The new cencorship

2010-02-01 00:00

IT’S the new news blackout. Teachers, nurses, doctors, prosecutors, police officers, municipal workers, government workers, corporate employees and traffic officers­ are all gagged and legitimately­ off limits to journalists who are trying to gather material for their stories. And we can forget about help from the spin PhDs who try to suppress bad news about their organisations and departments as hard as we try to expose it.

With staff being threatened with dire consequences if they reveal organisational information, it is becoming more and more difficult­ for journalists to find people­ to quote for the stories we feel we must write. As the media grow more feisty in post-apartheid South Africa, so it seems that those in positions of authority are feeling more threatened and are clamping down on the information that we should have access to on all levels.

Our long-suffering municipal reporter Sanelisiwe Shamase deserves frustration pay, never mind danger pay. What used to be a quick phone call to get some municipal­ comment, has now become a couple­ of e-mails, calls and SMSs begging for some crumbs of information.

Almost everyone we contact now wants every question in writing­. Preferably a month before you want to write the story which only broke at noon today and which you need to have ready for the early deadline at 6 pm.

Last week we heard with dismay of two more contacts that we may as well cross off our lists.

One of the latest groups to be gagged are court prosecutors, after­ Natonal Prosecuting Authority­ (NPA) boss Menzi Simelane issued­ a directive that they may no longer speak to the media without clearing it with some no doubt uncontactable higher authority­.

Others who have for all intents and purposes been silenced, are our local impressively efficient SAPS spokespeople in the city, senior superintendent Henry Budhram and Inspector Joey Jeevan. We are led to believe that this follows a directive right from the top — Bheki Cele himself, some say. Whoever it was thought that the move to shift the dissemination of all crime-related information to provincial level would be beneficial for police news in the media. Poor misguided soul. Here’s why.

Recently we ran a story about a mysterious shooting in Hayfields in the early hours of the morning, in which shots were fired at the occupants of a car, with some witnesses alleging that police opened fired both irresponsibly and with unnecessary force. We were unable­ to elicit a response from the provincial police spokes- person­, despite numerous phone calls and e-mails asking for their side of the story. The result? Residents wrote and phoned in saying that they believed the entire shooting episode was being hushed up by police for some arcane­ reason. Conspiracy theories­ abounded. Not good police­ PR.

The other story that we never wrote was a good news story about someone getting great service­ from Mountain Rise Police Station. Yep, you heard right. Mountain Rise getting some praise for a change. Well, you probably won’t hear that story from us, because we were unable to verify the incident with the provincial­ spokespeople. It must be said that one cannot lay the blame entirely at their door as they now have to respond to media queries for the entire KwaZulu-Natal and probably can’t cope, having had their work load massively increased.

Getting comment or answers to questions for most pieces we write, has become a bureaucratic nightmare. In many cases, pleas for comment are simply ignored, or we are continually promised responses which simply never arrive. Another tactic is to be continually unavailable. Voicemail messages are never returned.

So to all the brave teachers, health workers, prosecutors, members of the SAPS, municipal workers, government workers, corporate employees, traffic officers­ and members of the NPA, who continue to help us in the media­ by leaking information on the quiet — those reliable unnamed sources — we salute you. Without you, there would be far more being covered up and a lot less for us to tell readers.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.