Media Freedom and the End Game

Over the past couple of years or so, Independent Media has written several articles and opinion pieces on media freedom, the threat to this hard won right, even questioning whether we do, in fact, have a free media to lose.

It’s time to pen another.

Notification of a media summit happening in KZN hosted by the Democracy Development Program (DDP) caught my attention. Not because of its subject matter, which is to discuss ‘The Role of Media in Times of Political Uncertainty’, but because of who it has invited to lead discussion on this topic – one Adjunct Professor Anton Harber.

Here is a man who advocates for media freedom, whilst at the same time, campaigns for the closure and certain demise of Independent Media, an entire news group. Harber has on several occasions, publicly called for a boycott of advertising in all Independent Media publications for example. No advertising revenue, no papers, no jobs – more than 1200 people and their dependants would be left high and dry.

But the danger of Harber’s rhetoric goes far deeper than being the architect of media freedom hypocrisy, for if Independent Media were to close and no longer be, then South Africa would revert to a one-sided narrative such as it was during apartheid. Perhaps, that is the end game…

So, I question the veracity of this approaching summit in choosing a speaker who essentially speaks with a forked tongue.

Yet, the Summit is necessary and vital, coming as it does in a time of great change and turmoil in our country.

The media in the digital age, is perhaps the single largest ‘influencer’ the world has ever known. Media has turned from carrying straightforward reports of the news of the day, to serving up salvers of syndicated nonsense, most often never fact checked yet sprayed across channels.

Before you go there, let us acknowledge that Independent Media itself has fallen prey to this too but having learnt from our mistakes, we are trying harder than ever to not let this happen again.

As an influencer then, the media plays a powerful role in shaping the narrative of a country, none more so than at times of political change. Think of the US elections in recent history, or any major political event around the world, behind it all, will have been a team of strategic communicators and willing communication platforms, because as we all know, money talks…

South Africa is not immune to this trend either. The CR17 Presidential campaign was a case in point. This coming election, will, I’m sure, be no different. But it could be if we find ourselves champions of media freedom who have no agenda other than to see a true reflection of the events of the day that will have bearing on how the citizens will live their lives.

Dream on however, as media’s influence has a profound effect on not only the political discourse in the country and the outcome of voting, but on business. We only need to look at the recent media attacks on Sekunjalo and its stable of companies to see how media manipulates and undermines fact.

Based on so-called ‘media reports’ all major banks in South Africa pulled the carpet out from under the feet of multiple businesses because of their ties to me, Independent Media’s non-executive Chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé.

These banks included Standard Bank, an organisation that paradoxically funds the Sikuvile Journalism Awards. A strategic masterplan to on one hand promote media freedom whilst on the other, seeing to it that media freedom is not manifested by closing out one of the country’s biggest representations of media diversity? Or was this simply a case of coincidence?

Either way, it’s all rather hypocritical. Whether it’s Harber pontificating for media freedom whilst damning colleagues in the media who have a difference of opinion, or South Africa’s banks who instead of doing their own due diligence to interrogate the facts rely on the unproven articles of the media who have been shown to be wanting, all our freedoms are at risk.

Development of our democracy ceases the moment we hear only one voice.

* The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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