'Raymond Louw was a media freedom fundamentalist' – Mathatha Tsedu

2019-06-05 14:05
Veteran journalist Raymond Louw upon receiving an honourary doctorate from Rhodes University's in Grahamstown in 2012. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Werner Hills)

Veteran journalist Raymond Louw upon receiving an honourary doctorate from Rhodes University's in Grahamstown in 2012. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Werner Hills)

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Raymond Louw's defence of media freedom was to a point of being fundamentalist, because he wouldn't give an inch. We would sometimes differ but only because Ray wanted more freedom, never less, says Mathatha Tsedu.

One day some time ago, Raymond Louw and I were in the Free State doing some work together. We were sitting on a bench, chatting, and a colleague suggested we take a picture.

"This has to be a historic picture," said the colleague. "Both Ray and Mathatha are smiling!"

It was a joke, but it reflected the kind of friendship we had. We fought a lot, but that was because we both felt open enough to tell each other the truth as we saw it.

Ray was against everything and everyone who tried to stifle media freedom; whether it was in the form of the proposed secrecy bill, or something else government did, or a snipe about how the media reported on something – Ray would be its loudest opponent.

I used to say that Ray's defence of media freedom was to a point of being fundamentalist, because he wouldn't give an inch. We would sometimes differ but only because Ray wanted more freedom, never less.

Ray joined the Rand Daily Mail as a reporter in 1946. He then went on to work for various British newspapers from 1951 to 1956 and became night news editor of the Rand Daily Mail in 1957, and the editor of the Sunday Times in 1959.

During his career and in retirement he was involved in so many bodies that champion media rights: the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), the Campaign for Open Media. He was chairperson of the Media Defence Trust, vice president of South African PEN, a fellow of the International Press Institute and a founder member of the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef). In 2002, he became the Africa Consultant for the US-based World Press Freedom Committee, and was the chairman of the SA Press Council from 2008 to 2013.

Ray and I started at MISA together; I moved on but he remained and worked on the cause until very recently. Despite his age, whenever something happened in the media space Ray would be the first to know and he would be drafting a statement that encompassed all the issues that would be relevant to the situation. Even if nobody else would pitch up to a meeting you could be sure that Ray would be there.

As editor of the Daily Mail he led a team that did a lot of great work. Under his editorship the newspaper was critical of the apartheid government and pulled in more black readers, which is unfortunately what eventually led to it being closed, as the increased numbers of black readers didn't

At the time he also received criticism about allegations that black journalists had to give their copy to white journalists to check and that white journalists had better facilities to work on and such. Of course, this was at a time that apartheid was still rife but the fact that he presided over this might be the only blemish on his character.

Knowing how militant Ray would later become, some people like myself might say that he should've stood up to the system and refused to be part of something that oppressed black journalists. But he was no angel. He was a human being. And nothing could take away from the fact that he was a good editor, a brilliant journalist and forever in pursuit of the truth. His commitment to journalism and the energy he put into fighting for media freedom will be remembered always.

- Tsedu is the former editor of City Press and former chairperson of Sanef.

Read more on:    mathatha tsedu  |  raymond louw  |  media freedom
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