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20 January 2018 22:42 (South Africa)
South Africa

Editorial: Nothing justifies threats against journalists

  • Daily Maverick
    Daily Maverick
  • South Africa
Photo: Julius Malema, President and Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (Greg Nicolson)

Daily Maverick has never hidden our distaste for the ersatz media empire created by the Gupta family, which includes the newspaper property The New Age, and the television station ANN7. But nothing—absolutely nothing—justifies the threats extended to New Age and ANN7 reporters earlier on Thursday by Julius Malema, President and Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). By DAILY MAVERICK.

We have long contended that both outlets are nothing more than propaganda arms for Jacob Zuma’s version of the African National Congress (ANC), and a means for a politically connected family to further extend its influence on a sitting state president. It’s a disgrace that so many state-funded enterprises are “encouraged” to advertise in The New Age and on ANN7, and it’s a disgrace that their reporters have unfettered access to ANC ministers and higher-ups.

But nothing—absolutely nothing—justifies the threats extended to New Age and ANN7 reporters earlier on Thursday by Julius Malema, President and Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). At a press conference called to address the recent developments regarding the Nkandla scandal, Malema announced that the EFF were going to war with the Guptas. They warned that members of the press working for The New Age and ANN7 were no longer welcome at EFF press events, and would be treated as combatants in this war. (It must be stressed that Malema didn’t overtly threaten violence, but it made for an uncomfortable and hostile low point in the relationship between a controversial politician and the free press covering the news he generates.)

No matter how distasteful the Gupta media empire may or may not be, they function within a proscribed model that has served the average South African remarkably well. With all the ANC’s attempts to introduce secrecy bills and choke of advertising funds to publications it considers adversarial, in South Africa journalists cover the news in a safe environment conducive to robust and combative journalism. This is not Turkey or Egypt or Russia, where journalists are hounded, threatened, jailed, abused, harmed and, occasionally, killed for doing nothing more than their jobs.

Suddenly, the tenor has changed. By effectively banning The New Age and ANN7 reporters from their press pit, the EFF has engaged in the very censorship they have so often accused the ANC of perpetrating. What’s more, where does the party draw the line? The Guptas are indeed a nasty bunch. But how about the news outlets owned by other EFF’s sworn enemies, white minority capital? There are more than enough of those to go around. How about outlets owned by Zimbabweans? Or Jews?

This only goes one way—badly.

As a matter of principle, the EFF has steadfastly championed the working class, calling for a national minimum wage and pay increases in the mining sector. But are journalists not working people, too? Is Mr. Malema under the impression that a young cub newly graduated from one of the country’s universities, drowning in debt and desperate for employment, has an endless choice of news outlets to work for? Whatever one’s view of The New Age, they have provided work experience for a generation of young journalists, several of whom have gone on to do fine work for other publications. Why are these working men and women—many of whom would love the R12,500 a month the EFF fought to provide Marikana’s rock drillers—suddenly issued veiled threats after making their way to a press conference called by a political party essential to the national conversation? The New Age may be junk, but its reporters are hardly on the level of Nazi collaborators.

The Guptas's influence and power does need to be a subject of tough scrutiny. But their employees must not be threatened. The Daily Maverick strongly condemns the banning of the New Age and ANN7 from EFF press events, and we ask the EFF to rescind the unprecedented, undemocratic and un-South African threats issued against their reporters. For a party that bills itself as the government in waiting, this is the wrong precedent to set. It’s a misstep. And it should be corrected forthwith. All of us make mistakes, even Julius Malema. He needs to own up to this one. DM

Photo: Julius Malema, President and Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (Greg Nicolson)

  • Daily Maverick
    Daily Maverick
  • South Africa

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