Onslaught on SIM is attack on media freedom and diversity – Ace Magashule

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By: Ace Magashule

In times of uncertainty and turmoil, true revolutionaries always find their safety and salvation in sound ideology and principled positions. To the contrary, scoundrels choose expediency and rumour-mongering.

One of the principles that the ANC always held sacrosanct is freedom of speech. This is best described by what Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in The Friends of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This means that I may not like what you say, but I am obliged to hear you out.

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to the liberation Struggle know how we risked our lives for freedom of speech, together with the other civil liberties, that are now contained in our constitution. However, having gained these precious rights, does not mean that we can relax and take them for granted. We must constantly guard against them being eroded.

I have watched with increasing alarm the events unfolding with regards to Sekunjalo Independent Media (SIM) and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).

Try as I may, I cannot interpret the extraordinary – almost exclusive – concentration of the PIC on SIM as quirky behaviour by the commissioners, or a coincidence.

As secretary-general of the ANC, to whom our members and supporters come with their concerns, I have several times had to face the genuine questions of worried comrades. They are concerned that there is much more here than meets the eye and that SIM is being singled out, not because of financial irregularities, or specifically its alleged breach of contractual commitments to the PIC, but because of the independent positions and reporting of its newspapers and the very influential Independent Online (IOL).

If concern about financial irregularities was indeed the driving force, why is so little effort going into the massive fraud committed by Steinhoff with PIC funds, which led to astronomical losses for the PIC?

In referring to Steinhoff, one presents only one example among many far more serious cases, that dwarfs any issues that the PIC may possibly have regarding its investment relationship with SIM. The other culprits who have cost the PIC money, due to massive fraud (euphemistically called “accounting irregularities”), among others are: EOH, Tongaat Hulett, Karan Beef – all of them white-owned. This was also highlighted by the deputy secretary-general of the ANC, Comrade Jessie Duarte, when she expressed concern about how the PIC is targeting the black-owned SIM.

Ultimately, what we are faced with is not vigilance to protect the precious pension money investments of civil servants, but an attempt to remove a stridently independent and diverse voice that is raising uncomfortable questions about the direction in which some among us are trying to drive the economic restructuring of our economy – specifically with regards to the apparent tapering off in commitment to BEE.

However, these are legitimate concerns, and issues that need to be raised. Surely the raising of critical questions, that sometimes cause discomfort, is exactly a consequence of what freedom of speech should be all about.

António Gramsci understood very well how a reactionary and intolerant right-wing hegemony can develop out of an environment that was initially democratic and open to diversity. Of course this does not happen overnight; it is a slow process of eroding away civil rights to the point where a repressive new hegemony is established, determined to silence any critical voices.

In his seminal work, Prison Notebooks, Gramsci expanded on that well-known statement by Karl Marx, that there are revolutionaries whose political consciousness change and even disappear along with improvements in their material well-being. With extraordinary analytical insight, Gramsci expanded on how large monopoly capital interests buy political influence through making politicians and their families dependent on them for their continuing advancement and well-being.

He wrote: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.”

Usually this intolerant right-wing hegemony tries to present itself in ethical terms, as so-called “angels of morality”. Anyone who does not toe their line is cast as immoral and tainted with the tar brush of “corruption”.

Personally, I have experienced how this is done. Day in, day out, I am subjected to the most vile propaganda attacks. It stretches from being called a gangster by a hack who was paid by the very same monopoly capital interest groups described by Gramsci, to cobble together in a “book” a series of hastily written and unsubstantiated articles, to paint me as a “gangster” and “fraudster”.

Any application of fair and balanced journalistic ethics would have trashed this fake-news pathetic excuse of a “book”, but with the notable exception of SIM newspapers, it was promoted and praised to the heavens by most of the mainstream media.

My case may be one of the worst, but many other principled comrades in the ANC, who are not prepared to sell out our Struggle and their souls to the highest bidder, are subjected to similar propaganda campaigns in the mainstream media.

We are engaged in a war for the revolutionary heart of our beloved liberation movement, the ANC and as Gramsci, and his student Noam Chomsky understood so well, the first casualty of war is the truth.

The recent public incidents of the exposition of embedded journalists brings home the sad reminder that those charged with the truth are and can be bought for a pittance.

In some cases, they are used as battering rams in the internal factional fights within the ANC.

Selectivity, subjectivity and malicious targeting are the hallmarks of the mafia onslaught on SIM.

The right wing, financed by monopoly capital, wants to have full control of all the media to drive their propaganda, which they can only achieve by killing SIM.

All the media houses, with the exception of SIM, are echo chambers of each other, co-ordinating stories, news, campaigns and campaigns against their targets.

It is a tragedy and shame that the PIC, through their spurious liquidation application of SIM, is being turned into an intolerant battering ram of freedom of speech. The PIC’s initial investment to empower SIM to purchase the Independent Group was a commitment to the continuation of an iconic South African media house, and ensuring media freedom and diversity.

What has changed? Why now opt for expediency?

Faced with this situation I, as secretary-general of the ANC and the custodian of the resolutions of the 54th National Conference of the ANC am duty bound to point out that we have passed a resolution committed to freedom of speech and diversity of media voices.

Being true to ourselves, the ANC should do no other but oppose the growing insidious and erosive attacks on freedom of speech and reporting of the truth.

* This article was written by Elias Sekgobelo (Ace) Magashule, in his capacity as secretary general of the ANC.