Media is too critical, says ANC

2015-07-04 13:07
ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize speaks to editors. (News24)

ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize speaks to editors. (News24)

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Johannesburg - The ANC believes in a free press but the local media is far too critical, a top official told editors on Saturday.

It needs to do some introspection on its reporting, including "sticky" stories such as those around Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize said.

The ruling party often feels that criticism from the media is "unwarranted" and "unfair", he told the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) at its annual general meeting in Johannesburg.

Mkhize started off by saying how the African National Congress believed in the "huge role" the media played in a democracy to ensure citizens are well-informed, before launching into a wide-ranging discussion on "concerns" about the media.

He listed several examples of stories the ANC was unhappy about, questioned the use of anonymous sources and the experience levels of journalists, adding that often "wrong translations" of statements by politicians appeared in the media.

He complained that despite the Press Ombudsman in some instances ruling in favour of the ANC, the party recently first needed to threaten to go to court before an apology was published.

Attacking the media

As far as the ANC could see, there was always a "sense of intolerance" toward it.

Mkhize said the ANC had a right to respond to reports but often this was interpreted as "the ANC attacking the media", he said.

"This needs a sit-down meeting so we can talk about it."

It happened that newspaper headlines were misleading, and the media often sensationalised stories such as President Jacob Zuma's recent visit to the University of Tshwane's Soshanguve campus where there was only "a bit of a scuffle with about 20 people", but on the front page, one newspaper was like "EFF something something with Zuma", said Mkhize.

The same with the opposition Congress of the People when it launched, he said - their picture was like a "screen saver" on television.

Not to mention the reaction of some editors with the acquisition of Independent Newspapers by the Sekunjalo Group in 2013.

"We were concerned about position taken by some editors with the Independent."

Parliament - media played the role of the opposition

The ANC expected opposition parties to be critical but when the media started playing the role of an opposition party, "it is a problem".

He cited the behaviour of journalists in parliament, in an apparent reference to protests from reporters at the opening of parliament about cellphone signals being jammed.

"There was another incident in parliament, cellphones were supposed to be off, you couldn't make the distinction between the opposition and the media," said Mkhize.

"We need a forum where we can sit and go through these discussions, instead of saying the ANC is now fighting the media and cracking down."

Zuma and Al-Bashir

The ANC was "dealing with issues" around media coverage of Zuma, where the party finds itself "in the court of public opinion", said Mkhize.

"Sometimes we get an impression, anything that is done, it is wrong."

When there were disruptions in parliament earlier this year, the ANC sometimes got the impression that "there were some cheering on the sidelines".

"It is one thing to criticise the president but ridicules and commentaries are issues we need to find time to discuss."

Turning to the controversy around Al-Bashir - who left South Africa despite a court order that he may not leave the country - Mkhize said it was a complicated matter.

Al-Bashir was attending an African Union summit in Johannesburg and the South African government was taken to court to be forced to arrest him on a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, but he slipped out of the country before the warrant could be executed.

"Some issues are very sticky. Like the Al-Bashir story...," said Mkhize, adding that "many of us" would not understand the implications of arresting a head of state on South African soil.

"We will never agree on this issue."

Build a united SA

The ANC would like to see the media rally behind the National Development Plan to build a united South Africa, just like what happened with the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

"We should be able to rally around it. We are not quite seeing as much energy on that front. Instead what becomes more visible, is attacking the NDP. It would be useful to have something we say can unite us, like with the World Cup. The NDP I think would be an issue there," said Mkhize.

More negative than positive

The media was generally more cynical and negative in its reporting than positive, said Mkhize.

Coverage of xenophobia focused only on foreign nationals' deaths, "but what about the equal number of South Africans who were killed?"

"Is there a way we could have balanced that issue differently?"

After his address, veteran journalist Raymond Louw asked Mkhize what his definition of patriotism was.

Mkhize complained that only sensational news made front pages, and that a general sense of cynicism and pessimism by the media was far outweighed by positive news.

Louw asked Mkhize if patriotism would not include pointing out the country's deficiencies, but the discussion was cut short due to time constraints and the pair agreed to disagree.

Press Ombudsman Johan Retief told Mkhize: "My door is open. If you don't understand or disagree, talk to me."

Mkhize more than once called for a platform for the ANC to raise its concerns with editors.

"Will there ever come a time that a political party will trust the media? That is what I want to raise with you. I'm trying to figure out a meeting where you have the whole Sanef debating," he said.

Read more on:    sanef  |  zweli mkhize­  |  johannesburg  |  media

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