Sat Oct 22 05:32:51 SAST 2016

Hands off the Fourth Estate

By Themba Sepotokele | Mar 17, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THOSE of us who willy-nilly hurl abuse at the South African media, accusing it of being anti-government or to put it bluntly, being anti-ANC, have surely learnt a thing or two from the international media.

THOSE of us who willy-nilly hurl abuse at the South African media, accusing it of being anti-government or to put it bluntly, being anti-ANC, have surely learnt a thing or two from the international media.

This free lesson was offered during President Jacob Zuma's state visit to the UK.

More often than not critics throw mud at the Fourth Estate, especially when they are doing their jobs in unearthing dirt and exposing corruption in the highest echelons of power.

Recent insults by the ANC Youth League, labelling scribes from the Sunday Times and City Press "two sick and mentally disturbed journalists", cannot go unchallenged.

Entering a sober debate is well and good. But hurling insults at journalists for doing their jobs will add nothing to the debate. It is simply meant to intimidate the media and to take attention away from the real issue of how a 29-year-old man has amassed his wealth from his R20000 monthly salary.

Yes, journalists have their imperfections. This is because they are human beings and as such are fallible and prone to err.


Our national discourse has indeed gone to the dogs where, instead of arguing facts, debating, agreeing and disagreeing or agreeing to disagree we hurl abuse at the media.

But the treatment meted out to Zuma during his state visit to the United Kingdom has highlighted the fact that the South African media - despite the challenges of the juniorisation of newsrooms and not paying competitive salaries to retain experienced journalists - strives for fairness, balance and objectivity.

No head of state, including Zimabwe's President Robert Mugabe, has ever been insulted by the media anywhere the way Zuma was humiliated by the UK media.

British journalists showed scant respect for Zuma as a man, father, husband and, most importantly, as head of state.

So those who have made it their pastime to insult and intimidate the media are doing this at their own peril.

A few weeks ago ANC Youth League president Julius Malema accused a City Press journalist of forging his signature.

Instead of proving the claim his lawyer, Tumi Mokoena, said his client's name had "mysteriously" reappeared on Cipro's register. He threatened to probe the authenticity of the signatures.

How long we have to wait for the outcome of a probe by signature experts is a matter for another day.

Now City Press senior journalist Dumisani Lubisi is being accused of being involved in money laundering and tax fraud.

My question is why not forward the matter to the law enforcement agencies to act rather than expect editorial management to take a decision based on the allegations.

To label the reporters "sick and mentally disturbed journalists" is just an attempt to veer from the real issues at hand - that being how Malema can afford his opulent and luxurious lifestyle on his salary.

How true or false it is that he got government tenders by using his influence and political connections in his home province of Limpopo?

How could he afford two upmarket houses and luxury cars? The country, especially the youth, are interested in the answers since they want to emulate their hero.

Another reporter who has felt Malema's wrath is Piet Rampedi, also of City Press.

He has been labelled a "small boy". Small, yes, but he has brains. Hurling abuse at the media is not dealing with the matter; it is tantamount to throwing stones while living in a glass house.

I believe if there are journalists who have tarnished the image and integrity of the media by taking bribes, and there's proof to that effect, they should be exposed and flushed out.

So we must be reminded by the negative reporting of the UK media how lenient, patriotic, fair, balanced and objective our media is .

But we cannot allow the Fourth Estate to be intimidated to submission of doing what it is meant to be - a watchdog of society.

It is from the late Martin Luther King Jnr that I draw my inspiration. He once said: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

As a journalist-cum-spokesperson I don't want to be remembered for my silence.

lThe writer is a former journalist. He is now a government communicator and media trainer attached to the Sol Plaatje Institute of Media Institute for Media Leadership in Grahamstown.


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