SABC-style mental slavery simply swops one set of masters for another

I very early developed an uncanny ability to detect racist slurs and stereotyping.

I very early developed an uncanny ability to detect racist slurs and stereotyping.

As someone who grew up in a racist, white-settler, colonial regime, the most demeaning stereotype remains the characterisation of black Africans as sub-human savages who have missed the evolutionary bus.

That caricature persists to this day in the idea that all blacks, regardless of class, education or social standing, are concerned only with fulfilling their immediate basic needs.

Nevertheless, many black commentators perpetuate the racist notion that we black people should not be concerned with supposedly esoteric and Eurocentric concerns such as global warming and climate change.

Media freedom and the freedom of expression too often land in the category of luxuries that should not concern blacks, especially in a developing country like ours.

The letter Dali Mpofu, the SABC's group chief executive, wrote to Sanef (South African National Editors')last week to sever ties with the organisation is the most explicit exhibition I have yet encountered of the racist notion that concerns about the erosion of press freedom are a bourgeoise indulgence or a white pastime.

Freedom of the press was so sacrosanct in our liberation struggle that we enshrined it in the constitution

The SABC's bigwigs bray that concerns about media freedom and freedom of expression are the preserve of a few white men and women, such as veteran media freedom fighters Raymond Louw and Anton Harber, Business Day's editor Peter Bruce and Jane Duncan of the Freedom of Expression Institute.

They maintain that the few black people who squander time on issues of media freedom in the face of social ills such as our huge housing crisis, unemployment and grinding poverty are the black surrogates of white right-wing enemies of the democratic government.

They count among these surrogates Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya, Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee and me.

Well, sad to say, but things are not yet perfect in our fledgling democracy, even if we have by far the freest media in Africa and are the envy of most journalists on the continent

The democratic government has launched the biggest assault on our media freedom so far in the form of the pre-publication censorship envisioned in the Films and Publications Amendment Bill. The government refuses to own up to the folly of trying to censor the media under the guise of protecting children from sexual exploitation.

Let me defer to Oom Ray, whom Mpofu and his ilk have demonised as the driving force behind a supposed "right-wing conservative" element in Sanef.

"Access to information is not as readily available today as it was in the glow of 1994, which has rapidly faded. We now see spin-doctoring, if not downright lies, when uncomfortable and embarrassing information is to be dealt with and much withholding of information," Louw told last year.

His observations are glaringly true to all working journalists. Raymond Louw and a few white people are not the only ones who should be worried.

The state and its organs rope in many others with questionable agendas for the sinister campaign against media freedom. The campaign tries to portray the independent media as being motivated solely by profit and therefore unqualified to hold public officials accountable.

Walk lightly there, Mr Mpofu. You forget that you and your minions gorge royally at the public trough. We in the independent press have to prove our worth every day to the cash-strapped buying public.

And Mpofu conveniently forgets that the SABC's advertising revenue comes from commercial enterprises.

The appointed SABC hierarchy have the gall to argue that no one elected journalists and then, in a non sequitur of note, conclude that they therefore have no right to set themselves up as watchdogs over elected politicians.

Huh? That is the way a democracy works, good sirs.

Another favourite missile thrown in the way of the independent media was articulated by Mpofu in his insulting letter laden with government-speak.

"My personal belief was that in a new democracy it was incumbent on all who treasure our freedom not to leave any uncontested space for those who seek to undermine or misrepresent it."

He is saying that all black journalists and editors should rally behind him, as an ANC cadre, in the SABC's imaginary war against so-called "black haters" - read whites - who hide behind press freedom to "hijack our democracy".

Sorry, good sir, I'm unavailable for this intellectual buffoonery.

Similarly, you have only yourself to blame for your inability to understand that Sanef could accept funding from the SABC and still criticise it. That is what happens where journalists are not yanked around like puppets by their hidden masters.

Mpofu whines about "unfair and sometimes malicious" treatment of the SABC. Let the SABC operate like a true public broadcaster and those cracks will disappear.

Did he think that Sanef and its members would ignore the SABC's censorship of dissenting commentators?

The SABC does not share values that Sanef and most journalists with even a modicum of integrity hold dear. Sanef believes in robust debate and fiercely independent media that pander to no one.

Mpofu and his cronies want to ram down our throats their sycophantic brand of "patriotic journalism".

The Sunday Times is today the most hated newspaper in government circles because it dared tell the public that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang jumped the queue for a liver transplant by virtue of her position, and that she is a convicted thief whose ineptitude has ruined our public health system.

Mpofu tells us that such reporting in the public interest is inhumane and is inimical to the values of ubuntu.

He pours scorn on Sanef for defending the Sunday Times' right to bring us these stories.

Mpofu saves his worst vitriol for Sanef's black members, accusing them of having traded their integrity for money and "pretending to be converted to foreign, frigid and feelingless 'freedoms'".

There we go again: Because we are black, we cannot believe in the freedom of the press, but only pretend to be converted. We are, after all, savages incapable of comprehending the intricacies and importance of such "foreign" values as press freedom in a free society.