No matter how many the times SA’s media keeps donning rose-coloured glasses, to see a conflict-free and blameless image of itself, intermittent unsavoury episodes on its part point to a fraternity bereft of ability for critical reflection.
Obviously unaware of one of Isaac Newton’s laws of motion to the effect that to every action there an equal and opposite reaction, the media has found the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) inability to turn the other cheek unforgivable.
Adversarial encounters between the media and the EFF were set to reach boiling point at its 2nd National Peoples’ Assembly (NPA) of 13-16 December 2019 at Nasrec. That eNCA head of news Kanthan Pillay was himself founding head of the Purple Cow Party contesting the May 2019 general elections six months earlier, ending coverage of the EFF’s NPA was not going to elicit a chorus of hallelujahs.
Not that the EFF is the only political party that the media has had unfriendly exchanges with. The African National Congress has had its share of unpleasant instalments. So too has the Democratic Alliance. Same can be said of the rest of political contestants inside and outside parliament.
In these skirmishes, it is difficult to say the media has mustered the art of clinging to the fence to avoid having its conduct fall, along with its loyalties, on either side of the contending political forces.
Being neutral is not what is being asked for. But being independent is what cements professionals’ true code to journalism. Note too, that journalism is part of the media. But not all media, staking its claim in the news business, passes for journalism. This may be intriguing to non-journalists but not to real journalists. Real journalists do not promise neutrality. They pledge to be independent.
Given this, political parties need not be friends with journalists. The two groups represent distinct spheres with corresponding intents and purposes defining their respective roles in society. Since media contains what may or may not be journalism, lead us not to temptation of dressing the media fraternity in pious robes of being the exclusive defenders of democracy.
Lurking within the media ranks are imprudent assassins ever ready to either kill journalism or make it live by their self-serving purpose. In the hands of such assassins, journalism can either be alive to the cause of justice or dead against it.
What then does the cause for justice begs us to see. The post 1994 South African reality shows that democracy is yet to clinch a meeting point between constitutional prescripts and the living experiences of the struggling majority.
In SA, democracy is yet to secure illustrative meaning in the lives of ordinary people. Look at the places where the rich and poor live and consider the kind of democracy and associated home truths that journalism takes the trouble to bother about or neglect.
In each other’s loving arms, attraction to and repulsion from the truth can either lead politicians and journalists to a blinding romance or awakening acrimony. A professional distance should be kept between politicians and journalists, allowing for journalists to practice their craft with convincing measure of independence.
Once journalists and politicians ditch delicate distance between them, to jump into bed, it would be foolish to believe the stolen moment accompanying the pillow talk, after the act, would lead to a passionate encounter directing besotted partners to be committed towards a cause of justice for all. Attendant transactional motives deriving from that ecstatic setting generates emotional attachment serving as bearings of whom to love or hate in the political arena for as long as the affair lasts.
From each stolen blissful kiss, participants are seldom mindful that ‘there is a thin line between love and hate’. And there is no deadlier hate than the one sponsored to engender animosity. If it is hatred, that drives some journalists, let their animosity be independent too. And as far as journalistic upbringing guides me, hate is the last thing to bring into the newsroom.
Love or hate the EFF the party has brought a brand of challenging politics, speaking what evidently is no sweet music to the ears of those enjoying the benefits of unchanging system. Even then, journalism has no authority to decide whether the EFF should live or die. That is the business of the EFF, its members and voters to determine. But those that believe SA’s democracy will be better served by the death of the EFF, that would inevitably be the preoccupation of their journalistic beat to hang on to.
Inextricably linked to this hate or love, is the battle for a democracy that some choose to keep as opposed to another kind of democracy that others wish to inaugurate to change power relations in society.
Where journalists stand, concerning the economic democracy that the EFF has boldly billed itself to navigate to redefine SA’s post 1994 freedom, is fundamentally a matter of which interests do journalists deem fit to favour or disfavour. Whether or not journalists are beneficiaries of the interests that politicians sell, their credibility stand or fall on the state of their proven independence.
Whatever side journalists take, in this challenging economic freedom fighting the EFF has reputedly become a decisive force to lead, it would still be an expression of choice for or against the EFF. Point though, is whether journalists, in their day to day operations, do so as journalists or political wolves dressed in journalistic skin.
In the rising temperatures raging at the EFF’s elective congress political wolves dressed in journalistic skins could evidently not stand the heat for the striptease of their naked loyalties to come shamelessly through. Were the eNCA to continue arguing solidarity with entities that did not receive accreditation, the state of mind which drove outgoing head of news Kanthan Pillay to decide that the news station would terminate coverage of the EFF’s elective congress did not help to support the claim.
Having booted out Pillay, the eNCA has some serious reflection to do. Similarly, journalists across media entities need to take stock to assess whether to conduct themselves by the politics of the entities they work for or remain true to the code of their profession on which their credibility, believability and independence stand or fall.
And, when all is said, done and denied, forget not that the media is a necessary evil without which greater evil would not be known. The EFF is equally a necessary evil without which the inertia against the status quo would remain.
* Oupa Ngwenya is a writer and corporate strategist.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.