In the 1980s at the height of apartheid, PW “Groot Krokodil” Botha kicked journalists out of townships, be-cause he didn’t want the truth to be told: that the country was in the grip of a revolution, and the state was using violent force in an attempt to quell the revolution.
What SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi “With meatballs” Motsoeneng is doing, with his decision to no longer broadcast footage of protesters destroying public (or presumably) private property, is no different.
In both instances the truth is being wilfully withheld from the voting public, which incidentally has a right to know not only the good news (read “sunshine journalism”), but also the bad news.
How else does one make a informed decision about where to put one’s cross on Wednesday August 3?
Now, if you engage with Mr Motsoeneng to interrogate his motives, he will protest volubly that they are entirely different to what were the motives of “Die Groot Krokodil” way back then.
It’s all about “nation building” he will tell you, and it is also “responsible journalism” to not broadcast people burning property. Airing footage of protesters destroying what government has given them, will encourage others to do the same, you see.
“We’ll not show footage of people who are burning property in order to discourage them from thinking that they can just attract our attention by burning those properties. We believe that behaviour is disruptive,” reckons SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago, adding that it is absolutely not self-censorship.
They’re just doing it to attract the SABC’s attention? Really? How does one put this in a way that you will understand, Messrs Motsoeneng and Kganyago? The protesters really have no interest in attracting your (SABC) attention per se, but they really do want to attract the attention of government, because it is government with which they are so angry. Because government consistently fails to deliver its promised better life for all.
And the very best way they can attract the attention of government meaningfully, is for the general public to see what they are destroying and why they are destroying it, not to mention how government is reacting to the destruction.
It comes as no surprise to hear that the ANC has commended this decision. ANC masterful doctor of spin, Zizi Kodwa says: “If the editorial policy of the national broadcaster is to educate, entertain and create awareness, among others, it will be correct. It’s a responsible decision, it’s responsible journalism, and it’s not self-censorship. It’s a responsible one to an extent that you don’t show what is not in the good interest of nation-building.”
What more could a ruling party that is literally on the ropes, punch-drunk, as its opponents close in for the kill in a crucial election year, ask for? This is electoral manna from heaven.
One could be forgiven for assuming that this decision by Mr Motsoeneng was a stroke of individual genius, rather than simply following orders from Luthuli House, or perhaps from a particular office in the Union Buildings.
In one fell swoop, the mayhem that is sweeping the country – Fort Hare University, Vuwani, Hammanskraal, the list will grow longer – will be expunged from the SABC’s airwaves. The struggles of communities protesting disgraceful levels of service delivery, the direct responsibility of the government of the day, are conveniently airbrushed out of existence. And only the ANC will benefit.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not violent service delivery protests and the destruction of property in communities governed by the DA will be aired.