Now that the media’s EFF infatuation is over, there is talk about censoring the racist, sexist, fascist bullies. That would be undemocratic. It would be bad journalism.
Addressing the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards, Mavuso Msimang said media show poor judgment when giving publicity to destructive causes.
Msimang cited EFF demonstrations outside the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Since then EFF thugs trashed at least one Vodacom store in response to Msimang’s depiction of Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu as abusers of democracy.
In both instances (state capture inquiry and Vodacom store), democracy was abused. Not for the first time. There is a pattern. And journalists have long been targets.
In 2010 Malema ejected a BBC journalist from a conference, accusing him of “white tendencies”, calling him a “bastard” and “bloody agent”. In March, Shivambu attempted to throttle a journalist outside parliament. In 2012 Shivambu called another journalist a “white bitch”.
For upholders of democracy and freedom of expression, what is the appropriate response to abuse? Msimang says the EFF should be deprived of oxygen: “Publicity is the oxygen it needs to survive.” Indeed, that argument is frequently heard, but consider its implications.
You don’t like what someone is saying or doing. It offends your sensibilities. So, your instinct is to ignore or suppress what is being said. Really? Is that democratic? Is that good journalism?
Another who would censor the EFF is columnist Max du Preez. Last week he suggested, “media outlets should start publishing the Truth-O-Meters used in some parts of the world to quickly fact-check politicians’ utterances”.
Du Preez declares: “Facts matter! And it is our primary job as journalists to make sure that they do.” Yes, facts matter. But facts do not speak for themselves. In politics, facts are selected, presented and viewed selectively.
Last week Spectator columnist Charles Moore mocked a UK version of the Truth-O-Meter. He described the BBC’s Reality Check device as hubris. “It (Reality Check) effectively says: ‘We report untrustworthy politicians …. You, the stupid viewer/listener, obviously cannot be expected to work out where the truth lies. Our expert correspondents will tell you.’”
Moore captures the presumptuousness of journalistic hubris. Already, by their selection of stories, journalists seek to influence what we should read and how we should interpret news.
Reporting, as distinct from opinion writing, should not be subject to a further filter such as a Truth-O-Meter, which is opinion dressed up as fact. Report on what’s happening. Expose the VBS looters. Investigate how, according to Ferial Haffajee, “the EFF may be using its kingmaker status in coalition governments to secure rents” in Johannesburg and elsewhere. Where there’s smoke, there’s a cigarette smuggler.
Let the audience decide whether EFF leaders are hypocritical or untruthful. Is democracy under threat? Yes. Will suppression strengthen democracy? No.
Censoring the EFF would boost their victimhood credentials. Think again.