The recent interdict against Black First Land First (BLF) instituted by the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), after the group protested outside the home of Peter Bruce and clashing with other journalists raises questions on the lack of objectivity and inconsistency insofar as SANEF’s actions or inactions with regards to what they perceive to be threats to journalism. For the purposes of this article, I will argue that SANEF is caught in a performative – practical trap as PR mechanism to drive public perception that it is against any organization or personnel implicated in the ‘state capture’ narrative.
Where the interests of established white media houses are concerned, they are quick to act even going as far as seeking legal relief whereas when emerging media houses like ANN7 face more or less the same threats that other journalists face, they are caught in a performative position of fake solidarity.
Recent events involving ANN7 journalists show us that not only is SANEF inconsistent but it cannot be trusted to be objective. There was little public condemnation from media colleagues when Nasiphi Same (ANN7 Cape Town reporter) was captured on camera being assaulted by a white man outside parliament for the simple reason of being an ANN7 employee.
There was no media furore when Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) supporters interrupted Nomsa Phungula’s live crossing during the recent Zuma Must Fall marches in Pretoria. Again, there was little public condemnation let alone seeking legal relief by SANEF when EFF leaders attacked ANN7 journalists labeling them as ‘Gupta agents’ and threatening to keep them out of EFF events.
As though the lack of action was not enough, SANEF did not release a single statement when Pravin Gordhan, in his exit press conference, verbally attacked ANN7 journalists while their media colleagues laughed at them. Though SANEF did release statements surrounding the incidents -bar the Gordhan matter, there was little indication that it would apply for legal relief from what were clearly unjustified attacks on journalists by politicians and supporters thereof.
A few months ago, about 8 journalists were fired by ANN7 for intimidation and insubordination after refusing to attend a meeting addressed by African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) president Collen Maine. Again, SANEF released a statement indicating that they ‘may’ assist the dismissed journalists in seeking legal relief but this seems to have only been a performance of fake solidarity. Fake solidarity requires a performance of intent so as to appear to be in solidarity but it is never followed by action because it is precisely a PR stunt, SANEF has excelled in this.
The recent interaction between BLF protesters and white journalists and subsequent threats to continue the protests to other journalists’ homes has exposed that SANEF is caught in a ‘perfomative and practical’ trap on matters involving ANN7 journalists and journalists from other stables. While it was quick to seek practical legal relief when BLF threatened further protests, it was enough to release only statements when ANN7 journalists were under attack, indicating that it condemns said actions and that it ‘may’ seek legal relief but today we know that this was an aesthetic performance of solidarity.
It goes without question that journalists should be able to do their work without any hindrance. After all, this is essential for the purpose of informing society. The problem however in South Africa in South Africa is that the current ‘State Capture’ narrative has allowed certain media organizations and personnel to assume a position of moral authority. This moral authority is disingenuous given that some media organizations like Naspers (Media24, Die Burger) were formed with an agenda aimed at capturing the state from the pro-English governments between 1910 and 1948 for the purposes of propagating Afrikaner Nationalism through Apartheid.
Though we are not beholden to history, current events clearly show the battle for the narrative regarding state capture is not innocent but a power play between the old and the new emerging elite, unfortunately the media is part of this as a large chunk of it emanates from the old white elite.
The journalism fraternity should never assume a position of moral authority and an entitlement to impunity. Journalists should be held accountable for biased and false reporting, there is a press ombudsman for this. Where there is unfair treatment, SANEF should ensure the protection of all journalists and not just some because it raises questions on its intentions and commitment to media freedom for all.
Sakhikhaya Dlala is an activist participating in the world of journalism. He holds a social sciences degree in Social Anthropology and Environmental Sciences from UCT. Politics is his first love.
Follow him on Twitter @Mfondiny