Attempt to force journalist to reveal sources shows media freedom is under threat
Opinion / 23 October 2019, 07:42am / Sizwe Dlamini
CAPE TOWN – The attempt to force an Independent Media journalist to reveal confidential information spearheaded by retired police officer and Zondo Commission investigator Frank Dutton is yet another glaring sign that press freedom is under attack.
This after the Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu reaffirmed the government’s commitment to media freedom as the country observed the 42nd commemoration of Black Wednesday.
“To this day, media freedom forms part of one of the important cornerstones of our democracy and freedom. We have in the recent past witnessed the crucial role played by the media in exposing corruption and state capture,” said Mthembu.
He also cautioned that this freedom came with huge responsibility and said the government, therefore, cautioned the media to always self-reflect.
However, this caution leaves one slightly perturbed. It reminds me of the utterances made by a prominent minister’s spokesperson who said, “you guys must be careful about what you report”.
But let’s do some self-reflecting.
The Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) recently sent a hoard of investigators to the Sekunjalo offices to confiscate laptops and various communication gadgets in search of information related to share price manipulation.
I’m no forensic expert, but most of the information about how Sekunjalo-related companies trade is in the public domain. In fact, several media have cherry-picked and manipulated that information to produce some rather unsavoury content.
But somehow the FSCA missed all that?
We start digging deeper, and we get warned by a minister’s spokesperson to be careful about what we report. Then an investigator from the State Capture Commission tries to force an Independent Media journalist to reveal sources. Hhayi bo!
It really doesn’t take a genius to see what is happening here.
The attack on the independence of Independent Media is co-ordinated and the powers that be have resorted to abusing state resources in their desperation to force a chill pill down our throats.
Just seven years ago in the South Gauteng High Court Judge Moroa Tsoka declared that freedom of the press was fundamental to democracy. “It is essential that in carrying out this public duty for the public good, the identity of their sources should not be revealed.”
Judge Tsoka said: “This essential and critical role of the media, which is more pronounced in our nascent democracy, founded on openness, where corruption has become cancerous, needs to be fostered rather than denuded.”
The South African National Editors’ Forum said this judgment would enable investigative reporters to be more effective in uncovering corruption, abuse of power and malpractice in both the public and private sectors as they would now be able to protect their confidential sources of information with greater confidence.
This media house has independent journalists across South Africa as well as correspondents beyond the country’s borders and the move to “keep it in check” seems proper by those with something to hide.
In fact, a competing newspaper once suggested that the Public Investment Corporation should force a merger between Independent Media and Tiso Blackstar, and that was the sin that did Jezebel in. Merge the two entities and you have one target to control.
South Africa has lost more than R500 billion to state capture at the behest of the Gupta family and President Cyril Ramaphosa recently inferred that this could be even more than R1 trillion.
Then we have the Eskom situation. The state-owned power utility is struggling to keep the lights on, not making a profit and surviving only on government grants funded by the taxpayers - journalists included - keep this entity alive.
Eskom revealed in its annual report that it spent R6bn on diesel to avert load shedding. Such demand from the utility for diesel inadvertently pushes up the price of diesel. The recent fuel price predictions attest to this.
Eskom is buying coal from Glencore at three times the normal price. Again this is spurred by the huge demand for coal by Eskom to feed its bottomless coal-fired power plants.
A decent energy mix is a solution, but this clearly will not benefit the bank accounts of certain privileged players.
The less said about other state-owned entities - such as SAA, Transnet, the Central Energy Fund, Denel - the better.
With this new form of clean-collar looting, the majority of South Africa looks set to be poorer while the privileged elite cash in through the use of state resources.
At least R2 trillion of South Africa’s wealth is well on its way to offshore accounts and tax havens, and by the time all this is in the public domain, it will be too late for the ordinary South African Citizen to complain.
Only silent media can let this happen.
Journalists cannot always guarantee the truth, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle. We put hard questions to power and the response we get is “be careful of what you report” - scary!
No one wants to come out and set the record straight, instead, they opt to intimidate us using state organs.
Kuben Naidoo, the deputy governor of the South African Reserve Bank, said last week: “In many ways, the media and central banks struggle with the same dance: the need for independence balanced by the need to be held accountable to society.
“Journalists’ integrity rests on the need to be independent of political interference and commercial imperatives, at the same time holding public trust through being accountable for what they say, write, publish or broadcast. Similarly, central banks seek to be independent from political and commercial interference while holding the trust of the public through being open, transparent, impartial and accountable.
“Neither of us, journalists nor central banks, are in a popularity contest. It is our responsibility to tell the truth, in all its gory detail. Hence, our social licence to operate depends not on our popularity but on our integrity.”