IN HIS latest Labour Wrap, Terry Bell points out that October 19 is the 40th anniversary of Black Wednesday. That is the day in 1977 when the apartheid government cracked down on media, detained journalists and banned the Union of Black Journalists, along with 19 pro-democracy organisations.
But this year in particular, he says, it should be remembered not as a mere historical event, but as a "clarion call to resistance” - the focus here being the public broadcaster, the SABC.
Bell maintains that “now is the time for all good people” to come to the aid of groups inside the SABC such as the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union and the Communications Workers’ Union. Last week the unions threatened strike action at the SABC if their demands were not met.
Prime among these demands was the one made by many other groups: the appointment of the long-delayed board at the public broadcaster. This demand was met earlier this week, when President Jacob Zuma belatedly appointed the new board.
However, the unions want much more - and Bell feels they should be supported. In their “joint communique” to acting chief executive Nomsa Philiso, they list a number of managers and others who were either “irregularly appointed” or who played roles in the intimidatory environment that resulted in the illegal sacking of eight journalists. They should be removed, say the unions.
This whole issue, Bell says, is not merely a matter concerning government, staff and management at the SABC. Because access to reliable, accurate information is “the lifeblood of any democracy”, the health of the public broadcaster should concern every citizen.
But because the public broadcaster has multiple platforms and a countrywide reach it was, is, and will probably remain the target of politicians, especially those who believe in the myth that media manipulation can control the masses. But while control may not be possible, the use of propaganda is extremely dangerous.
At the least, says Bell, it spreads confusion and may influence voting patterns. But it can also extend, as it did in Rwanda in 1994, to the encouragement of ethnic tensions that led to genocide.
On that basis, says Bell, it is important that every citizen becomes involved in what happens at the SABC.