Media gets short shrift at ANC’s NGC

2010-09-25 13:09

Is the ANC aiming for a closed ­society where what it does, or what is done by those in authority, should not be seen or known by mere mortals?

This question begged an answer in Durban throughout the week, where the arrangements for the media at the ­party’s national general council (NGC) amounted to a quarantine of the lepers.

After being allowed into the plenary session for President Jacob Zuma’s ­address, we were all figuratively bundled out to a tent literally on the other side of the road.

Journalists were not even ­allowed to cross through the exhibition centre to go to their “place”.

You had to go around the block, past the central bank, and then access the tent through another control point.

To get from the media centre to the room where press conferences were conducted, you crossed the street again, through ­another checkpoint, and into the room.

From the media tent it was not ­possible to even get a glimpse of the delegates.

You could see them from the press conference centre, but you could not join them.

Only the very senior ANC officials and functionaries could pass through the fenced area into the exhibition centre or to the press ­conference centre.

Television crews, who need daily ­footage of what is called overlays and cutaways, had to contend with recycling the first day’s footage if they needed crowd scenes of this major conference.

ANC communications officials, ­responding to complaints from ­journalists, said if we knew where the media centre was supposed to have been, we would have been grateful for small mercies.

The organisation that was once friends with the media now closes itself off from journalists.

And the major news channels that were there had to make do with the scraps that were thrown in their direction in the form of two press conferences a day.

It is called information control.

In this atmosphere, where there is a total information shutdown, journalists had to rely on leaks from delegates.

And the press briefings then became the place where each day’s front pages are denied as devoid of truth.

And the rider that it was indeed such leak-based ­stories that fanned the fire of the media tribunal, loomed over the gathering.

Obviously the ANC is going through a phase of internal wranglings that are a hangover of the intensity of the ­pre-Polokwane era.

These include a youth wing that sees itself as ­answerable to no one who disagrees with them, and an influx of charlatans who want to use the organisation to ­advance their own material gains.

Coupled with these is a left wing that believes it has done enough to ­dictate policy terms for the ANC, and a president who seems unable to ­understand why it was unsavoury for his children or close relatives to do ­business with the government he leads.

When you huddle in the midst of such diverse contradictions, you need space to talk openly and to call each other to order.

But it does not have to be ­accompanied by the disdain shown to the media in Durban this week.

But it was not all doom and gloom.

Limpopo had wanted journalists to be registered yearly and deregistered if they are found to have done something wrong.

That was rejected and Limpopo was told that their idea of a register was a mechanism to hide corruption.

As expected, however, the NGC ­approved the need to investigate the ­desirability of a statutory tribunal for the media.

That investigation will be done by Parliament. It becomes the third of investigations into the efficacy of a press regulatory framework after what the Press Council itself is doing, and an independent commission being put together by editors and media owners, which would hopefully be chaired by a retired Constitutional Court judge.

All these three are indications of a country’s efforts to ensure the print media fulfils its role of informing, educating and entertaining society.

We have been an exemplary open society and we should remain that way.

The attitudes displayed in Durban should not become the norm of the organisation that was once led by journalists of repute such as Sol Plaatjie.

» Tsedu is head of the Media24 Journalism
Academy and City Press public editor

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