Defend Truth


The media will take a bashing as parties fight for the limelight in a pre-election year


Glenda Daniels is associate professor of media studies, Wits University and is Sanef’s Gauteng convenor. These views are her own.

Amid the whining by parties, including independents, that they are not getting the superb coverage they feel they deserve, it’s time the media told people how they work.

Watch how journalism will be attacked in various fights and contestations in the run-up to elections next year as parties vie for the limelight, and votes. It is time to explain how journalism works, using an audience-centred approach, such as community town halls.

Many media things happened last week, with a common tying point: freedom of expression. After being rudderless for six months, the SABC got a board after the President finally signed his acceptance of the recommendations. Will the board be able to exercise its duties free from ruling party-political interference, in the run-up to elections where everyone wants to shine? 

Then, AfriForum lost its appeal to wave its old racist South African flag. It thought this was freedom of expression. Some of us see this for what it is: harking back to the racist past. The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal launched an attack on the SABC for being absent from their march in Ladysmith, alleging  “capture” of the media by the IFP, but offering no evidence. Meanwhile,  stories of IFP (and DA) popularity grow in that province.

It’s hate, not freedom

It’s not freedom of expression to display the old South African flag. It’s hate speech, according to the Constitution of South Africa and all those who fought for and want freedom from the old apartheid days. The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled last week against the appeal by AfriForum to allow it to wave the old South African flag, finding it to be hate speech, unfair race discrimination and harassment in terms of the Equality Act. Symbolism, signification and representation – all matter. “We see you,” is the current expression, meaning exactly that: what you do, say and what you flag is being interpreted. What words you use for headlines is also representation.


Teaching a third-year media studies class this week, en masse they complained that their pictures were posted under “mainstream media headlines”, flagging them as “destroyers of property” in Braamfontein, with journalists apparently only interviewing Wits management. They bought into the dominant left-wing narrative that the media “serve only the rich and powerful” while their voices were not heard during the recent fees protests. They listed one mainstream media after another, for being “biased and unfair”. After all, they said, the shops closed down before the protest, so there was no looting and destruction of any properties. Contestations over different narratives made me think about the idea of town halls for listening and discussions.

ANC rant at journalists

The ANC’s KZN provincial secretary, Bheki Mtolo, ranted about the SABC not covering its Ladysmith march last week, accusing journalists of taking bribes from the IFP. 

“They are not here today because IFP has paid them not to be here today,” he said. 

IFP national spokesperson Mkhulelo Hlengwa quickly released a statement: “An attack on any journalist is an assault on media freedom, and by extension, all journalists. The IFP will not stand idly by as freedom of expression and freedom of the press and other media, as enshrined in Section 16 of our Constitution, comes under attack.”  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cybermisogyny signals sexism in the media and newsrooms

This will earn him brownie points with media freedom advocates and journalists, of course, which is not the same as saying journalists will now only cover IFP marches. But it must be noted that newsrooms are so depleted of staff that often there is no one to send out at local level in small towns, given how local  and community media have dried up. From its heyday about 10 years ago – from more than 500 local community newspapers in print to fewer than 200 now – the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP) reports. 

Meanwhile, some media (which are commercially driven or well-funded) are doing fantastic work.

Journalism’s power for good

News24 released a powerful documentary last week on why whistle-blower and finance manager in the Gauteng government, Babita Deokaran, was killed. She wanted an investigation into irregular procurement processes at Tembisa Hospital. She was silenced with 12 bullets. It’s a documentary worth watching. 

The Taco Kuiper awards, hosted by the Wits Centre for Journalism, recognises investigative journalism (which is in the public interest, reveals information which might not otherwise not be known, uses innovative techniques, approaches or technology and is in-depth) announced the 2023 winners last week: Ray Joseph (GroundUp) for his lottery scandal stories and Jeff Wicks (News24) for the Deokaran assassination story. The runners-up were Aron Hyman, Graeme Hosken and Tankiso Makhetha from TimesLIVE for the Zama Zama turf wars and tavern murders.

Worrying trends: SLAPPS

There is a global growing trend of bullying or SLAPP cases against journalists and media organisations, intended to intimidate and silence. The bullying of women journalists online, in the form of rape, death threats, doxing and trolling, is now rife, and called cybermisogyny. In South Africa we see the litigation against News24 legal journalist Karyn Maughan (for reporting on former president Zuma’s health issues from his records). This should be dismissed as a SLAPP case (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation), meaning it is spurious and designed to shut down dissent, and freedom of expression.

This is the climate the media finds itself in today. A climate full of push and pull and fights and contestations, in the middle of a media sustainability crisis (who pays for journalism in the age of the internet?).

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mr President, we need to hear from you, not more politics while the country burns

In the election run-up, all the parties, including independents if they will be standing, will whinge and whine that they are not getting the superb coverage they feel they deserve. They will fight over the limelight. Media literacy among publics, political parties, including students at university, is low. I think it’s time the media told people how they work, and asked communities what topics need coverage, perhaps through “town halls” – if they can find the time. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted