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South Africa's hostile and disingenuous media and political opposition parties unite against the African National Congress

By Udo W. Froese
South Africa's media, the joint political opposition and the general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the ambitious Zwelinzima Vavi possibly in his personal capacity, describe the country's new 'Protection of Information Bill' as "unconstitutional and anti-democratic". They call it the "state secrecy bill".

In fact, together they plan to challenge this new law voted for by the ruling ANC and its majority, and take it to the Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, they lobby the nation of South Africa against this new law.

Revered American publisher and journalist, Joseph Pulitzer, once said, "The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of future generations." "Speaking of journalists", Pulitzer stated, "They are the lookout on the bow of the shipof- state guiding it through the storm."

This is a noble view of the media.

An American politician, Johnson, described media owners and employees, saying, "They are the scum of the earth. They stink like Mackerel." This writer comments from a journalist's point of view and in the general spirit of the law.

The media has a lot to answer for in South Africa. As quoted in previous columns, Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, once explained, that if one has to sell a lie as factual truth to the public out there, one would have to repeat it as often as possible, packaging it as the truth, using the mainstream media, in that way convincing the majority of the population.

The corporatisation of the very few media houses and the advertising industry has moulded them into the working tools of media barons and their lobbies, who manipulate the markets out there. This pays tribute to the old saying, "he who pays the piper calls the tune".

A retired journalist said in conversation, "South African media journalists have the reputation of being hit men and women for their masters".

"There is a growing tendency to use the media to play judge, jury and prosecutor in the court of public opinion," he observed. "Editors are employees. They are deployed", the retired journalist then pointed out.

Here are examples. Well before 1994, people like the promiprominent founder of a leading insurance company and his family, known rightwing capitalists masquerading as liberals, arrogantly admitted at dinner parties that they would not shy away from making false accusations, naming a certain individual as a paedophile to get him out of their way.

The accused had to defend himself for three years in the public domain. He had been accused on the front pages of the print media as a paedophile. He was however, eventually acquitted and the trial disappeared. In the process of character assassination in the media, that person was ruined. His wealth was destroyed and his wife divorced him. He had a nervous breakdown and was close to suicide.

South Africa's president Jacob Zuma is no stranger to such character assassination, when recalled, former president Thabo Mbeki rolled out the state and the media against his perceived competitor. One of Mbeki's henchmen, Bulelani Ngcuka, stood accused in a court of law to have briefed the media editors on a regular basis on steps to be taken against Zuma. It all eventually boiled down to "purgery" committed by Mbeki and his inner circle.

In the years before the elections of Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected president of a new South Africa in May 1994, the former editor of the weekly newspaper, Mail & Guardian, now media professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Anton Harber, coined the term "black on black violence" to describe the urban warfare in the black living areas of the country then. Harber not only misled the local media and its client base, but also the foreign media based in South Africa at that time. They copied him, describing the manipulation of urban warfare between the followers of the highly incensed faction of Inkatha and the ANC followers also as "black on black violence".

Colonial-apartheid's super spy then, Craig Williamson, admitted in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) under bishop Desmond Tutu, that this urban warfare was a structured strategy of covert operations of Military Intelligence (MI), the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB), also known as Third Force, to play black Africans off against one other in order to destabilise and ruin the international image of the incoming ANC.

Both, colonial-apartheid covert operations and the media presented black African South Africans as barbarians, unfit to govern. It was an obvious racist ploy.

It is at the heart of the 'Protection of State Information Bill' to encourage the noble view of the media, as Joseph Pulitzer put it. Good, balanced and fair reporting will retain its place in South Africa.

In the above context, it seems that the moment the media is challenged, they squeal for their "freedoms". But what about the freedoms of the individual citizen? In essence, the media attacks democracy as it attacks the freedom of the individual, a freedom that was rightfully hard fought for. Like in most former colonies, South Africans paid with their blood for the freedom of the individual. However, there is this small group with its own agenda, screaming that its rights are taken away.

Under "media freedoms", gutter journalism is consistently promoted, irrespective of the rights of the individuals that are continually trampled on. It is also interesting to note that the same media no longer publishes articles written by independent and so called dissident authors.

It is no coincidence, but it is by design, or censorship by the media companies to shut certain views and historic facts out and promote their views only. This is their interpretation of their "media freedom". It poses a serious danger, as history will never be reflected truthfully, but in a distorted fashion. Indeed, there is no media pluralism in South Africa.

Drama and sensationalism, character assassination, misrepresentation of facts, tendentious reportage and trampling on individual rights are protected under the guise of "media freedoms".

The conduct of the South African media and its support structures is embarrassing. It failed dismally to self-regulate itself through its own ombudsman. At the same time it allowed, if not promoted, tendentious gutter journalism to flourish. The media in South Africa has indeed overplayed its hand by willy-nilly destroying lives. But, when this is corrected, the media squeals.

In all working democracies there would have to be corrections to ensure the continuity of the growth of democracy. It is a natural process. Now, the 'Protection of State Information Bill' is addressing and correcting these evils mentioned above. The elected state carries the responsibility to protect its voters and treat them fairly.

The 'Protection of State Information Bill' would serve as a 'code of fair information practices', as a 'code of conduct'. The consequences for those, who do not respect, or uphold such a code is punishment. The times of peddling perceptions as fact, of character assassinations, or power lobbying would seem to be short lived.

The 'Protection of State Information Bill' was passed through Parliament properly to assure fair play. State security matters would be protected. South Africa has a vibrant civil society and chapter nine institutions with different agendas and highly politicised citizens. Should the government use the bill in a manner that would trample on the rights of the people, it would be met with stiff opposition and exposure of such developments. The bill protects the rights of each citizen.

The problem of the media in South Africa is that its ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few media barons with very serious cross-shareholdings in the monopolistic corporate sector.

In fact, since the advent of South Africa's democracy the majority of African South Africans has not experienced the reflective and respectful media of their culture, politics, traditions and views. The promotion of Africanism, which is reflected in the 'Ubuntu Principles', has been completely ignored. In addition the local media has failed completely to promote real African South African intellectuals. This reflects the deeply entrenched racism of the local media in the new South Africa.

The country's few media conglomerates have always made it too difficult for any newcomer to the media market to succeed. Those conglomerates own the full value chain.

There should actually be policies against the formation of media conglomerates, as it is the case in the United Kingdom, for example.

If it would not be the stance of government to advertise also in the new newspaper, "The New Age", that paper would have failed, similar to what had happened to the Nigerian owned "This Day" in Johannesburg and many attempts at publishing newspapers and magazines before, who were all shut down.

Finally, it seems that there is an agenda promoted with the assistance of the media to weaken the ruling African National Congress (ANC) by the next elections in 2014 through a host of "revelations", including character assassinations and slanted reports. The goal is to force the ANC to form a coalition with a host of opposition parties. This would mean that the ANC would be disempowered and finally destroyed. The architects of these strategies would however, not succeed, as the voter base remains too large and the ANC too popular.





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