Journalists must find strength in unity

2010-03-27 10:38

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma had to return from the

economically and politically depressed Zimbabwe to intervene in the latest

circus between the media and the young lions.

In case you missed it, the ANC Youth League has been at odds with

the media since the exposé of ANC president Julius Malema benefiting from

tenders in Limpopo by using his political muscle. Even worse, his companies had

done some shoddy work, as exposed by City Press.

Things took a turn for the

worse when ANC Youth League spokesperson Floyd Shivambu threatened to leak a

dossier alleging that several political reporters were in the pockets of certain

politicians, after they refused to publish claims against City Press’s

investigations editor, Dumisane Lubisi.

After writing a letter of complaint to ANC secretary-general Gwede

Mantashe, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) also lodged a formal

complaint with the governing party, saying that Shivambu’s behaviour constituted

an attack on the freedom of the media, which is enshrined in the


In his latest instalment of attacks on the members of the fourth

estate, Shivambu referred to my respected former colleagues as “a mob of

political journalists”.

I have maintained that if Shivambu and his coterie believe that

they have a case, they should alert the law-enforcement agencies – and

Johannesburg Central Police Station is a stone’s throw from Luthuli House.

However, the labelling of journalists as a group or mob without a

name has brought back the ruthless reality that, apart from Sanef, journalists

have no formal platform despite dancing and ululating when Jody Kollapen, the

former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, succumbed to a band of white

journalists and sent the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ) to the gallows.

Even those who forcefully wrote the FBJ’s obituary never offered an

alternative. They were happy to see the demise of this noble organisation; they

branded it racist without even bothering to glance at its constitution.

This was

after a group of white journalists gatecrashed when the FBJ invited Zuma to

­address it. They brought microphones and cameras under the guise of coming to

cover the event, which was nevertheless off the record.

I remember then City Press editor-in-chief Mathatha Tsedu saying

that had the FBJ invited Credo Mutwa, those who felt marginalised would not have

overreacted and stage-managed the event as they did.

Sadly, even some black journalists and editors were delighted to

knock the final nail into the FBJ’s coffin. They danced on top of its ­coffin

before Kollapen and his learned cronies cremated it.

Thabo Leshilo, then editor-in-chief of the Sowetan and Sunday

World, was among those against resuscitating the FBJ.

I angrily pointed out then

that he should stop appointing himself the spokesperson of white journalists

when he didn’t even have one white journalist in his newsroom.

When the likes of Abbey Makoe, Oupa Ngwenya, Ido Lekota, Duma Nkosi

and myself (although most have exited the newsrooms), supported by Professor

Shadrack Gutto, Caiphus Semenya and his wife Letta Mbulu, opted to revive the

FBJ, some journalists ­opted for an ostrich approach while others ­ostracised


Yes, I am still advocating for the FBJ as Jimmy Manyi is advocating

for the Black Management Forum, and there are those advocating for the Black

Lawyers Association. I am not a racist and I have no ambition to be a racist.

All I am saying is that the FBJ is relevant today.

Go to any newsroom, especially white-dominated newsrooms. Blacks

are still suffering in silence. The sorry state of affairs is not that different

to how it was in the apartheid era.

The FBJ was launched in 1997 with the blessing of then deputy

president Thabo Mbeki and there were no dissenting voices. As the years went by

the forum was neglected and slid into a coma.

As it was about to get out of the intensive care unit, it was

condemned to death courtesy of the Human Rights Commission.

Without any formal structure it is easy for the likes of Shivambu

to whip the media and label them a gang or a mob. To an extent Shivambu was

right to refer to them as a mob, ­albeit sarcastic and demeaning.

The attack has provided an opportunity for journalists of different

hues to come together and form one association – unity is strength. Despite the

circus, the media displayed courage by reporting without fear or favour.



is a government communicator and media trainer attached to the Sol Plaatje

Institute for Media Leadership at Rhodes ­University in Grahamstown.


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