The eNCA Twitter Firestorm And Reporter Victimisation

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The African National Congress is deeply shocked at the alleged muzzling of journalists at ENCA news channel. This against the backdrop of the unceremonious removal of political journalist Samkele Maseko, from ENCA offices and the subsequent suspension of his colleague, Khaya Khumalo.

Pule Mabe Politicsweb 19/12/2019

The unfolding eNCA drama after the removal of political reporter Samkele Maseko by the television station’s head of news Kanthan Pillay, has rent asunder pretences of independence and fairness in some media — or could it be just about most media today in South Africa?

Glenda Daniels Daily Maverick  20/12/2019

What the past two decades have taught us is that the abusive treatment of staff in newsrooms controlled by ANC acolytes is a given – you only have to read Indentured by Rajesh Sundaram and SABC8  by Foeta Krige and Paper Tiger  by Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield  or articles and social media posts by Dougie Oakes to find proof of such behaviour.

What the past two decades have also taught us is that Luthuli House and the Union Buildings are indifferent to the plight of such newsroom staff.

What made the difference in the recent eNCA controversy was Twitter and the fact that eNCA is privately owned.

Kanthan Pillay attacked Samkele Maseko on Twitter, Maseko fought back using the same medium to expose Pillay’s abusive treatment of staff and censorship and the public, using Twitter, sided with Maseko. So, too, did the eNCA management.

Things were very different 20 years ago when the ANC effectively took the SABC’s Sea Point newsroom by the throat and I have written extensively and without tangible result about this period – see here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Conventional news coverage was abandoned and the events which we were forced to cover were either to the benefit of the ANC or to the detriment of the DA. What we were not allowed to cover was the looting of both municipal and provincial coffers when the ANC was in political control of the Western Cape from 2003 until 2006.

The following example testifies to the extent to which we simply became another ANC propaganda outlet and news coverage, as most people understand it, ceased to exist.

Fatal shark attacks

Fatal shark attacks reverberate around the world and the box office success of Jaws testifies to humankind’s morbid fixation on this topic the world over.

Not, however, in the Sea Point newsroom of the SABC on the afternoon of 4 June 2005

The Black Marlin restaurant at Miller’s Point on the road between Simon’s Town and the Cape Point nature reserve is a favoured tourist attraction because it close to the beach and looks across False Bay.

Early that afternoon, Black Marlin patrons were horrified to see a giant white shark – estimated at five metres – arrow out of the water with a wetsuit-clad diver in its jaws.

In a spray of blood it disappeared and a desperate search began as the NSRI and the members of the diving unit at the nearby Simon’s Town navy base responded to the calls.

The victim was Henri Murray (22) a fifth-year medical student at the University of Stellenbosch.

With him at the time was a fellow student, 23-year-old Piet van Niekerk, who later recounted that the shark attacked Murray three times in swift succession.

Van Niekerk shot the shark with his spear gun in an effort to get it to release Murray but in vain.

NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon phoned the media and the SABC’s Sea point news office promised to send a television news team to the scene which was a 45-minute drive away.

That night, the SABC’s main TV news bulletin made a brief newsreader reference to the fatal shark attack. There was no visual footage.

Henri’s body was never recovered but his spear gun, weight belt, goggles, snorkel and swim fins were found in the attack area.

The top of his red wetsuit later washed ashore several kilometres away at Muizenberg. The keys to his car were in one of the suit’s pockets.

This must have been the first time in world media history that a fatal shark attack witnessed in the water at close range by a friend of the victim and by dozens of people on the shore who could have been interviewed and which occurred hours before deadline was simply ignored by a television news station situated less than an hour’s drive from the scene of the attack. The reason was obvious – the event offered no potential to promote the ANC or to undermine the Democratic Alliance so it was not considered to be worth covering.

The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU) submitted two extensive reports to the SABC about the abusive behaviour being experienced by newsroom staff in  its Sea Point news office, the enforced pro-ANC propaganda and the pervasive censorship by omission. The first was given to then CEO Peter Matlare in 2001. The second submission in this regard was sent to the Sisulu/Marcus commission of inquiry into Snuki Zikalala’s blacklisting of certain political experts in 2006.

Situation worsened

In each case our situation worsened thereafter.

On 29 April 2008 the opening paragraph of a Business Day article by Edward West headlined Broadcaster’s Cape Bureau still mismanaged with bias read:

THE SABC’s powerful Cape Town bureau continues to be dogged by allegations of mismanagement and politically skewed reporting in favour of an African National Congress (ANC) faction in Western Cape – even though an independent board of enquiry, under former CEO Zwelakhe Sisulu and lawyer Gilbert Marcus, last year apparently recommended that the public broadcaster address the problems.

A day later, then IFP member of parliament, Suzanne Vos, highlighted the abuses occurring at the SABC’s Sea Point news office at a meeting in parliament between the SABC board and the parliamentary communications portfolio committee. A transcript of her speech is available here.

She demanded that the SABC hand to parliament a forensic report by Deloitte & Touche which investigated these abuses and recommended that action be taken.

The SABC board defied parliament and, without having conducted an investigation, denied that anything was amiss at the Sea Point news office, this despite the resignation of more than a dozen staff members.

In the meantime it is business as usual at Sekunjalo Independent Media – bizarre anti-Ramaphosa headlines, continuous attacks on editors and reporters such as Alide Dasnois and Ferial Haffajee and Sam Sole and the discovery of a new political phenomenon – Gordhanism.

SANEF has condemned the treatment of Samkele Maseko just as it condemned the disgraceful ‘Stratcom’ smear in 2018. It has also convened a commission of inquiry headed by retired judge Kathleen Satchwell which will report back next year. Maseko has indicated that he will make a submission to it.

While its findings and guidelines will be welcomed it remains to be seen whether the impact of its report will have a tangible benefit for staff at companies like Sekunjalo Independent Media.  Far from being a ‘brave transformation force’, Sekunjalo has seen an exodus of editor-level staff who are not white which is unprecedented  in South African newspaper history – Moshoeshoe Monare, Philani Mgwaba, Makhudu Sefara, Karima Brown, Vukani Mde, Wally Mbhele, Steve Motale, Ellis Mnyandu, Unathi Kondile, Gasant Abarder, Yunus Kemp, Lebogang Seale, Lindiz van Zilla and Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

Furthermore, while the SABC commission of inquiry into editorial interference headed by Joe Thloloe made the obvious point about the ANC’s dead hand at the state broadcaster, little has changed. Most of the ‘enforcers’ are still employed, abuses by the ANC’s deployed cadres on the SABC board haven’t stopped and staff continue to die.

What happened at eNCA – a privately-owned news company siding with an abused reporter and taking action against his censorious news editor – was a one-off dictated by a social media backlash.

The event was not without its element of ironic political expediency as the anchor quote by Pule Mabe indicates – have we forgotten “Don’t buy City Press, don’t buy!”?

Dr Glenda Daniels, in the anchor quote to this article, asks a hypothetical question. But, as she pointed out in her 2012 book , Fight for Democracy: The ANC and the media in South Africa, the African National Congress is innately antithetical to media freedom because it is firmly committed to the National Democratic Revolution which presupposes state control of every aspect of the citizen’s life – including the media.

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Ed Herbst started his news career as a photographer with the Natal Witness in 1968 but quickly switched to reporting while retaining an interest in photography. He joined the SABC in its Pretoria news office as a camera reporter in 1977, one year after television was introduced in South Africa. In 1978 he was seconded to the SABC’s Windhoek office for six months to cover the run-up to the country’s UN-monitored election and was then posted to the SABC’s Sea Point news office. He asked for early retirement in 2005 because of pervasive SABC corruption, news censorship and unaddressed abusive treatment of staff. From 2007 to 2009 he was employed as a consultant in the media department of the Cape Town municipality but became a pensioner when personal circumstances forced him to retire. He now writes without remuneration for local websites about the interface between media and politics. He is writing a book on media capture after 1994.

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