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Choking Choice - Media Freedom Under Threat

File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA)

File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 6, 2022

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WHAT is media freedom?

In short, it is a fundamental principle governing all media – print, broadcast and digital – that communication and expression can be “freely” issued and published. This means, no interference from the state or any other interested party. Were that to happen, it would be considered propaganda.

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Yet, this is precisely what has happened in the case of Russia Today (RT) having its air supply choked, preventing broadcasters like MultiChoice, from carrying a different perspective.

This narrowing of the narrative, which denies consumers alternative voices and diversity of perspectives, is a dangerous precedent. Not only does it prevent a person’s right to examine all sides of a story and draw their own conclusions, but it also smacks of control.

One must wonder about every conflict at present, or world situation, and what we are not seeing, hearing, or knowing. Media oppression and suppression are not confined to authoritarian states, but increasingly, the so-called “free world”, where the citizenry can no longer trust the source or veracity of their news, as it’s been heavily influenced by political interest.

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It is a sad situation, particularly when those who would speak out are challenged, ridiculed and even threatened.

As a result of this growing confinement of opinion and discussion, there has been an incremental increase in the number of people switching to messaging platforms such as Signal and Telegram (Russian owned and developed), for their news feeds. Here, they are exposed to everyone’s opinions and, as it should be, are allowed to make up their own minds - for themselves.

These independent messaging platforms are a credible threat to publisher’s revenue streams, and the role of media itself, something we in the business all need to sit up and take notice of.

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Right now, every effort should be made by platforms, such as MultiChoice, to exert pressure on distributors to restore RT to the airwaves. MultiChoice is a powerful platform throughout Africa and Africans need to know what is happening outside of their own continent – because it will affect us all down the line somewhere. We need to be free to choose who we listen to, so we can inform our own opinions.

Cutting RT from airing its views is the thin edge of the wedge. RT today and who next tomorrow? Whose voice will we be hearing if we do not, as a cohort, stand together and demand that our rights to report and cover all sides of the story be heard?

In war, it is ordinary people, who ultimately suffer the most - the working class, the rural poor and the soldiers on both sides.

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The elite are always shielded from the ravages of war, and they, more likely than not, always have their own truth they follow.

Right now, there are several wars at play on the world stage, not only taking place on the ground in Russia and the Ukraine. There is a war for media freedom, which should always be an inalienable right.

I believe it is the French philosopher, Voltaire, who is credited with saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I couldn’t agree more, as the best way to achieve peace is to allow all points of view to be heard, even if we agree to disagree.

MultiChoice may have been forced to shut RT. But truth be told, they have shut down other channels in the past, and their past as Naspers, the media arm of apartheid, which curtailed the black voice and promoted a singular storyline, has not been forgotten.

Media freedom cannot be sacrificed at the altar of political control and corporate greed. Ever.

It is only in allowing a true sharing of perspective, opinion, and the airing of all views – whether we like them or not – that we can hope to achieve any form of peace in this world, shouldn’t that be the goal?

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