Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. File Picture: African News Agency (ANA)
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. File Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

We need a law against political influence in the media

By Kenneth Mokgatlhe Time of article published Jul 14, 2019

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Plurality of media ownership does not guarantee a plurality of content in the media. Media is one of the strategic sectors in South Africa which is still in the hands of the few.

The African majority possess political power which they obtained through a negotiated settlement. There were few people who emphasised the importance of shifting the economic reality, but the current governing party prioritised political power.

The cash strapped public-broadcaster was the only biggest media house which came under the control of the government.

The black majority still relies on the public broadcaster despite its deep financial woes. The broadcaster is one of the state-owned entities which have been used as cash cows.

The biggest transaction which inspired confidence in South Africa’s media industry was when we saw Dr Iqbal Survé buy Independent Media (Sekunjalo), which owns newspaper titles such as The Star, Pretoria News, Sunday Independent, Cape Times, IOL and many others throughout the country.

Dr Survé made that historical transaction with the help of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).

There are three big media companies in our country. Independent Media has not only hired a majority of black journalists, but their content also speaks to African communities.

Two veteran investigative journalists, Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi Wa Afrika, dropped a political hot potato this week when they allegedly exposed shenanigans by their former employers wherein they were prohibited from covering stories on a Sars “rogue” unit.

Some reports, including ones by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane and Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, have implicated Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan as the key figure in establishing the unit.

Gordhan is one of the most powerful individuals in our country; he is both a businessman and politician.

It is now clear that the Sunday Times has always been used as a mouthpiece to advance Gordhan’s dirty political agendas.

It is public knowledge that we have various media platforms throughout the country; the ownership though is still monopolised by same big companies.

Black people have been placed in those companies as editors such as at Sunday Times, while the owners interfere with the content of the papers and how the news should look like.

It is clear that Gordhan is doing to Sunday Times what Hlaudi Motsoeneng has done to the national broadcaster, SABC.

Rampedi was puzzled by William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa when he told the SABC presenter Tshepiso Makwetla that the media had come to a “consensus” about the “rogue unit”.

Is that not absurd? Rampedi dismissed that utter nonsense by saying that journalists are competing with ideas in the same space, why would they reach a consensus?

Bird had mistaken the word “conniving” for “consensus”; he wanted to tell us that the media in South Africa connive on the content and that can easily be seen by how black talent is being discredited.

What Bird is saying is that journalists from various papers are writing one thing which they agree upon and that does not necessarily have to be facts as long as popular media concedes.

We should try to give Rampedi and Wa Afrika our ears; I believe them without any doubt.

What they are telling us is that there is political and commercial interference in the newsrooms, which should never be ignored.

We need to do a historical analysis on whether the media executed its responsibilities independently without any unethical internal and external pressures.

The media in our country is self-regulating; journalists operate without licences.

Journalists are guided by journalistic codes or media ethics which assume that every practising journalist will live up to those principles, which has not been easy for poor journalists who do not want to lose their jobs by questioning orders from either their editors or owners themselves.

While praising Rampedi and Wa Afrika as the true symbol of black excellence, we should also not blame those who allow commercial and political interference in the newsroom to occur.

The enemy is not these poor “colluding” journalists, but the greedy capitalists who are advancing their own political agenda.

The media has an obligation to execute checks and balances.

People who interfere with the content of the media in any unethical manner should be subjected to the might of the law because they are not different from armed rebels.

* Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a media practitioner and political commentator.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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