Voices

It is unconstitutional to censor news outlets

2017-11-29 00:25

The decision to axe the controversial Gupta-founded 24-hour news channel – now “apparently” owned by Mzwanele Manyi’s Lolidox – from DStv might have been music to the ears of people who regard the broadcaster as a propaganda machine.

The front page story in last week’s City Press – Gupta TV to be “axed” – based on the decision by MultiChoice not to renew the contract of African News Agency, otherwise known as ANN7 due to reputational damage will be the first in the history of the South African media, let alone since the dawn of democracy that a news broadcaster is sanctioned harshly.

Whether MultiChoice is worried about its reputational damage is neither here nor there. This might be a suicidal business decision.

Will MultiChoice complain about reputation damage by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which has been accused of promoting terrorism?

So much criticism has been levelled against ANN7 in South Africa since its launch as much as Al Jazeera. The latter had its journalists attacked and even jailed while the former had its journalists and anchors turned into a laughing stock, especially during the first few months on air because of the amateurish news reading and presenting.

Earlier this year, an ANN7 reporter became the butt of jokes while reporting outside Donald Gordon Hospital on the deteriorating health state of struggle icon and Robben Island prisoner Ahmed Kathrada.

The young reporter is seen stumbling over her words and referring to Kathrada as “Cartwright”, and even the name of the hospital was spelled wrong on screen.

As much as live television is difficult, it was too much for an inexperienced reporter. She was turned into a laughing stock on social media – not because she fumbled, but because she worked for the Gupta-owned media outlet. The live crossing went viral.

This incident was followed by another involving ANN7 reporter Nomusa Phungula, who had water poured over her by anti-Jacob Zuma marchers. The group accosted her, calling her names and poured water over her at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

These events were preceded by a spectacle and grandstanding media briefing where Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) commander-in-chief Julius Malema unleashed terror on ANN7 and The New Age reporters, warning they were no longer welcomed at its party’s events. What hogwash!

He later backtracked on his threat because South Africa “is a constitutional democracy and media freedom, as enshrined in the Constitution, is a cornerstone of democracy”.

Even former finance minister Pravin Gordhan took an unprecedented stance when he lambasted ANN7 and its analysts. Reporters from the Gupta-owned media were booed at a press conference following his recall from an investor roadshow before they were sacked. Even journalists from Gupta-owned news channel ANN7 were booed on Friday during a press conference hosted by Treasury.

The Gupta-owned media had attracted more negative headlines like the SABC under the iron-fist rule of the now disgraced former controversial Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

It is true that MultiChoice as business has a right to choose who it does business with, but this one argument about reputational damage does not hold water; moreover there has been a cacophony of noise threatening to cancel their subscriptions because ANN7 has been accused of being biased and promoting factional agenda.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media. It clearly states that the freedom of the press does not extend to propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion or incitement to cause harm.

As much as journalists are expected to be objective, it is impossible for any media outlet not to have a view. That, on its own, clouds their bias.

Several newspapers have nailed their colours to the mast when it comes to political parties of their choice and their preferred leaders. So, the media and journalists and activists cannot absolve themselves on their political preferences, or sport, especially football. I know an editor of a Sunday newspaper who is a die-hard Orlando Pirates fan and another is a Kaizer Chiefs diehard.

In fact, ANN7 provides a comic relief with its embedded resident analysts.

Media outlets rely on advertising, viewership, listenership and readership for their survival, and ANN7 will suffer and die a natural death like newspapers such as The Weekender, This Day, Nova and others who came before ANN7 and TNA.

As much as we vote with our wallets to buy newspapers, allow us to vote with our remote controls to choose which channel to watch.

Sepotokele is a journalist, communication strategist and a media trainer. He writes in his personal capacity

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September 15 2019