I don’t like what they say…..so I will shut them down. Ominous words, and a sentiment which has been acted upon by dictators for a long time. Even today, a shocking number of journalists are murdered around the world for trying to do a good job.
So, when I hear the stupid and thoughtless calls for Gupta TV station ANN7 to be taken off the DSTV satellite service, I recoil in outrage. A petition? Do grow up.
I was watching the ANN7 station when Zuma was preparing to announce his Cabinet reshuffle, and they were so ahead of the news that they were the news. These people were clearly being fed details of the new Cabinet by the Guptas, in much the same way that JZ himself was being fed his instructions.
It may have been a bit devious that ANN7 got its news that way, but good luck to them, say I. When I was working in Europe I was often on stories alongside some of Fleet Street’s finest. They would track down the survivors of disasters by ringing hospitals and pretending to be priests or representatives of an Embassy. They would seek copies of hotel bills by pretending to represent public figures, so they could find details of spending patterns.
Repellent stuff, I agree. But where do you draw the line? When one repellent journalist does a massive public service by pointing out how a President milked the taxpayers to build a private residence, or when it was reported that his dying advisor was let out of jail in dire health, only to pop up on the golf course in apparently robust health? You gotta take the rough edges of journalism if you want the rewards of being informed.
It doesn’t always work. A recent revelation that former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas was offered hundreds of millions of rand to take on his boss’ job was reported, but not many arrests followed? Even when juicy stuff is reported, corrupt institutions do not always act on it. A robust democracy requires a fearless and independent press but also an effective police and judiciary. We know from dozens of examples that the scale of corruption at the top is mind boggling. Just because we all know something is wrong doesn’t mean that it will be put right. It takes more than a long, hot shower to rid a country of the stench of corruption. But it would be a far harder task without the media, sleazeballs and all.
So, I say it is a small price we will pay if we keep on ANN7, which nobody is obliged to watch, as long as we also keep on the array of independent and effective broadcasters and publications which still expose wrongdoing. There is an uncanny parallel in the US with Trump attacks on some media outlets. These are also dangerous, nasty and anti-democratic.
On a similar theme, I have attended a few recent news conferences by our beloved new Finance Minister. I applaud him for his patience and stamina in listening to a lot of tough questions, and in answering them most of the time. However, at one recent briefing by the Minister at SARS, one of his flunkies made the repellent suggestion that questions should only be on tax collection matters, and journalists should not deviate from this narrow brief.
Congratulations to the many media representatives who effectively showed the middle finger, and asked what needed to be asked anyway.
And yet we heard the next day that at a loco launch by the president (the loco referring to the front of a train and not to Zuma) journalists were manhandled by Zuma’s bodyguards (who are even larger and more intimidating than his wives).
There may be a power struggle inside the ANC, but there is also a more sinister battle underway between those who believe that a free press, warts and all, is an essential component of a healthy democracy and those whose agenda is neither democratic not healthy.
So, let us keep ANN7 on offer to all who are foolish to accept its dodgy commentary. At the very least if provides a good laugh for the rest of us, however unintentional.
Tweet of the Day
John Darby (@mrjohndarby): Dr: Does it hurt when I do this?
Me: Yes, a bit Dr: And now?
Me: Yes, that’s very painful. Please stop showing me photos of you and my ex.
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