, I will pay their TV licence for the rest of their watching years. Some political writers seemed incapable of not thinking in terms of aged cliches. A little bit of political writing tutoring at journalism schools would go a long way.

I found myself thinking about the attitude of Voltaire, namely I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Section 16 of the Constitution says everyone has the right of freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media. The years spent at the multi-party negotiations of the early 1990s were well spent in coming up with this provision. Constitutionally protected expression and free press is a rare and wonderful privilege, and a tension release valve. Better to have critics opposed to a government of national unity take to their cell phone key boards to say so, than to walk barefoot from township to township mobilising support against a chance of a better country and a possibly more prosperous future.

They pray for freedom of expression and the media

That the people who are not acceptable even to the ANC can form a political party to say so, is a great testimony to the Constitution, and state of, South Africa. There are countless people sitting in political prison cells in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South America today for having expressed their hopes for a better future for their countries. I am sure they are praying through their pain to whoever they pray to that one day their countries would allow freedom of expression and the media.

So, to the mainly former members of the ANC who are virulent in opposing the government of national unity, I say I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

May I always stand with people who wish to uphold democratic elections, and the freedom of expression and the media. Let us together Press on, Press on.

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