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Speech presented by Joe Latakgomo at Media Freedom Day event
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Speech presented by Joe Latakgomo at Media Freedom Day event

FRIENDS, COLLEAGUES, CITIZENS OF THIS GREAT COUNTRY OF OURS.

WHEN THE THEN DEPUTY PRESIDENT OF THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS, MR NELSON MANDELA, ADDRESSED THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS INSTITUTE IN KYOTO, JAPAN, ON 22 APRIL 1991, HE DECLARED:

“FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA AND THE PRESS IS AMONG THE OLDEST AND MOST VALUED FREEDOMS FOR WHICH PEOPLE THE WORLD OVER HAVE FOUGHT.  THE ANC HAS EXTENDED ITS SOLIDARITY AND SHALL CONTINUE TO SUPPORT JOURNALISTS, EDITORS, WRITERS AND OTHER MEDIA PEOPLE WHO FACE PERSECUTION BECAUSE THEY SEEK TO EXERCISE THIS RIGHT.”

HE THEN ADDED:

“WE (THE ANC) REGARD A PRESS THAT HAS THE COURAGE TO SPEAK ITS MIND, WITHOUT FEAR OF FAVOUR, AS ESSENTIAL IN KEEPING THE PUBLIC VIGILANT AND ALERT TO ANY TEMPTATION ON THE PART OF GOVERNMENT TO ABUSE ITS POWERS. WE WOULD SAY ALSO THAT A DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT THAT EITHER FEARED OR SOUGHT TO CONSTRAIN MEDIA SCRUTINY OF ITS POLICIES AND ACTIONS IS EMBARKED ON A COURSE THAT MUST INEVITABLY RESULT IN THE EVASION OF ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE PEOPLE.”

THOSE OF US WHO EXPERIENCED THE OPPRESSIVE MEASURES THAT THE APARTHEID GOVERNMENT TOOK AGAINST THE MEDIA, WERE RELIEVED THAT WE ARE AT LAST HEADING TOWARDS A DISPENSATION THAT PROTECTS CITIZENS’ RIGHT TO INFORMATION.

OCTOBER 19, 1977, WAS THE LOW POINT FOR APARTHEID GOVERNMENT. ON THIS DAY, THEY BANNED THE WORLD, PRO VERITATE, AND 19 OTHER BLACK ORGANISATIONS, AMONG THEM SASO, THE BPC, AND THE CHRISTIAN INSTITUTE.. TODAY, WE ARE GATHERED TO REMEMBER THAT DAY, AND TO ENSURE THAT WE DO NOT FORGET WHERE WE COME FROM.

AND, AS WE ENGAGE IN DEBATE ON THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA, AND WHETHER THE MEDIA IS PLAYING THE GAME ACCORDING TO THE RULES, WE HAVE TO ASK OURSELVES:  DOES THE PUBLIC REALLY BELIEVE THAT THE MEDIA CASTS A DARK SHADOW OVER THE AFFAIRS OF THE LAND?  IS THE POWER THEY ATTRIBUTE TO THE MEDIA REAL OR IMAGINED?  DOES THE MEDIA HAVE THE RIGHT TO SPEAK FOR THE “MASSES”?

RECENT CONVERSATIONS HAVE CONVINCED ME THAT THERE IS NO GREATER NEED IN THE FIELD OF MASS MEDIA THAN TO ENGAGE IN PUBLIC DEBATE BETWEEN THE MEDIA AND THE PEOPLE.  THE DUTY OF A NEWSPAPER, AND INDEED THE MEDIA GENERALLY, IS TO BRING INFORMATION, ENTERTAINMENT AND ADVERTISING TO THE PUBLIC. THE MEDIA PROVIDES INFORMATION THAT THE PUBLIC NEEDS AND WANTS.

WE HAVE COME FROM THE TIME WHEN THE INTRODUCTION OF DRACONIAN POWERS TO CLOSE DOWN NEWSPAPERS THAT OFFEND A CABINET MINISTER WAS ACCOMPANIED BY ASSURANCES THAT THE MINISTER HIMSELF WAS REALLY VERY FOND OF PRESS FREEDOM.  THE APARTHEID GOVERNMENT RAILROADED THE MEDIA INTO CHANGING THE PRESS COUNCIL OF THE TIME, CREATING THE MEDIA COUNCIL UNDER RETIRED JUDGE STEYN. GOVERNMENTS ARE AWARE THAT IF THEY SWING THE SWORD ABOVE THE HEADS OF THE MEDIA, THE RESPONSE WILL BE TO SEEK DIFFERENT FORMS OF SELF-REGULATION. THIS WILL HAPPEN UNTIL THE MEDIA IS BEATEN INTO SUBMISSION.

REX GIBSON, FORMER DEPUTY EDITOR OF THE STAR, SAID AT ANOTHER CONFERENCE IN 1987, AND SPEAKING ON THE RIGHT TO KNOW, THAT GOVERNMENTS WHICH DABBLE IN DEMOCRACY CUSTOMARILY SPEAK WARMLY OF PRESS FREEDOM – AND THEN PROCEED TO CREATE EVER MORE MEDIA RESTRICTIONS ON THE PRINCIPLE THAT ONE CAN HAVE TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING.

UNDER THE CLOAK OF SECRECY, THE SECURITY POLICE COULD DETAIN WITHOUT TRIAL ANY PERSON THEY SUSPECT IS ENGAGED IN “TERRORISM”. WITNESSES WERE FORCED TO MAKE STATEMENTS INCRIMINATING THEIR COLLEAGUES. MANY HAVE BEEN SO

PSYCHOLOGICALLY SCARRED THEIR LIVES WERE DESTROYED.  AT A TRIAL IN PRETORIA, DETAINEE WILLIAM TSHIMONG TOLD THE COURT HOW HE WAS WOKEN UP AT NIGHT AND FORCED TO SIGN A STATEMENT INCRIMINATING HIS FRIENDS. WHEN HE LEFT THE WITNESS BOX, HE WAS DRAGGED, SCREAMING, BACK INTO DETENTION. THE COURT DID NOT INTERVENE TO PROTECT HIM. I DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO TSHIMONG.

ON OCTOBER 19, HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE WERE DETAINED. WITH NEWSPAPERS CLOSED DOWN, AND PEOPLE BANNED, THE GOVERNMENT WAS HOPING TO SILENCE THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE.  THE SOUTH AFRICAN INSTITUTE OF RACE RELATIONS ESTIMATED THAT AT THIS TIME, 662 PEOPLE WERE IN DETENTION, 566 HAD BEEN RELEASED WITHOUT BEING CHARGED,  AND ALMOST A HUNDRED HAD BEEN DETAINED FOR MORE THAN A YEAR.

IN POST 1976, 20 POLITICAL PRISONERS DIED IN DETENTION. THE GOVERNMENT KEPT TELLING US THAT THEY HAD EITHER HANGED THEMSELVES, OR SLIPPED ON SOAP. OTHERS VANISHED AFTER BEING “RELEASED”, WITH POLICE CLAIMING THAT THEY HAD SKIPPED THE COUNTRY. THEY WERE NEVER TO BE HEARD FROM AGAIN. THE PRESS
COULD NOT REPORT ANYTHING TO THE CONTRARY, IN TERMS OF THE POLICE ACT.

THE PRESS WAS BLAMED FOR THE RESURGENCE OF RESISTANCE THAT FOLLOWED. GOVERNMENT INTRODUCED A WATCHDDOG ORGANISATION SITTING IN JUDGMENT, DETERMINING WHETHER NEWSPAPERS WERE REVOLUTIONARY. AND THEY WERE USING SCIENTIFIC METHODS, WE WERE TOLD. THEY HAD THAT POWER TO CLOSE DOWN NEWSPAPERS, WITHOUT RECOURSE TO THE COURTS OF LAW.

WHITE SOUTH AFRICANS HAD BEEN SO BRAINWASHED THAT THEY BELIEVED THAT THE MEDIA HAD GOT WHAT THEY DESERVED.  TODAY, THE SAME ARGUMENTS ARE BEING MADE. WE ARE MADE TO BELIEVE THAT “THE PEOPLE” ARE NOT HAPPY WITH THE MANNER OF REPORTING BY NEWSPAPERS.  BACK UNDER APARTHEID, GOVERNMENT BELIEVED THAT THEY SPOKE FOR THE MAJORITY IN CRITICIZING THE MEDIA. THE TRUTH THEN, AS NOW, IS QUITE THE OPPOSITE.  THE MAJORITY OF READERS BELIEVE THAT THE MEDIA IS NOT DOING ENOUGH TO CHAMPION THE CAUSE OF THE PEOPLE.

 

UNDER APARTHEID, THE PEOPLE WERE DENIED INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT THE PEOPLE WHITE SOUTH AFRICANS HAD ELECTED INTO PUBLIC OFFICE WERE DOING. HOW THEY GOVERNED THE COUNTRY. HOW THEY USED PUBLIC MONEY. OR EVEN WHO WE WERE AT WAR WITH. THE PRESS COULD NOT QUOTE ANYBODY WHO WAS BANNED OR LISTED. WE COULD NOT QUOTE MANDELA. WE COULD NOT QUOTE SISULU. WE COULD NOT QUOTE OR TAMBO. OR THE ANC AS AN ORGANISATION.  WE COULD NOT REPORT ON THE TERROR THAT THE POLICE UNLEASHED ON OUR PEOPLE IN THE TOWNSHIPS. OUR CHILDREN DISAPPEARED INTO POLICE CELLS, SOME NEVER TO BE HEARD OF AGAIN. THE MINISTER OF POLICE ADDRESSED PRESS CONFERENCES DRESSED IN CAMOUFLAGE – PURELY TO INTIMIDATE THE MEDIA.

WE HEAR THE SAME REFRAIN FROM OUR DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT TODAY. WE HEAR THAT THE GOVERNMENT IS SEEKING TO ENSURE RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM. FOR THAT, READ PROPAGANDA.  PROPAGANDA IS THE ONLY FORM OF REPORTING THAT GOVERNMENTS NEVER COMPLAIN ABOUT. THEY WANT US TO

 

REPORT, NOT ON MY COUNTRY, RIGHT OR WRONG, BUT ON ANC, RIGHT OR WRONG.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE MEDIA IS TO REPORT WHAT CITIZENS OR GOVERNMENT OR BOTH MAY NOT WANT TO HEAR, AS WELL AS WHAT THEY DO WANT TO HEAR. NEWSPAPERS DARE NOT SANITISE THE NEWS AND THEREBY PLAY GOD WITH THE NEWS AND EXCLUDE NEWS THAT MAY BE PERCEIVED TO BE DETRIMENTAL TO THE GOVERNMENT OR THE RULING PARTY.

NO DOUBT, WE SOMETIMES SEE OUR PRIVATE PICTURE OF THE WORLD AS THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH. FOR THIS REASON, WE WANT TO DEMAND EVERYONE TO SEE THE WORLD THE WAY WE SEE IT.

FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA MEANS FOR US TO SAY WHAT WE WANT TO SAY, AND WHAT WE WANT TO BELIEVE. THIS IS ENSHRINED IN THE CONSTITUTION.  IT IS FOR THIS REASON THAT THE GOVERNMENT SEEKS A DIFFERENT WAY OF SUPPRESSING INFORMATION – THROUGH MAKING SURE WE DO NOT FIND OUT WHAT IS HAPPENING. THIS IS

 

WHAT THE MEDIA SECRECY BILL IS ALL ABOUT. FOR THEM, GOOD REPORTING MEANS WRITING IN THE BRILLIANT COLOURS OF THEIR OWN PREJUDICES.

BUT TO THE EXTENT THAT TRUTH IS SUPPRESSED, SOCIETY IS INSULATED FROM REALITY.  ASK ALL THOSE WHO VOTED FOR THE NATIONALIST PARTY OVER DECADES.

THE BROWN ACT IN CALIFORNIA, US, STATES: 

“THE PEOPLE, IN DELEGATING AUTHORITY DO NOT GIVE THEIR PUBLIC SERVANTS THE RIGHT TO DECIDE WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE PEOPLE TO KNOW WAND WHAT IS NOT GOOD FOR THEM TO KNOW. THE PEOPLE INSIST ON REMAINING INFORMED SO THAT THEY MAY RETAIN CONTROL OVER THE INSTRUMENTS THEY HAVE CREATED.”.

THE GOVERNMENT IS CONSPIRING TO WITHHOLD INFORMATION FROM THE PEOPLE. THIS COULD LEAD TO MISINFORMATION AND DISTORTION.
THIS IS WHAT WE MUST RESIST WITH ALL OUR MIGHT.

 

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