Cape Town - The media is under threat - figuratively in the debates at the Daily Maverick’s The Gathering media event - and quite literally outside the doors of the ICC in Cape Town on Thursday.
A group of Black First, Land First supporter, led by Andile Mngxitama attempted to enter the Cape Town International Convention Centre, which hosted The Gathering. The group claimed to have tickets for the event and wanted to “engage in the discussions”. They demanded a refund after being denied entry.
Police, expecting trouble, stood between the BLF and the country’s top media minds inside debating the future of media in the time of fake news, state-regulation, free-falling revenue and physical intimidation of the media.
The BLF protest was short-lived and some supporters were seen driving away in a red Audi, owned by disgraced Eskom CEO and alleged Gupta lackey, Brian Molefe, according to the Daily Maverick.
Businessman Sipho Pityana set the tone for what was an engaging discussion on media freedom and its role in exposing state capture.
Pityana called on the media to consider boycotting coverage of BLF. He also called on big business to support the proposed national shutdown on August 8 ahead of Parliament’s planned vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.
“No one in South Africa can afford what is going on. The media and the judiciary are under threat,” Pityana said.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Mbuyiseni Ndlozi criticised the mainstream media for catering to the middle class, and ignoring the plight of the rural masses. Ndlozi pointed out the absence of the SABC, the country’s biggest media player, at The Gathering. “How can you have a discussion on media without the SABC?” he said.
Ndlozi was also quick to observe the lack of debate around media ownership, and the “white” monopolies driving the SA media landscape.
Also under the spotlight was the role of civil society and public activism in holding government to account. Section27 executive director Mark Heywood appealed to the media to join the dots between state capture and state failure. “There are 88 000 pupils in Limpopo who still use pit toilets. The changes in media and advertising has made it harder for funders to invest in deep journalism,” Heywood said. “But we can’t talk about problems all the time. The solutions are in this room.”
Fatima Hassan from the Open Society foundation lamented the quality of journalism in South Africa and questioned how media houses report on protests and other grassroots issues. She said some media have been guilty of focusing on middle class issues at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised. “The media does not report enough on violations by the private sector. Why not?” she asked. “We have gotten to a point where protests are reported as mere traffic disruptions.”
Jay Naidoo, Chair of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Partnership Council of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, was the clear crowd favourite, with his rabble-rousing talk about saving South Africa from the clutches of the Guptas. Naidoo was at pains to point out that young people are being excluded from the discourse, and their concerns are falling of deaf ears.
“In three lifetimes we will not have a planet to inhabit. Young people must be compulsory components of the conversations we are having about our country,” Naidoo said. “Anger is bubbling into action that informs violence. When violence becomes a language, it is a problem.”
To rounds of applause and tweets from the audience of more than 1 000 people, Naidoo said, “Activism means that we must be present in the trenches where the people are. We've got to rethink activism.I've never seen a country led by social media activists. Social media is a tool. It is not an end in itself.”
The main discussion later by a panel of investigative journalists, Adriaan Basson, Sam Sole, Stefana Brummer and Richard Poplak around the leaked Gupta emails centred around, its repercussions. Basson pointed out that companies like McKinsey and SAP felt the effects of the Gupta leaks. SAP, for example, suspended top officials pending internal investigations.
Basson blamed the poor state of the criminal justice system for the lack of legal action since the Gupta emails were leaked. “(NPA head) Shaun Abrahams needs a police docket to act. It's up to both investigating units and the NPA to act on Gupta leaks information.”
Poplak observed, “the Guptas have an innate understanding of how weak the state institutions are.”
Sole added that in Utta Pradesh in India, where the Gupta hail from, the intersection of business, crime and politics is normal in society. But we must not under estimate the power of our president in all of this. None of this would have been possible without the president.”
* Ephraim is the editor of the African Independent