Watchdogs or Hyenas? Analysing the Media Tribunal controversy.
South Africans have two self-righteous bodies with major divergences in their mutual perceptions. Put in simplified form, you can say:
• SA’s journalists see themselves as watchdogs on power on behalf of the public.
• The ANC and government see the press as a bunch of hyenas.
• Politicians have a proclivity to be demons, according the watchdogs.
• Our leaders are angels, according the ANC.
Now they’re scrapping over the Media Tribunal. It’s a clash of mythologies and a duel of realities. Read the analysis over at Thoughtleader.
At best, the Tribunal is based on the ANC misreading the media and the motivating myths of this institution.
At worst, it’s an attempt to silence criticism driven by malicious intent. Either way, both the ANC and South Africa are better off without it.
What problems is the ANC hoping to address by the Tribunal? Its problems, or society’s? And how big are these problems, really, that self-regulation must not be improved, but replaced by statutory control?
And, if journalism is about rights to free speech and democracy, then journalism teachers can’t sit by when the Tribunal looms. Thus, if we don’t want to be training students to work in an industry where the ruling party can intervene in what gets published, we need to add our voices to the resistance. Now.
UPDATE: read the pre-publication version of an article accepted for Communicatio, where I argue that in 2008/9, the Press Council proved its value through its independent performance, thereby successfully staving off political pressure for a period. To counter the revived offensive, what's needed will be much greater proactivity in terms of mass media literacy about the value of press freedom.
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