No more heroes

2010-09-02 00:00

SO we have become a nation of the brave and the heroic again. How sad.

I have nothing against heroism and bravery. I am, however, always acutely aware that these are traits that tell a story of their time. Take the idea that journalists have to be praised for writing their most honest thoughts or that editors who “allow” this deserve a pat on the back.

I had thought we are a free country. I was under the impression that our Constitution means that we do not need to be brave again to claim the rights we already have. But I was clearly wrong.

It is worrying that journalists have to go to court to force parliamentarians to make open deliberations pertaining to the public broadcaster. You would think that if they did not read anything else in the Constitution they took an oath to serve, MPs would at the very least have read sections relating to the National Assembly.

Had they done so, they might have collided with a passage that reads: “The National Assembly may not exclude the public, including the media, from a sitting of a committee unless it is reasonable and justifiable to do so in an open and democratic society.”

One does not need to be a constitutional law expert to understand that the Constitution makes openness a value that has to be cherished and never departed from lightly. Yet our MPs, salivating at the prospect of hearing certain individuals dish out the dirt on some of their high-profile colleagues, want to shut everyone else out as they tend to their voyeuristic instincts.

The SABC does not belong to politicians. It does not even belong to the state. It is a public broadcaster and therefore belongs to you and me. For politicians — from any party including those who claim to be more liberal than others — to treat it as if it is their toy should send chills down our spines.

Openness is at the very heart of our new state. The preamble of the Constitution says that its aim is to “lay foundations for an open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law”.

So for politicians to say, as they did, that SABC officials would speak more freely if the media were shut out, was never going to wash.

When journalists point this simple fact out they are considered brave by their colleagues and an appreciative society. The powers of darkness that seem to think that the Constitution is a gift from our benevolent rulers, fall all over themselves trying to shout the loudest that journalists form a “counter-revolutionary” movement that has to be curtailed in the interest of freedom.

I say down with bravery in journalism. We have had Percy Qoboza, Zwelakhe Sisulu, Ruth First and many others. We don’t need another hero. We have had enough of those.

We are a country obsessed with death and dying, and, therefore, with heroes and heroism. The ruling party is held to ransom by children who think they missed out because they did not get an opportunity to die for their country, and now talk about life and death as if it is a sport.

Our country is littered with the graves of young men and women who believed it was their duty to fight for freedom. Towns and cities have changed the names of their streets to honour those we are told lived and died for this freedom.

We have a Constitution that has made heroes unnecessary. It has also made their suffering and in some cases, their deaths, worth the effort. Brave journalists are a symptom of an unfree society and that cannot just be a media problem. If anything it makes a mockery of the changed names.

A society that needs brave journalists is a troubled society. It is no different from a society such as the one we had a mere 20 years ago, where children were willing to die and kill for a cause, again in the name of bravery.

The day when journalists are measured by their bravery rather than the insight and meaningfulness of their gliding pens will be the day that freedom and democracy have been put on a life-support system. Once that has happened, many more of us will have to choose between being brave and living under the jackboot.

To pretend that the media seek certain special privileges, as some have, is to miss the point. It is as bad a misreading of our times as it would be if we thought that a government that unilaterally and whimsically takes away farms is opposed to farming as an industry.

So if you are ever moved by the spirit to fight for a freedom, let it not be a fight for media freedom. Fight for freedom itself, because freedom is indivisible.

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