South Africa


Politics & Media: When politicians are uncomfortable, it means journalists are doing their job

Politics & Media: When politicians are uncomfortable, it means journalists are doing their job
Journalist Sakina Kamwendo, August 2007. (Photo: Gallo Images) | Al Jama-ah logo. (Image: Wikimedia)

The repeated attacks on Sakina Kamwendo and the SABC generally by Al Jama-ah are grossly unethical and dangerous, especially in the lead-up to our national elections in 2024.

Political party Al Jama-ah has recently come under the spotlight for unfairly attacking media and SABC journalists specifically. Al Jama-ah have been making allegations that SABC journalists (Sakina Kamwendo in particular) have been pursuing a political agenda when they carry out interviews with current Johannesburg Mayor, Thapelo Amad.

While plainly baseless and embarrassing for Al Jama-ah, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) believes that the party is setting a dangerous precedent in how politicians engage with the media. There are two central challenges with the threats by Al Jama-ah.

Firstly, the baseless nature of the complaint and secondly the threat of asking the SABC Board (assuming there will be one) to act against journalists for pursuing an agenda.

On the first issue of the claim of a political agenda: 

In the recent interview in question, between SABC’s Sakina Kamwendo and newly installed Johannesburg Mayor Thapelo Amad, some of the questions posed to Amad include the following:

  • “You see, it is this, ‘when we inherited’, and every administration comes in to talk about what they have inherited, but the reality is that all of you, even if mayors change, have been part of that council for a certain amount of time. So, what are you doing, as a collective, to improve the city of Johannesburg?”
  • “But again, you can’t pass the buck, you can’t make this everybody else’s responsibility – you have to take responsibility first and foremost, because as you say, there are bylaws that actually do criminalise some of these acts – why aren’t you enforcing it?”
  • “So, if you know Mr Mayor, that a particular area is a problem, and as you say, that area is cleaned three times a day, why aren’t you enforcing your bylaws more keenly there? Why aren’t your law enforcers there to make sure they stop everyone else from littering there once it has been cleaned? Why do you clean up and walk away?”
  • “What is this loan for? What would it potentially be for?”
  • “What smart city? A decade ago, we were talking about a smart city for Johannesburg. A few weeks ago, you signed a new memorandum of understanding again over cameras, and we see cameras capturing crime that you are doing very little about. The inner city right now is such a dangerous place that people who don’t need to be there, don’t go there.”

A question for Al Jama-ah is: What or where is the political agenda in those questions?

The questions are certainly direct and may evidence some level of frustration, but how do they clearly favour or disfavour a political party?

It might even be suggested that the questions were more direct than, say, an interview with a musician. However given the status of the person being interviewed and the parlous state of Johannesburg, the questions seem entirely appropriate and expected from an experienced news journalist holding a politician accountable.

We expect our journalists to ask the difficult questions, to put pressure on those in power, and as the public broadcaster we expect SABC journalists to adhere to the highest ethical standards of journalism. 

On the second issue of seeking to influence the SABC Board:

In an interview with Stephen Grootes, Al Jama-ah leader Ganief Hendricks has stated that they will be approaching the SABC Board (when the president eventually makes the appointment) in order to “deal” with the conduct of SABC journalists.

Hendricks says that “we are reporting the way journalists, including herself, (Sakina Kamwendo) push certain narratives to determine political outcomes.”

According to an article on News24, Hendricks has also stated that: “Once a SABC Board appears before us, I am going to raise that with them, and they must tell management of the SABC that this is a concern by Members of Parliament that journalists are trying to push certain narratives… We must have professional journalists. Sakina is a senior journalist, and she is setting a bad example with this loan thing which the city has cleared up.”

While we argue the claim of a political agenda by Sakina Kamwendo is baseless, should Al Jama-ah be unhappy with the interview they are welcome to lodge a complaint both with the SABC and with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. Those are the appropriate and correct channels available to anyone in South Africa. 

Abusing their position on the Portfolio Committee on Communications is an egregious abuse of their role for political purposes.

The repeated attacks on Sakina Kamwendo and the SABC generally by Al Jama-ah are grossly unethical and dangerous, especially in the lead-up to our national elections in 2024.

We can expect that political parties will be trying to push media to cover their stories in particular ways. We urge media to adhere to editorial policies and strive to ensure independent coverage free from political interference.  

We similarly urge all political parties to make use of the legitimate channels if they are not happy with coverage. 

We have been monitoring the quality of SABC’s (and other media) coverage of every election – national and local – since 1994. In our monitoring and analysis, we look at issues of bias, fairness and equitable coverage.

We will continue to do so in the lead-up to our elections in 2024, and will be the first to call out, or commend media for their coverage.

Our job as a media watchdog is to call out the media – politicians’ jobs are to deliver on their election promises and serve the public. 

As members of the public, we expect our media to hold politicians and parties accountable. We call on all parties to respect the media. DM


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