DA has not wasted a second in applying same dirty tactics it accused ANC of

2015-03-22 15:00

The Western Cape government opting not to renew its Cape Times subscriptions had SA asking if the DA walks its media-freedom talk

The behaviour of DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille when faced with a newspaper whose political orientation she did not like is a reminder of how all politicians alike deserve to be treated – with a fair dose of scepticism – regardless of their political affiliation.

For years, the DA and its leaders have carried the torch of liberty and unfettered freedom. They have projected themselves to be everything the ANC is not.

They have joined the media in opposing the ANC’s proposals of creating a media tribunal, Secrecy Bill and more.

The DA’s tenets of freedom, equality and liberty have gone up against the ANC’s belief in centralised power. But now, in power nominally in a provincial government and faced with an annoying newspaper, the DA has not wasted a second in applying the same dirty tactics it has accused the ANC of.

Since City Press published the story on Sunday, Zille has come out fighting, arguing that, as a consumer, her government has a right to choose a good product from a bad one and the Western Cape government should be allowed to apply its discretion in how it allocates its funds. If this were all there was to this matter, we wouldn’t be here.

We are in the middle of this debate because Zille abused taxpayers’ money to fight a political and ideological battle.

Her attempts to reduce this to a small matter by asking what the nonrenewal of a subscription has got to do with media freedom are efforts at trivialisation.

This was also no effort at cutting costs onthe advice of Treasury, as she has tried to argue.

The renewal of a subscription to the Cape Times has a political history.

In January, Zille wrote an open letter to the owner of Independent Newspapers, Iqbal Survé, in which she suggested the group had forfeited its independence and become a mouthpiece for the Zuma faction of the ANC.

She argued that Independent Newspapers had abandoned its readers to pursue a political project.

Zille is fully entitled to that view – if that is her perception. Many others have expressed the same view.

But what is wrong is to use taxpayers’ money to fight a political opponent. It is reasonable to deduce that she believes that, by punishing the Independent, she also believes she is hurting a political opponent (the ANC).

She must come out clearly and say this. The consumer argument about freedom to choose to buy what she wants is a ruse for an ideological and political battle.

She is correct that, if the quality of the paper is deteriorating, readers will indeed abandon the paper. But it is improper for her to use the Western Cape government to accelerate “the fall”.

Her other excuse is that the paper was engaged in plagiarism. As the SA Editors’ Forum has correctly pointed out, there are channels for grievances relating to the content of the paper, such as the ombudsman, that she can use.

Her irritation and anger at the paper and journalists this week demonstrates that – like many other political incumbents – she is uncomfortable with criticism.

It is one thing to sit outside the national administration and point fingers at the ANC government for eroding our freedoms, but it is quite another when you lay your hands onthe levers of power.

Those who agree with Zille must ask themselves if they would be fine with President Jacob Zuma instructing government departments to cancel their subscriptions to the Mail & Guardian to “save costs”.

I deliberately chose that newspaper because there is a history there. Zille also selected her paper carefully.

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