Dear Hlaudi Motsoeneng: Your madness must stop

2016-05-27 10:44

In case you do not reach the bottom of this letter – due to other future dreams manifesting in your head – let me summarise in a few words what I wish to say: Your madness has got to come to an end.

In this lifetime I have seen a number of walking disasters ascend to critical positions of power. They never disappoint, as they are ready to mete out disastrous conduct. The ‘good’ that they do is often an insurance plan to gain momentary love from the public before they plunge into the next disastrous act. Cunningly you announced a strict application of 90% local music content for all SABC radio platforms knowing the popularity you would enjoy from such a move. Before the champagne bubbles have even fizzled out in celebration of that you have plunged into another disaster, declaring that the “SABC will no longer broadcast footage of destruction of public property during protests”.

There is a simple test that must be applied to this declaration. The SABC is a public broadcaster (Hello are you there?) and not a state broadcaster beholden to the whims of the governing party. Its services are squarely governed by the need to broadcast – at all time – that which is in public interest. Therefore, is your decision in the public interest? The simple answer is no. Simply defined, the public interest is seen as “the common well-being or general welfare”. The media stands to perform two fundamental tasks in the development of a nation’s psyche.

The first is to provide a mirror for us to reflect on who we are, what we are becoming and how we are articulating and performing our daily lived experiences. The second is to provide a platform for us to debate and dialogue about the future pathways we should pursue as a nation. In this instance, the media stands as an informer and consensus building platform for people that are separated by distances that are formed by mountains, rivers, forests and other natural endowments of our land.

The SABC must not only report without fear or favour. It must go a step further and report in service of the country, independent of being swayed by politics of the day. This has become virtually an impossibility under your leadership. Even prior to your arrival at the top echelons of power in the SABC, that institution had always been a contested terrain. However, today it is no longer contested, it is now a captured terrain in the interests of the governing party. Whilst we worry about the capture of government by the Guptas, there is also a scarier capture that receives less attention. That capture is of institutions such as the SABC, which should stand as one of the bulwarks of our democratic consolidation processes.

All people who have studied the formation of tyrannies and totalitarian states know that the control of the media to influence a deliberately crafted messaging of news is one of the first tasks that aspirant tyrants undertake. There are two forms of tyranny, one carried out by an individual at all costs (without political competition) and the other by a political party in a system of political competition characterised by one-party dominance. This often occurs when the dominant party begins to lose its credibility amongst the populace and faces imminent decline from its prominent position as the governing party. Operative stooges (armed with positional power) are then found to systematically engineer a positive image and boost the dwindling credibility of the governing party. You, Motsoeneng, have been one faithful and abiding operative stooge armed with positional power and cloaked with uncontrollable appetite for stardom and luxurious living.

Not only has your appointment been pronounced as irrational by a court of law, you seem to also make irrational pronouncements. Your decision not to broadcast “footage of destruction of public property during protests” is badly rationalised. You state that “it is regrettable that these actions are disrupting many lives and as a responsible public institution we will not assist these individuals to push their agenda that seeks media attention.” Indeed we regret the repercussions inherent in the destruction of public property, but the rest of your statement is waffle.

The SABC is not a promoter of violence and should never view itself as such. The broadcaster should report on violence and contextualise its reporting within the frame of supporting and operationalising our constitutional democracy. Reporting does not equate to promotion. It is all dependent on the packaging of your news material and I am confident there are serious and trusted news editors within the SABC but in your haughty head you think your inability and lack of will to imagine factually and contextually entraps everybody in that institution.

Images of property destruction are innate in the holistic reporting of an incident where such destruction occurred. The story would be censored, half-baked and unseen if you are allowed to implement this proposed midnight dream of yours. In any case, the public property that is being destroyed is funded by public funds. The ultimate custodians of all public affairs are the citizens of this country. It is therefore in the public interest that citizens are shown regularly the attacks and destruction committed on the fruits of their hard labour.

In these trying times, the role of the SABC should be to promote discussion and dialogue in society, in an attempt to understand the underlying causes to the heightened use of violence(s) in various types of protest. Some of us in academia are trying to find ways to make time to research and better understand these developments. Media is one of the arenas we turn to in order to see visuals on the types of violence used, the state (emotions, energy, songs sung etc.) of the people involved and the types of properties targeted. In the absence of these visuals you stand to short circuit significant amounts of research. Departments of Media Studies across the country should take you to task and resist this move.

The other reason why you must be taken to task is that fundamentally your interventions tamper significantly with independent news storytelling and opens a passage for future tampering. Slowly the still remaining credibility of the SABC will be eroded. We do not suffer from amnesia and therefore we remember how your tyranny has stopped some talk show hosts from talking to the individuals they had planned for their shows on the 11th hour. This is often done out of some stupid desire to have the ANC safeguarded by you through the SABC.

You have now once more demonstrated that you seek to assist the ANC led government to be a recipient of good news, what Jacob Zuma has harped on as a need for ‘positive reporting’. Positive reporting only germinates from a situation where positive acts are found overwhelmingly. You cannot engineer good news and the moment you seek to do that you enter us into unfamiliar territory of the birthing of tyrannical rule.

You further made these remarks, “As a public service broadcaster we have a mandate to educate the citizens, and we therefore have taken this bold decision to show that violent protests are not necessary”. This is mind boggling. In order to demonstrate that violent protest is unnecessary you ought to report and show the violence – give shock imagery (Media studies 101 on the effects of visuals – sorry you would not know), contextualise the violence by seeking researchers, protesters and onlookers to narrate their findings and lived experiences respectively. Thereafter you do follow up reports on the consequences of violent protests by doing post protest interviews. You do not approach news of national importance as events, you insert them in the continuum of a country’s development trajectory. I hope this makes sense.

You have long overstayed your undue appointment in the top echelons of power in the SABC. The more we allow you a day extra in office, the more we welcome the exacerbation of the SABC’s capture by politics of tyranny.

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