Head of the Presidency in the African National Congress, Smuts
Ngonyama, this week objected to cartoons of ANC leaders “as beetroots,
or with showers grafted onto their heads”, writes Phakamisa Ndzamela.

Speaking at a Wits University public colloquium on the ANC's draft media policy, Ngonyama said cartoon characters were created “without any back-up analysis or fact”.

He said the “the notion that the media was ideologically neutral and non-partisan was not true”. 

In support of this analysis, he pointed to reports in the run up to the 2006 local government elections, when some in the media said the ANC would have a decline in a number of votes because of lack of delivery.  In the end, the ANC won convincingly. “We drew the conclusion that we were punished by the media,” he said.

The ANC believed that it was faced by an ideological battle and the question that arose was whether the media was pursuing a certain agenda, said Ngonyama.

He added that another concern was that journalists made decisions on what stories to be covered but there was nothing said about journalists’ personal preferences that may influence them in taking decisions.

Editor of the Mail and Guardian Ferial Haffajee said “anywhere in the world and especially in a robust African  democracy” a health minister with an alcohol problem would be a story because a health minister embodied the principles of health and a personal responsibility for one’s own health.

She argued this would be a fair and leading story for coverage in Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia Senegal, Malawi and other countries, “yet here this is now held up as a symbol of a media that is in essence on an ideological offensive”.

Jane Duncan of the Freedom of Expression Institute said government advertising should not be used to punish the media and that advertising in the media should not be used as a potential censorship device.

On the question of self-regulation, Ngonyama said there was a fundamental issue that had not been addressed.

He said there was little space given to the public and “that’s where the issue of a tribunal comes to the fore”. The thinking of the society was that self-regulation was favouring the media, he said.

Haffajee said the Press Council did have public representatives and that veteran journalist Joe Thloloe was there as an ombudsman to address the concerns of the public around media.

Talking to the issue of diversity and funding models in the media, businessman Sakhumzi “Saki” Macozoma said “in this … capitalist mode of society, the reality is that as long as it is the shareholders’ money that is used to create and to run the media, institutions will have certain shareholder [expectations]”. He said it was not possible to have a commercial media without a shareholder expectation of profit.

He added that “if we don’t pay attention to the recruitment training of media people across diverse backgrounds we are not going to get diversity.”

Macozoma said that diversity was not only creating institutions such as the Media Diversity and Development Agency (MDDA). 

“I also think that if we are going to make a difference, the Department of  Education needs to  embark on a programme to have media skills taught at media centres being established for people to develop.”

Media researcher Kate Skinner, one of the panellists said,  “You may have a plethora of different media but if you don’t have a whole lot of competing views you don’t have media diversity.”

Libby Lloyd, a former CEO of the MDDA, said diversity was also about ownership, content and content producers, but ownership alone did not lead to content diversity.

She added that giving the MDDA more funding would not necessarily make the media diverse. “It cannot alone achieve diversity because it only funds small and micro media.” The MDDA could not assist small players in bringing a competition case against the big players because the big players were the major funders,” she said.

Speaking on the role and the mandate of the public broadcaster and editorial independence, Minister of Communications Ivy Matsepe Cassaburi said the public broadcaster had to try and engage all the people in South Africa.

Group CEO of the SABC, Dali Mpofu, said universal access, plurality of views, and servicing under-serviced communities were very important.

Mpofu said the issue was not only about geographic access but about class, language, gender and many other issues.

Dean of Humanities at Wits University, Professor Tawana Kupe, said the SABC reached more members of the public than any media because of its language accessing. The SABC was unbeatable on that level, he said.

Duncan said there was concern about the lack of a direct working class voice on the SABC board. She said appointments were turning out a first economy board. She added that if the SABC was going to represent everyone, then the constitution of the board needed to be taken seriously.