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« Vertigo at the ANCYL | Main | FXI Playing Animal Farm »

December 12, 2006

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Mike


I too feel mixed emotions at contributing to Honest Reporting dishonest reporting award. Of course I am very grateful for the tremendous support they have given this blog. But am also extremely disappointed that the South African National Broadcaster should have received such an award. Worse is the fact that the SABC has done nothing to correct the situation. No apology was offered to Paula Slier. No statement recommitting the SABC to impartiality was issued. And the culprit Zikalala still remains in his position as head of news.

But what perhaps upsets me the most is the pathetic response of South African Jewry (including myself) to this blatant anti-Jewish bias. We should have done far more. We should have organised a petition; held a protest or even issued a press statement condemning the blacklisting affair.

THE DICTATOR / EMBITTERED CORRESPONDENT

It will be interesting to hear what Paula Slier thinks about the award.

Does anyone know what she is up to?

mike

Anthony, she now works for the Russian English language TV news service. She is their Middle East correspondent.

BRETT CHATZ

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) believes there is a trend towards declining media freedom in South Africa. Besides for news and print media, there are concerns that even journalists may have to disclose their sources of information.

The FXI is particularly concerned about the state-sanctioned constraints being enforced within the SABC. According to the Institute, “Over the past year, South Africa has witnessed growing threats to the independence of the communications sector."

SABC chief Snuki Zikalala, an outspoken and staunch advocate of the ANC, also expressed his discontent at the Middle-East reporting by one of his journalists at that time, Paula Slier. That incident has since blown over, but its importance cannot be overemphasised. The issue at stake is clear, if news briefings aren’t in line with the views of the editorial department or the executive, they won’t be utilised. This is an affront to the concept of a free press and honest reporting.

It is now evident that acclaimed SA journalist, Paula Slier, was discriminated against. Slier, who reported on Yasser Arafat’s gravely ill condition, from Ramallah, was forbidden by the SABC chief from running her stories. At the time, Philippa Green, Head of SABC News, was instructed by Zikalala not to use Paula Slier’s reports. According to Zikalala, Paula Slier is ‘… a white Jewish girl” and therefore the implication at the time was that she could not possibly objectively report on the Middle East.

As evidence of Zikalala’s views, a memorandum and the Blacklist were leaked to the media (Mail and Guardian); the scandal was big news. “Urgent Note: All Desks the Managing Director of News, Dr Snuki Zikalala has directed that NO MATERIAL OR STORY SUPPLIED BY JOURNALIST PAULA SLIER should be used by SABC news desks until further notice. Dr Zikalala says this instruction applies to all units of SABC news.” Evidence has since emerged that Dr. Zikalala rules the roost with an iron-fist and an authoritarian leadership style. One could even suggest that he is capable of dictating what the permissible news stories should ideally be – not quite the most conducive environment to free and fair reporting.

Despite all the findings of the inquiry into Zikalala’s conduct, very little has changed.

Other issues such as pre-publication censorship and the growing trend towards media consolidation are big concerns too. The sale of Johnnic Communications to Caxton effectively means that four independent media houses will now be reduced to three – not a good sign. Again, there is a need to safeguard the freedom of the media, not for their sake, but for ours. Other contentious issues which the FXI raised include a Judge’s decision blocking publication of the Danish cartoons, even before editors made any decisions in that regard. This means that we are effectively being prescribed a diet of judiciary and state-run news and views.
In a recent victory for press freedom, the Mail and Guardian won a ruling against a court interdict put forth by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions. The attempted interdict was urgently proposed in order to prevent the M&G from running a story relating to Police Commissioner, Jackie Selebi’s alleged links to crime boss, Glenn Agliotti. Describing the news as, “a matter of fundamental public importance,” Judge Hilton Epstein dismissed the interdict, with costs, in the Johannesburg High Court. The Judge was adamant that the information must be shared with the SA public, given its significance in current affairs. The Judge contended that any attempts to preclude publication of the information were not in the public interest. "This is a matter - and I refer to the Kebble murder and the arrest of Glenn Agliotti - which is unsettling the nation. It is reducing public confidence in the authorities."

On an encouraging note, ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said that the ‘Dark days of state censorship, bannings, harassment and imprisonment had been emphatically and unequivocally consigned to the past”.

(Source IOL; M&G)

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