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SANEF: Only sympathy for Indy journos, but withholds support for media freedom

In an unsigned statement issued on Thursday, Sanef distanced itself from the remarks of its media freedom committee chair Makhudu Sefara, which were published in an IOL article on Tuesday. Photo: Sharon Seretlo

In an unsigned statement issued on Thursday, Sanef distanced itself from the remarks of its media freedom committee chair Makhudu Sefara, which were published in an IOL article on Tuesday. Photo: Sharon Seretlo

Published Jul 25, 2022

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IN an unexpected twist and about-turn, the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) has withdrawn its support for Independent Media in its battle against Standard Bank, which has threatened to close its accounts and therefore threatened media freedom in South Africa.

In an unsigned statement issued on Thursday, Sanef distanced itself from the remarks of its media freedom committee chair Makhudu Sefara, which were published in an IOL article on Tuesday.

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In a lengthy on-the-record and recorded interview with Independent Media on Monday, Sefara who had been approached for comment in his capacity as the Sanef senior leader responsible for protecting media freedom, expressed his views about the bank potentially violating media freedom, saying among other things that: “Shutting down a bank account of a media organisation is something that would go against media freedom, it is something that would destroy a media company.”

The interview was in the context of Standard Bank’s intention to close Independent Media’s banking facilities.

However, Sanef has since distanced itself from Sefara’s remarks saying the IOL’s article “is riddled with inaccuracies and deliberate misrepresentations to create a false impression that SANEF has taken a position on Standard Bank’s decision to close down the bank accounts”.

“Consistent with this position, SANEF is not in a position to speculate as to why major banks are closing accounts of Sekunjalo Group, the owners of Independent Media.

“Frankly SANEF does not have enough information to venture an opinion, let alone speculate about the merits of the decision,” read Sanef’s statement.

Since the statement did not elaborate on what it considered the article’s inaccuracies to be, it left the impression that it had turned against its own chairperson of media freedom.

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This also gives the impression that Sanef does not want to be caught in a crossfire in the battle between Standard Bank and Independent Media, since both the forum and the bank appear to be close and have worked together.

Sanef on June 25 hosted the Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Awards 2022.

Although he should be applauded for boldly speaking out about the threat to media freedom, Sefara had on Thursday afternoon, called this IOL reporter complaining about his comment being used in a context of Independent Media being unbanked.

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One would be forgiven for thinking that Sefara had changed his mind about what he said during the interview, possibly post a grilling by his colleagues at Sanef about granting an interview to Independent Media.

Sefara had also called this reporter demanding the withdrawal of the article from IOL before Sanef issued the statement.

He said he was not happy that his correct comment had been used in the context of unbanking Independent Media, whereas his impression was that he was commenting generally about the consequences of shutting down an account of a media house.

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“I am talking in general terms, but you made it (to) be about Independent Newspapers.

“It is wrong that you turned my words to you and made them (to be) about Independent Newspapers when they were general statements,” he said.

Although he did not have a problem with how he was quoted in the story, he felt that his comments had been “turned on their heads to make me look like I am upset with the bank when I don’t even know what their evidence is”.

“The thing that I was describing to you is what the effect of the ultimate decision (to unbank media house) would be,” he said.

His concern was how the quotes were used, “creating an impression that I am pissed off with Standard Bank for taking a decision to unbank Independent (Media) on the basis of evidence which evidence I haven’t seen.”

“The thing that I have said to you yesterday (Monday) is basically that the effect of a decision would undermine media freedom, the position which I think is correct.

“If I knew that this is what you guys are going to do with this thing, I wouldn’t have given you the interview,” he said.

He accused IOL of grossly misquoting Sanef and changing the meaning of his words in a “massive way”.

“I would want that story to be taken down,” he said.

However, Independent Media differs from this version of events and understanding, as Sefara and Sanef’s executive director, Reggy Moalusi, who is also quoted in the IOL article, were at the start of their respective interviews, well informed about the direction of where the story was going.

Moalusi has not complained about the article.

By distancing itself from the article, it seems Sanef is going against its own policy, which states categorically that it “supports free media and the right of the media to work without fear of reprisal, harassment or intimidation.”

Its constitution states that Sanef’s responsibility is: “nurture and deepen media freedom as a democratic value in all our communities and at all levels of our society; to promote media diversity in the interests of fostering maximum expression of opinion.”

If the banks are not successfully challenged, and their absolute power reined in, they have the capacity to turn on anyone, including Sanef, should they feel the need.

Independent Media’s protest of being unbanked by all major banks is one that all media should take up, to protect our right to a free press that can continue to scrutinise the exercise of political and economic power of any entity in South Africa, as well as any one's right to trade freely as enshrined within the Constitution.

Without bank accounts, an entity cannot trade which is a violation of constitutional rights.

We stand by our story: The interview was fully recorded, and when it started both Sanef officials asked the purpose of the interview and were informed that it was in connection to Standard Bank announcing that it was terminating Independent Media's bank accounts.

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