Media Watch opinion

Apartheid’s Big Brother syndrome back with a vengeance

A censored world view

Three decades after "securocrats" dominated and 22 years after regime change in South Africa, only the personalities in control seem to have changed, but the attitude to an independent media of those in control has remained exactly the same.

We have a challenge for our readers this week – see if you can spot who are the sources of the following two quotations and when the words were spoken?

First quote: “… these actions (violent protests) … we will not assist these individual to push their agenda, that seeks media attention.”

Second quote: Government was … “concerned with the presence of television and other camera crews in unrest situations, which proved to be a catalyst to further violence.”

The first came last week from Hlaudi Motsoeneng, controversial Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the South African Broad Casting Corporation (SABC) in announcing that the public broadcaster would no-longer air footage of violent public protests.

The first came 31 years earlier, in 1985 from then Minister of Law and Order Louis le Grange in the cabinet of Mr P.W. Botha when introducing media restrictions.


For me, on reading the Motsoeneng statement and of the governing ANC’s welcoming of the statement and its accompanying call for a debate on the media’s role around covering violent protests, there was a strong feeling of. Dé-j́à vu.

Back in 1981, as the political editor of an Afrikaans Daily, when the liberation struggle supporting Weekend Post was banned by the Botha-administration, I wrote an editorial in which I warned that government was only succeeding in robbing itself of a window on the mood in the black community and that the ban would not change the reality of what was happening in that community.

Last week, in reaction to what was happening at the SABC, professor Leonhard Praeg at Rhodes University, which is also home to the oldest school of journalism in the country, warned that the new SABC policy on blacking out violent protests could probably make things worse.

“I suspect this is just going to add fuel to the fire; the idea that you can just stop people from making their concerns visible by any means. People don’t take to violence because they’re bored, they take to violence because, in a sense, it’s a kind-of last resort,” he said.

No longer a journalist

The even more disturbing element of Motsoeneng statement is his call on other media houses to stand in solidarity with its decision and not cover violent protests.

That call, and the reaction of the ANC on the matter clearly show that Motsoeneng is acting more as politician than a media boss. He has stopped being a true blooded journalist dedicated to reflecting reality – if he ever was one – and is now the lackey of the Zuma regime.

It is becoming more-and-more clear that, although in terms of detail there are differences, than there are in character – from the prominence and role of “securocrats,” to blaming foreign powers to manipulation of information, to arrogance and to a big bully-boy approach, very littler distinction between the Botha and Zuma administrations.

Dé-j́àvu again

Again there is a strong feeling of Dé-j́à vu – a feeling of “hey, but we have been here before.”

Also read: Apartheid legacy still alive – ANC record even worse

by Piet Coetzer

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