It's the worst kind of racism to argue that black people should not worry about freedom of expression, as the SABC's Dali Mpofu seems to do, writes Sowetan editor Thabo Leshilo in the Mail & Guardian.  His article is a response to Mpofu's letter cutting ties with the SA National Editors' Forum over the Sunday Times use of the health minister's health records.

Sowetan editor Thabo Leshilo writes in the Mail & Guardian:

developed an uncanny ability to detect racist slurs and stereotyping very early in life. To me, the most demeaning caricature remains that of black Africans as subhuman savages who missed the evolutionary bus.

Sadly, that stereotype persists to this day in the idea that black people are concerned only with fulfilling their immediate basic needs. And many black commentators perpetuate the backward notion that we black people should not be concerned with such esoteric and European issues as global warming or media freedom.

Last week's letter from South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) CEO Dali Mpofu to the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) is the most explicit display I have yet encountered of the racist notion that genuine concern about the erosion of press freedom is nothing but a bourgeois indulgence or a white pastime.

Freedom of the press was so sacrosanct in our liberation struggle that we enshrined it in the Constitution.

The SABC bigwigs suggest that freedom of expression is the concern of a few white men, such as veteran media freedom fighter Raymond Louw. They maintain that those black people who squander time on media freedom in the face of our huge social and economic crisis are the black surrogates of the right-wing enemies of the democratic government. They count among these surrogates Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya, Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee and myself.

Well, things are not yet perfect in our fledgling democracy, even if we have by far the freest media in Africa. The democratic government recently launched an assault on our media freedom in the form of pre-publication censorship contained in the Films and Publications Amendment Bill.

Let me defer to Oom Ray. "Despite the constitutional guarantees of media freedom in South Africa, there are signs the government and its die-hard allies are slowly but surely imitating repressive governments' ways in their quest to hinder freedom of the media and freedom of expression," Louw said last year.

"This is reflected in the conduct of their officials in seeking to restrict the media. Access to information is not as readily available today as it was in the glow of 1994, which has rapidly faded. We now see spin-doctoring, if not downright lies, when uncomfortable and embarrassing information is to be dealt with, and much withholding of information."

His observations are glaringly true to all working journalists — and all freedom-loving South Africans should be concerned.

The campaign against media freedom tries to portray independent media as being motivated solely by profit, and therefore unqualified to hold public officials accountable.

Walk lightly there, my friend. Mpofu forgets that he gorges royally at the public trough. We in the independent press have to prove our worth to the public on a daily basis. What's more, Mpofu seems to forget that SABC advertising revenue comes from commercial enterprises.

Another favoured missile launched at the independent media is articulated by Mpofu himself, who says that in a new democracy it is "incumbent on all who treasure our freedom not to leave any uncontested space for those who seek to undermine or misrepresent it".

In other words, all black journalists and editors should rally behind him in the SABC's imaginary war against "black haters" who hide behind press freedom to "hijack our democracy".

Sorry, Dali, I'm unavailable for this intellectual buffoonery. Similarly, you have only yourself to blame for your inability to understand that Sanef could accept funding from the SABC and still criticise it. That is what happens in a democracy.

Mpofu and his cronies want to ram down our throats their sycophantic brand of "patriotic journalism". This non-journalism would have us extol the expertise of the surgeons who successfully implanted Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's new liver to show that we have world-class medical expertise.

The Sunday Times is today the most hated newspaper in government circles because it dared tell the public that that she is a convicted thief whose ineptitude has ruined our public health system. Mpofu tells us that such reporting in the public interest is inhumane and inimical to the values of ubuntu.

He pours scorn on Sanef for defending the newspaper's right to bring us these stories, saving his worst vitriol for Sanef's black members, accusing them of having traded their integrity for money and "pretending to be converted to foreign, frigid and feelingless 'freedoms'".

There we go again: because we are black, we cannot believe in the freedom of the press, but only pretend to be converted. We are, after all, savages incapable of comprehending the intricacies of such "foreign" universal values as press freedom in a free society.

Thabo Leshilo is editor of the Sowetan and a member of Sanef. He writes in his personal capacity