South Africa

South Africa, #ANCdecides2017

#ANCdecides2017 Reflections: Fear and loathing in the Nasrec media pen

It was a long journey to every announcement at the ANC conference. Journalists waited and waited and after that, did more waiting for the ANC officials to announce anything, to give an inch of information about proceedings of the day. By NKATEKO MABASA.

The 54th ANC national conference was marred by a myriad communication breakdowns and journalists being prevented from accessing information. Delegates were kept far from the media, separated by fences and security.

Media frustrations about high-handed security, delays and lack of transparency and restrictions on access came to a head on Day 4. After complaining about being asked to wait for over an hour in the sun for a walkabout by newly elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa, Sam Mkokeli, a journalist who is chairperson of the SA National Editors Forum’s media freedom sub-committee, was manhandled and ejected by security. Many journalists then boycotted the walkabout.

Other journalists also lodged complaints about being bullied by security and marshals, said SANEF. “These include pictures which have been deleted, a journalist who was punched in the stomach, another journalist with prosthetic legs who was pushed down and female journalists who have reported being inappropriately touched by marshals inside the Plenary hall,” a SANEF statement said.

The ANC apologised for the manner in which security had treated Mkokeli, and promised to investigate all incidents.

On the final day on Wednesday – Day 5 – security marshals were less aggressive, but journalists were still kept in the dark and away from delegates.

The National Executive Committee has been locked in meetings to decide what to do with 68 votes that were not included in the voting for the Top Six NEC positions. This mostly impacts on the secretary-general position, which Ace Magashule won by just 24 votes.

In the congested media room, journalists were seen seated around while on their phones and laptops, talking to one another, waiting for something to happen.

I am not sure what is happening today,” said Sabelo Nsele, a journalist with The Witness, the veteran Pietermaritzburg newspaper. “I came here under the impression that by 10am they will be announcing the votes for the NEC results,” he said.

He complained about the restrictions placed on the media. “In Polokwane, you could talk to delegates, then Mangaung became more restricted but now it is a total breakdown,” he said.

Nsele believes the tightening up on access emanated from the ANC’s perceptions about media bias.

By 02:00 – after hours of speculation and leaks – the media were still waiting to hear officially from the ANC as to how the programme would unfold and what was transpiring behind closed doors.

Kelo Moze, a camera operator with Bay TV, said the conference was not as unruly as the provincial conference in the Eastern Cape, where delegates fought one another with fists and threw chairs. However, she said: “Although there were no fights, delegates were not friendly with the media.”

There were also complaints about the congested area in which journalists were accommodated. “It is like they did not prepare for us,” said Moze.

Photo: Journalist and SANEF media freedom chairperson Sam Mkokeli. Photo: Daily Maverick

In plenary sessions, journalists had standing room only at the front of the stage, unless they sat on the floor.

Although delays at ANC conferences are the norm, Menelisi Ndwandwe, with Highway Radio from Durban, said the 54th elective conference had been particularly frustrating. “It has been difficult to plan around deadlines,” said Ndwandwe.

Victor Magnani, a researcher with the French Institute of International Relations, was surprised at the manner in which journalists were treated and the lack of access to information.

I have been to two DA conferences and it was a totally different experience,” said Magnani.

When asked if this was a global trend, Magnani said US President Donald Trump had been at the forefront of barring the media. However, he noted that the ANC’s approach had shifted negatively through the years. “They used to be more willing to open access,” said Magnani.

SABC Political researcher, Ronesh Dhawraj, detected tension in the air at this conference and said that the media have been kept at bay. However, he said that the ANC had been disciplined. He disputed claims that the ANC’s approach to the media amounted to censorship. “They restrict access to delegates because they want to speak with one voice.” He sees this as a party that wants to present a single, united message.

{Countries/Government} States have become increasingly combative towards citizens,” says Lebohang Pheko, Senior Research Fellow at Trade Collective. This is in the light of the global trend of de-legitimising media and terming them as “fake news”. “This creates an atmosphere of suspicion and scandal,” said Pheko.

She believes that globally, nation-states have lost an understanding of their function, which was to act as “protector and provider, a place of refuge”. Instead, they were becoming insular, due to a “narrow vision of nationalism” which makes officials and states more “increasingly securitised”, which then serves the purpose of “elongating power and access to resources”.

Selloane Khalane, a reporter at Beeld Media24, said she found the high level of security hampered his work. “They vetted us and gave us security clearance, and yet for you to get to plenary you have to go through five more security checks.”

This impacted on the ability of journalists and news agencies to do their work effectively and to deadline.

When you see how the president makes political or policy decisions,” said Bob Woodward, the Washington Post journalist who broke the US Watergate Scandal, “you see who he is. The essence of the presidency is decision-making.”

Yet at this ANC conference, it is the essence of the party the media was not allowed to see. Decisions are made behind closed sessions with little to no accountability. It doesn’t bode well. DM

Main photo: Journalists complained about high-handed treatment by security and being prevented from moving around or accessing information at the ANC elective conference at Nasrec. Photo: Daily Maverick.


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