– who guards the guardians? –
Abie Zaidannas from Indonesia, in his prism on what the role of the media is in a democratic society, asserts: “Media plays important roles in a democratic society and could not be separated from the democracy itself. Ideally, the media is a tool to educate the voters, giving them facts, news and balanced opinions about how the government run and managed. It is vital to have well-informed voters in a democratic society to ensure the accountable and responsible government. Well informed society should be able to make rational choices, making sure that the government works as the people want. Media also act as the watchdog for the government in a democratic society by facilitating the people to articulate their views, demands and aspiration. The media usually is a powerful way to make sure the decision makers working in line with the voters’ interests, keeping the politicians and public officials in check.”
Listening to Zaidannas and many others in this frame evoke a celebration of what media in democracy would mean. Unfortunately, media, as we experience it, falls short of the ideals espoused in its most hallowed scientific description.
In a twist of tales, mainstream media has in this season taken its aim at Julius Malema leader of the EFF. In what is symptomatic and a sequence to its aim of former President Jacob Zuma, it has locked its focus on Malema the one who worked with them to vilify Zuma. Let me upfront make it clear, it is not our interest or aim to defend the EFF, its leader who as a political player is very capable of defending itself. We will merely cite Malema as an example of how mainstream media reveals its own hypocrisy.
Ours is to ask what sense can be made from the actions and behaviour of role players in mainstream media on this score. Ours is to interpret the attitude, behaviour of this type of mainstream media who despite claiming to be protagonists of free speech can act with absolute impunity in disregard of that dictate of free speech they so readily claim for themselves. The unfolding saga around the media and the EFF‘s Malema presents complex yet glaring interpretations of what the media means in the democratic society.
Our first point is, in a democratic society the right to freedom of speech, access to information and a public opinion defines the premise and presence for the relevance of a media industry. It is a right we fought for since our chequered and known history confirms such right was non-existent as it was diametrically opposed to the agenda of apartheid. With the advent of a democratic dispensation, it naturally became essential to define this right as a non-negotiable for a South African citizenry.
Let us then understand how mainstream media access and use this right for its existence. The media is supersensitive to any idea of external regulation it has vociferously campaigned and rallied even external partners to plead its case that its right to practice freedom of speech as the carrier of information would be encroached upon if it is externally regulated. To this end, it despite its known political gerrymandering and embeddedness insisted on being an industry that self-regulates. We will recall a time not so long ago when the same media ran to their counterparts in Europe to support them since it was claimed the ANC wants to clamp down on press – freedom. There is absolutely no difference in what the media did if juxtaposed to what AfriForum did on the subject of expropriation of land without compensation, when it this year aggressively solicited support from like- thinking racist supporters in the USA, among others. Mainstream, therefore, exists in practice and presence with the sacrosanct claim of freedom of speech which is acceptable.
We must accept in the second instance, that the right to a public opinion as Zaidannas asserts, is not exclusively that of the media, but belongs to all that makes up the said society. The problem becomes when mainstream media deny others their right to actualise the same freedom of speech dictate as is the case with a more recent Julius Malema but not the first example of media’s grave intolerance towards others as they have done of Jacob Zuma. When we remonstrate mainstream media denying others the exercising of their equal rights, it’s in stark recognition of conscious and willful denial on the part of the media in this instance. It is not an accidental denial, but it is a meticulously orchestrated denial anchored in an unsavoury pact agreement to afford some no space to share or hold a public view on the equal subject matter that defines our discourse.
This practice thus, at an existential level militates against the fundamentals of the meaning of the media in a democracy. A denial of others their equal right to have a public opinion as exercised by mainstream media is nothing short of a new form of censorship. It’s actions, therefore, borders on a form of hyperventilating censorship. We know that censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient” as determined by a government or private institution, for example, corporate censorship”.
The third challenge which emanates from the attitude of the media to firstly claim for itself the right uncontested right to exercise freedom of speech, while it denies others the equality of that same right is the deduction that the media is crafted as an active political role player. That the media makes up part of society is undeniable, that is not remotely contested anywhere, what is a point of concern is how the media in perpetual sense evidence a hijacked industry. Hijacked by pure and self-political interests. Therefore, when the media writes, prints, and publishes we are compelled to ask in whose interest are these taking place. A brazen and callous demonstration for scant regard with an attempt at objectivity has come to define journalism today. We have a media that is a political party who claims a fourth estate right.
In the fourth instance in a democratic society, the media has a right to protect its sources of information. It is a right that mainstream media at the drop of a hat invokes when it pleads victimhood and attack on their existence. While this right is necessary, we have also seen instances of utter abuse of this right and the recent Sunday Times confessions and firing of journalists who fabricated stories that cause severe harm to others.
We know this right is often abused to shield sheer tale-bearers, blatant lies and the same political agenda earlier alluded. In a discomforting twist, we have now seen how for example an Adriaan Basson dispense of this noble and so-called sacrosanct right to protect his sources as a journalist. Basson now on social media makes known how Malema fed him with stories and scandals on others. Right here Basson spits on the same right he will claim tomorrow and has claimed before. Why then would Basson do this, well Basson’s white identity however defined is under attack by his former source and if he must choose between what it is right and defend whiteness the latter it appears long took centre stage. How will Basson use this right to the protection of sources in the future, he will agree we know he does not take that right seriously?
There is also an important lesson for Julius Malema and other politicians who today are in bed in both the literal and figurative senses with their so-called “angels”. Malema is learning today that Bishop Noel Jones, the 21st-Century circuit-preacher was right when he asserted, “those who sin with you can sin against you”. When Basson today exposes him as a source of information, blowing his cover, and therefore, sins against him, Malema is compelled to remember how together with Adriaan Basson and Ranjeni Munusamy they sinned against Jacob Zuma in another time not so long ago.
We lastly have to make sense of how mainstream operates. It has long been advanced that anyone who arrives for the first time at ORT Intl, that takes a glance at the press in printed newspapers will be forgiven for assuming the stories and headlines were written and vetted by the same editor. This brings us to the praxis of the 21st-century post-apartheid media, it often hunts its prey in a pack of wolf’s mind. It unleashes this venom and hate fuelled by the intent of annihilation of some when it viciously defends and others. Ranjeni Munusamy, Qaanitah Hunter leads the pack of she-wolves angered and embittered at a personal level with those they formerly defended and were close to they daily tear into others denying them a right to exists when they are public relations experts for Ramaphosa and Gordhan among others.
We have an obligation to ask is the media correct to act as a political- party player in our discourse? Do we need to know why the media disrespect the foundation for its existence, the right to free speech when it denies others that? We warrant knowing why the media wants to practice censorship of others including Malema when it cries foul when regulation is mooted for the industry. We must ask how much longer can the ethical codes for journalists be trampled upon by political players in proxy wars that abuse the democratic right to have a media for self- interest. We warrant knowing how sustainable is the confirmed pack of ravaging wolves’ strategy of the media on those it declared demons when they are lambs with those they worship or can benefit from economically.