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Commemorating Black Wednesday and the freedom of the Media in SA

ANC spokesperson: “individuals that are hostile to the media will be in deep trouble”

MRN exclusive

By Tahir Sema

At a conference to commemorate “Black Wednesday” held in Johannesburg, South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) chairperson Jovial Rantao said that the standard of journalism in South Africa is high and ranks among the best in the world. Our best defence is to publish material that is truthful, impartial, and honest.

Rantao at the outset said that “we must pay tribute to those in the media that fought for its freedom and the end of Apartheid; we need to tell the stories of our young democracy”.

The biggest challenge that SANEF is currently facing is the lack of skills, maintaining and retaining the skills newsrooms produce. SANEF has vowed to produce the best journalists possible.

Rantao strongly pledged his support for self regulation of the media and its operation in the South African context. “Self regulation is a system that works. Where there is no self regulation there is no democracy”.

Members of the media present at the conference and others re-visited the past, commemorating Black Wednesday. This day saw The World, Weekend World newspapers and Pro Veritate which was a Christian publication, banned. Included in the banning were organizations belonging to the Black Consciousness Movement. Scores of critics were also detained.

Juby Mayet, a retired journalist and a 1977 Black Wednesday activist spoke about the36and difficulties they faced as media personnel. These difficulties eventually led up to the terrifying36of Wednesday 19th of October 1977. Working in the print industry at the time, she said all she wanted was to get her job done. One of the founding members of the Union of Black Journalists, she was eventually jailed on account of supposed theft. She was a mother of eight children when she was imprisoned.

The Union of Black journalists began gaining momentum in 1975 and as a result a newspaper was started called The Voice. The Union and its publication were eventually banned in 1977. It did not take long for a new organization with the same objectives to be formed. Adopting the name Writers’ Association of South Africa, their sole purpose was to tell the truth. The mere fact that this union was a merger of Black African journalists instantaneously attracted unwanted oppressive action from the government.

African National Congress (ANC) spokesperson Jesse Duarte noted the dramatic changes in the media landscape during the past 14 years, adding that “we ought to be proud of the media freedom we currently enjoy in South Africa today, and we do not wish to change it. Thanks to the many activists like Juby Mayet who went the extra mile to do what needed to be done, for us to enjoy the freedom in the media”.

At the Same time Duarte expressed her anxiety about the lack of background and understanding of South African politics in junior newsrooms. A recent drive to maximize profits which has led to a “homogenization of news” has been equally worrying, noted the ANC spokesperson. The commercialization of the media and the drive to cut costs worried the ANC. Duarte said that these concerns are what the ANC is most afraid of as it diminishes research. “We need more deeper research and investigative Journalism” to combat these concerns.

Not wanting to dampen the spirits of the noteworthy members of the media Duarte added “I know we have very dedicated and professional editors but no matter how busy they are, they should keep an eye on the bottom line.”

“The ANC strongly believes that embedded Journalism is detrimental to media freedom and does not do anyone any good regardless of whether it is taking place at political or corporate level. ANC does not want embedded Journalists anywhere near it, as it doesn’t tell the truth and hides the real facts”.

Duarte made it clear that they welcome media that is critical of the ANC but at the same time they should have editorial integrity.  She cautioned that those media organizations and individuals that are hostile to the ANC will be in deep trouble. “We welcome critical but definitely not hostile” reporting.

In line with  Commemorating Black Wednesday and the freedom of the Media in South Africa, the following books were launched: Remembering Black Wednesday, 19 October 1977-2007, 30 years on,  Declaration of Table Mountain and The Extraordinary Editor a handbook for SA media leaders (by Elizabeth Barratt and Guy Berger).

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Author: MRN Network

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