18 March 2010

State institutions being deployed to silence journalists?

COSATU, the media and journalists

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has noted with serious concern the dispute between the ANC Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu and a group of prominent journalists.

We are pleased that the serious issues arising from the dispute have been referred to the ANCYL, the ANC, the Presidency and the Press Ombudsman for investigation and adjudication.

At this stage the federation wishes to state that, in watching this development, we shall be guided by the following principles: 
  1. Clause 16.1 of the Bill of Rights, which says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes ­freedom of the press and other media;” COSATU will always act in a manner that protects these basic freedoms, for we know all about the apartheid past we are emerging from.
  2. The right of all South African to criticise the press and other media when they misinform the public, spread falsehoods or slander individuals. COSATU has on many occasions criticised the media when we felt it misrepresented our positions and when we felt that they allowed themselves to be sucked into factional battles in the Alliance.  
  3. The right of all workers, including those in the media, to the full protection of the laws of the country, including the right to privacy and not to be falsely accused. We are completely opposed to personal attacks and vilification of individuals. The federation draws an important distinction between criticisms of the media as an institution, which are legitimate and often necessary, and attacks on individual media workers, who are entitled to the same rights and protections as all other workers and who need to treated with respect.  
  4. Opposition to the misuse of state structures to obtain confidential information on individuals. It appears that this may have happened and we will be very happy for an investigation to establish the truth of this. If is true that state institutions are being deployed to silence the media, COSATU will be extremely concerned. The whole battle in the ANC Polokwane conference and the whole struggle for liberation was amongst others to ensure that the state institutions are not abused for narrow political and factional ends.

COSATU will always take a critical view of the media, especially the South African print media which is owned by just three giant private companies and generally serves the interest of big business. We shall not hesitate to complain whenever the media is distorting the truth, slandering individuals or misrepresenting the workers’ movement and its allies.

If however the allegations contained in the complaint by 19 journalists are true, we will not hesitate to condemn any attempt to intimidate journalists.

This will not be only an unacceptable attack on fellow workers but will make the media even more likely to present a biased version of the truth, as reporters and editors will not write the truth for fear of retaliation.

Attempts to threaten the media workers into censoring politically embarrassing stories could well be the first step in a descent towards Zanufication, dictatorship and a banana republic. There must be no return to those days.

We call on the ANCYL, ANC, Presidency and the Press Ombudsman to leave no stone unturned in their investigation of the allegation.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets
Braamfontein, 2017

P.O. Box 1019
Johannesburg, 2000

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080/6940/ 086 603 9667
Cell: 0828217456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za