Muzzling the media again

SO DEMONISED is the Fourth Estate that politicians are now proposing serious censoring in the form of a media tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill.

They claim that the media in this country are out of control and need a serious crackdown.

How quickly we forget the lessons learnt from history. The reason apartheid survived for so long is because the state silenced the opposition and made sure the heroic stories of our liberators were not known.

But some tenacious sectors of our media persevered and made sure the public was informed.

Loud voices in the media made sure the whole world eventually saw past the propaganda of the Nats and saw their policies for what they were - evil, oppressive and unjust.

How sad that the same people who benefitted from robust media are now calling for the same immoral control.

The politicians are right to condemn "the brown envelope" trend where some journalists are paid to write stories with a particular slant.

But let's be sober here. It is the media that reported this and exposed the journalists involved and it is quite unfair to make the preposterous claim that the actions of two corrupt journalists are indicative of the general behaviour of the media.

Politicians are now using this as an example of rampant corruption in the media, yet they forget to condemn the politician involved. Instead he was rewarded with a plum job as South Africa's ambassador to the US.

Should there be a tribunal to make sure that a politician found to have "bought" a journalist should never again "serve" the public?

It is mind-boggling that the self-righteous politicians are so concerned about corrupt journalists yet remain mum about the actions of politicians. Why did they not vigorously oppose the appointment of former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool to the ambassadorship?

They must go the whole gamut and demand that politicians who bribe journalists be kicked out of their sacred movement. But they will not do that because it is not the corruption that worries them, but that the media dares expose it.

There is nothing as disempowering as opening a magazine or a newspaper only to find a malicious and incorrect story. I have experienced that myself, but the solution is not to throw a blanket of secrecy over information that the public has a right to know.

It is naïve to think the tribunal and Draconian laws will put an end to this distortion.

While distortions, defamatory reports and lies are unacceptable and are an embarrassment to the profession, these issues are not unique to the media.

Every single industry has rotten apples but to correct that, you don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

In our criticism of the media it is important to note that were it not for its profession, former president Thabo Mbeki's arrogant request for us to "trust" him on Jackie Selebi, would have been the end of that story and the public would not have known about the rotten link between the top cop and the murky world of crime.

Were it not for the media, tenderpreneurs at Luthuli House would not have been exposed. Add to that Travelgate, Oilgate, the arms deal, misuse of public funds, and so on.

If the public were to be fair in its analysis of the media, it would not only look at the distortions, but consider the cases that politicians, the police and businesses have subsequently responded to as a result of pressure from the media.

Personally, I could write a book about the number of times I have had to use my platform and intervene as a talk-show host to make sure that a citizen of this country, whom I have never even met, gets the help that he or she deserves.

The media are not perfect. Neither are politicians. It is disturbing that the public has been duped into believing these measures are about preventing distortions. That is a lie from the pits of hell. Our leaders will only tell you what they want you to know. That is the long and short of this ridiculous tribunal.

Wake up, South Africa.