Advocacy groups call for media freedom

PHIRI CAWE

One of the worst problems facing the media today is being exerted by control board members and political parties who decide what will be published and who interfere in editorial decision-making processes.

These views were expressed by various NGOs at a public debate, titled “Happy news or Censorship”, presented by the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) on Friday July 8 at Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha to discuss the SABC’s editorial policies and the stance they have taken not to broadcast certain news.

Three panellists, Andile Lili from the Ses’khona People’s Movement, Karabo Rajuili from the Right2Know campaign and the SJC’s Amkelwa Mapatwana, led the debate.

During the debate, which became heated at times, panellists and community members said the reason many people involve themselves in news is because the media is a significant tool.

Some NGOs backed calls to allow the media a space to operate freely while one, Ses’khona, was against this. Many also said they felt the public broadcaster is controlled by certain forces. Community members weighed in and argued that the truth might not be served if an objective approach to reporting is not adhered to.

At least three organisations that were present, SJC, Right2Know and Equal Education, made their views clear that the media should be free so that they could report fairly. However, the Khayelitsha Ses’khona People Movement opposed that and questioned the neutrality of media houses in their reporting.

As expected, the panellists were divided on the issue of media freedom. Mr Lili vehemently opposed the move to air violent acts on television. Mr Lili said his organisation was concerned about morality on the telly. He said the stance by the public broadcaster not to air violent acts was most welcomed. “We took a decision to support the SABC. We learnt a lot from the media. They like controversial news,” he said.

He argued that if depictions of sexual acts were restricted from television broadcast, then the same should apply to violence. “The only way to discourage violence Is not to show it. Equal it with live sex. We support the stance not to show violent acts. Television has a great influence on youths. You have seen many gangs calling themselves Americans and the like,” he said.

Refusing to back out of his support for SABC chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Mr Lili said Ses’khona was firmly in support of the corporation. “Hlaudi is part of the SABC.

“He is discriminated against because of his qualifications. How many white people are in top positions without qualifications?” he asked.

However, community members said they were opposing what seems like policy changes at the public broadcaster.

They claimed that such changes would infringe on the right of journalists. They called on the public broadcaster to revisit its stance on censoring public violence.

Ms Rajuili said what the public broadcaster was practising was censorship and that people needed information.

She said Right2Know supported the public broadcaster but was against the recent policy changes. “We need information that will benefit people. Censorship is problematic. It will block any critical information by the community,” she said.

She said her organisation supports a free media that is diverse. She said all media, including community media should reflect diversity. “But more, we want an independent, free and diverse media,” she said.

Ms Rajuili said if the public do not fight for an SABC that is free of censorship, everyone would suffer.

Ms Mapatwana said the public broadcaster’s independence will determine the fruits of what people fought for.

She said although it has, in many instances, failed the public, it has done good too.

“We do not condone violence but we need to see how it happened. I do not want ‘happy’ news, I want facts. It is the duty of a journalist to give fair and objective news. Inform us,” she said.

Ms Mapatwana said if the some acts are not shown, it will mean some people’s voices are being silenced.

Resident Bonga Zamisa lamented political interference as a problem that need to be nipped in the bud.

He said he was “very worried” that certain people seemed to be hijacking the public broadcaster.

“I do not think that this happy news theory has to do with reality, but people are hiding something or their interests. Show us everything, good or bad.

“Let us not be in denial that we are a sick country. We might get help and be diagnosed,” he concluded.