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A journalist at the ANC National Policy Conference approached me last week asking why the SACP seemed reluctant to have an interview with him and his newspaper. I responded, tongue in cheek and said it may be because some of them have stopped being journalists; they have effectively become the mouthpiece of factionalists in our movement. He retorted and said, “Some of you guys in the NEC leak information to us”. I responded by pointing out that I sometimes wondered if there isn’t a two-way relationship that maybe some of them get paid by their NEC sources? A suspicion that’s it without any evidence so far! The conversation ended rather abruptly after that. Alas! When I read the Sunday Papers after the policy conference the same journalist is one of those who wrote an article that portrays a conference that never happened.
If anyone needs any example to confirm that South African media has, at worst, become an organised opposition voice to the ANC and government, and at best, a factionalist player in the politics of our movement, must look no further than the headlines of the Sunday papers this past weekend. The Sunday times read: “Chaos at the ANC conference”. This paper should be ashamed of itself. To run such a headline after a conference whose opening and closing sessions were broadcast openly to both free to air and pay television as well as radio channels - including daily briefings on the outcomes of commissions - is not only shocking but is taking South Africans for granted.
Anyone who participated in the proceedings must ask as to which conference the Sunday Times is writing about. High levels of debate characterized the policy conference, and the delegates displayed intellectual depth and rigour. One can only wonder where exactly the so-called chaos took place, unless the Sunday Times is deliberately seeking to mislead and misinform the public, in a manner that is in fact tantamount to a lie!
As for the City Press’, “Tide turn on Zuma”, the Editor should equally be ashamed of herself for this shoddy journalism. The quality of debates yielded clear resolutions whose aim had absolutely nothing to do with the President. These form the basis of which the ANC policy directives will be debated and finalized in Mangaung. This seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy as the City Press were predicting that the ANC National Policy Conference will be used by delegates to turn against the President. Ferial, this is a shameful manufacture of headlines and stories that have no basis whatsoever. One hopes the editor is not blinded by her grief emanating from the mass action against the City Press on the Spear issue. If that were the case, she would be allowing her anger to blind her editorial decisions.
The most bizarre efforts to misinform the public were by the Independent stable reporting that the President of the ANC had to be whisked away from the podium at one point. Really? Here is what happened. A delegate from North West Province grabbed the microphone and pushed away another delegate whilst speaking. The Chairperson of the session Comrade Jeff Radebe requested the ANC officials who form the steering committee to go out and deliberate on the issue and deal with it. The President left at that time with nothing resembling any ‘whisking away’.
This matter was dealt with by the Steering Committee, which swiftly ordered the delegate to leave the conference hall and the conference continued smoothly. It is a blatant lie that the President was whisked away. It is equally untrue to report that this incident represented chaos of the conference. In fact it is tantamount to disrespect to more than the 3000 delegates of the ANC who were disciplined and took their organisational responsibility seriously. Let alone the many readers of these papers who at the very least expect to be informed truthfully and objectively!
When we engage with these issues some in the media interpret this to mean we are against the media. This is far from the truth. What we are challenging is intellectual shallowness and charlatanry and the abuse of media freedom to pursue what we see as factionalism inside our organisations. Let us restate the obvious:
1. This was the most successful policy conference ever.
2. The process in the lead up to the conference, the deliberations during conference and its outcomes demonstrated the extent to which the ANC and its Alliance partners are the only formations committed to open and transparent democratic debates about policy.
3. These policies have been thrown wide open for public debate for society as a whole to contribute. Sadly many media houses chose to play an intellectual gate-keeping role by narrowing eleven policy discussion papers to one concept of ‘a second transition’. After the conference they are playing the same role of misinformation based on dubious sources that exaggerate a few instances of ill discipline. For God’s sake criticize the ANC, disagree but do so based on facts and informed analysis.
Another pathetic approach to covering the ANC and government by media now is that of seeking to reduce everything to Mangaung. It is as if editors and commentators have stopped thinking, or even doing any kind of research, analysis or investigative journalism that is required to understand ANC processes and procedures. This is really sad. A simple practice like singing about ANC leaders is reduced to Mangaung. The fact is ANC sings are about its leaders all the time. This is no brainer. As to why singing about President Zuma, as a serving president of the ANC should be a Mangaung ploy baffles one’s mind. It is even worse when the majority of journalists and editors understand the historic and cultural nuances of these songs. Please inform the public about this rich culture and save us the opportunistic charlatanry.
An interesting development that many media houses have developed is what one would call a ‘PR’ stance of using internal OMBUDS. These Ombuds appear to accept many of the challenges we are raising. However this seems to be self-serving rather than genuine. If it were genuine we would be seeing different media products with better quality of analysis. For example there seems to be no effort to enforce a balance between factual reporting, opinion and analyses. The good old journalistic principle of seeking to tell a story factually seems to have gone out of the window. It has been replaced by innuendos and dubious anonymous sources. While there may be genuine reasons for anonymous sources from time to time, there cannot be total dependence on these as is the case these days. Where are the internal Ombudsmen when this kind of journalism becomes the norm?
The delegates who attended conference through the structures of the ANC must report back to the membership the resolutions of this successful conference. Otherwise we risk our successes being distorted by this level of disinformation we are seeing in the media. That we cannot allow. It seems as if both the sources and ‘their’ journalists had told themselves that the Policy Conference would be a showdown against President Zuma. Therefore the story must be told either as such or otherwise projects the conference as having been chaotic. This kind of reporting will sooner or later lead to the complete destruction of any trust between our movement and the media. This is truly shameful reporting. Let the real and principled editors and journalists stand up against this, for the sake of media and society and their own integrity!
Written by Blade Nzimande, ANC NEC member and Minister of Higher Education and Training