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KILLING THE STORY – but relative silence in Mzansi

 

South Africans resisting apartheid racism and exploitation were recipients of international solidarity which was critical for defeating apartheid. Here, the author asks why have South African free speech advocates and journalists been so slow to show solidarity with journalists deliberately targeted and killed in Gaza, Lebanon and the adjacent zones where they work.

Readers of my personal facebook wall will recall that on the 9th November 2023, in my capacity as an activist from the People’s Media Consortium, I put out a public challenge to a number of human rights / communication rights organisations to speak out at the killings of journalists by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). At that time, the number of deaths stood at 39 journalists, 34 of them Palestinians, who had been killed since the latest conflict erupted on October 7 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In addition, they listed at least four Israelis and one Lebanese amongst the dead. Today the number of journalists killed by the IDF (as at 3 December 2023) stood at 65 journalists and many activists have seen videos of how journalists from Al Jazeera, in particular, and others were threatened with death if they did not leave the places where they were reporting from.

What is more, these attacks on journalists – as was the case with Shireen Abu AKhelh – are deliberate. Recently two human rights organisations, Human RIghts Watch and Amnesty International, have called some of the recent attacks by the Israeli regime on journalists as deliberate. They defined the two Israeli strikes that killed a Reuters videographer and wounded six other journalists in south Lebanon two months ago as “deliberate and a direct attack on civilians,” and said that these attacks must be investigated as war crimes. The names of the injured and the deceased can be found here.

I put the statement of the Peoples Media Consortium (https://peoplesmedia.africa/) upfront and centre as an organisation that “wholeheartedly condemn the killings of journalists and invite all those working in media and in the field of communications to do likewise. We call in particular on the following organisations to join us in our struggle to end the senseless killings of journalists and the thousands of non-combatants. UN bodies and medical personnel put the numbers of dead to over 10 500, most of whom are children in Gaza”. Today the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza, excluding the West Bank and Jerusalem, stands at over 16 200 and rising as I write. (7.12.2003)

The call challenged in particular the following organisations:

South African National Editors Forum

https://sanef.org.za/

The Freedom of Expression Institute

https://fxinstitute.org.za/

Campaign For Free Expression

https://freeexpression.org.za/

We further call on the communications workers, in particular trade unions and training institutes, to join us in this endeavour. We believe organised workers and journalists have an important role to play in ensuring that the news is reported ethically, accurately and not to be swayed by the rule of the powerful.

To read how the mainstream media has behaved, is the first corrective step to take. There is more, but we must start somewhere.

https://therealnews.com/some-of-the-global-medias…

Communication rights give all of us access to other rights. In the case of Gaza, when electricity and the internet are cut off, and people are starving and dying of thirst as food and water supplies are denied them, it is a death sentence. It is a death sentence for those at home seeking places to hide, those in hospitals on life support and other medical facilities, like incubators… the denial of communication rights is a death sentence of a whole people. It is collective punishment and it is genocide.

(courtesy IOL) The iconic editor of The World newspaper, Percy Qoboza, who fought relentlessly for media freedom, holds a copy of his newspaper. Qoboza was arrested on October 19, 1977 and The World and Weekend World was shut down. Picture: Angela Jakins

On 10 November I called into Across the Desk, a feature on radio 702 hosted by Clement Manyathela, who was in conversation with Arwa Damon, a former CNN Correspondent, and William Bird, the Director of Media Monitoring Africa. The main purpose of the discussion was to explore how “the media has covered this conflict and what kind of language the media should be using at this time.”

I called in and for the first time on the show mentioned the killing of journalists and the silence of groups like SANEF and those mentioned above. Clement and his team checked, and confirmed that there was no statement from the Editors’ Forum. This, almost a month from the 7 October, a date often used in mainstream media as the beginning of the “new war” between “Israel and Hamas.” Whilst I do not endorse this 7 October as a marker as the mainstream media does, it is nevertheless striking that the organisation has remained silent throughout this new wave of violence for reasons of fear or apathy as journalists and the truth were early casualties.

Eitherway, the organisation or the organisations that preceded it and other South African media organisations were recipients of international solidarity in our struggle against repression of journalists under apartheid.

David Teeger, the Under 19 Captain of the South African Team, according to the South African Jewish Report, when receiving the Absa Jewish Achiever award, dedicated his award to the Israeli army. He said: “Yes, I’ve been [given] this award, and yes, I’m now the Rising Star, but the true rising stars are the young soldiers in Israel.” He added, “And I`d like to dedicate it to the state of Israel and every single soldier fighting so that we can love and thrive in the diaspora.”

Whilst Prof Harber did not respond to the murder of journalists, he did find time to defend the indefensible or to put it in his words: “the Israel-Gaza war is a deeply divisive one”. This was in support of young Zionist Teeger. To summarise Harber: Teeger did not celebrate genocide or express desire for revenge. In addition his speech was not hate speech because he did not support the annihilation of a people “by the state of Israel…”, but he only supported the young soldiers who were perpetrating violence, hate, revenge. We must note that the mandatory age to serve is between 18 and 22 years old – so the youth are an integral core of the killing machine.

What Teeger and his advocate Harber did not enter into was, the impacts of these high tech war machinery had on the very young Palestinians? A report quoted on a Lancet article arguing that “the ministry (Palestine-Gaza Health Ministry editor) reports data showed that 11.5 percent of the deaths recorded between 7-26 October were children between ages 0 and 4, 11.5 percent between ages 5 and 9, 10.7 percent between 10-14 and 9.1 percent between 15 and 19.”

One can only conclude that Teegers views are not only unpopular but deadly.  Harber defends the rights of a cricketer to hold and express contrary views, but does not join in or lead the protests against the killings of journalists. Those journalists are killed by the very soldiers that Teeger holds in high esteem.

But to end, I want to help popularise the statement of SANEF, which eventually made it to the public on 20 November 2023. SANEF reiterated that the role of journalists is “to seek out as honestly as possible the facts and, in this regard, SANEF salutes the work done by our colleagues based in Gaza and by the United Nations and non-governmental workers who have reported on conditions as they have experienced them”. They further called on journalists and editors to be “conscious always of the historical context and to take care of the terminology used in reports. It is not the role of journalists to justify, support or condemn any group or the actions groups undertake. Journalists should merely provide all the facts available and place all events in as full a context as possible”.

How I wished for a more bolder statement from SANEF, but it is what it is. About context, SANEF could have looked at the views of progressive South African Jews who provide context in a more fuller way than the commercial media has done.

In the article South African Jews call for ceasefire in Gaza,  Liezl Human and Nathan Geffen (15 November 2023) track the various initiatives of progressive South African Jews and conclude thus:

“Israel has controlled the Occupied Palestinian Territories – the West Bank and Gaza – since 1967. From 2008 until 6 October more than 6,400 Palestinians and over 300 Israelis had been killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (source: OCHA). Most of the Palestinian casualties before the current war occurred in Israeli military operations on Gaza in 2008 and 2014. (See this timeline on Al Jazeera.)

From the beginning of 2023 to 6 October, the OCHA reports that 237 Palestinians and 30 Israelis had been killed.

On 7 October 2023, Hamas militants entered Israel and killed approximately 1,200 people according to the Israeli government, mostly civilians and of many different nationalities, including Palestinians living in Israel. Hamas has called this Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. Israel responded with what it has called Operation Swords of Iron, a military bombardment and subsequent ground assault on Gaza.

As of Sunday night more than 11,000 people, including more than 4,500 children and more than 3,000 women, in Gaza have been killed…”

20 November 2023

This past Saturday the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) held a successful last council of 2023 in Johannesburg where pertinent media freedom and industry related issues were discussed – including the relentless Israeli war in Gaza where many journalists have been killed and injured.

As of November 18, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ’s) preliminary investigations showed at least 42 journalists and media workers were among the more than 13,000 killed in Gaza since the war began on October 7— with over 11,000 Palestinian deaths in Gaza and the West Bank and 1,200 deaths in Israel.

SANEF is deeply concerned at the ongoing carnage in Gaza and the fact that CPJ and Reporters Without Borders believe the Israeli military is deliberately targeting journalists who tell the true story of events in Gaza. Several media premises and working spaces have been targeted and destroyed.

SANEF also finds it unacceptable that aid convoys to the devastated region have been severely restricted and the Israeli government has refused entry to Gaza for international journalists and insists that only journalists covering the current actions of its army must be embedded with their military.

The role of journalists is to seek out as honestly as possible the facts and, in this regard, SANEF salutes the work done by our colleagues based in Gaza and by the United Nations and non-governmental workers who have reported on conditions as they have experienced them.

We also call on all journalists and editors, dealing with reports from this region, to be conscious always of the historical context and to take care of the terminology used in reports. It is not the role of journalists to justify, support or condemn any group or the actions groups undertake. Journalists should merely provide all the facts available and place all events in as full a context as possible.

Hassen Lorgat