The Fourth Estate’s MAT

In its motivation for the establishment of a Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT), the African National Congress released a document entitled Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity (MTOD). After having waded through it I was left with no doubt, despite often repeated sentiment on the values of media freedom and diversity, that the ANC’s primary goal has nothing to do with protecting either media independence or diverse media expression. The ruling party simply wants to muzzle independent thought.

I extracted from the copious fluff advocating the importance and value of freedom and diversity of speech, three enlightening statements I’ll share with you in support of my own conclusion.

“…some factions of the media continue to adopt an anti-transformation, anti- development and anti-ANC stance.” [MTOD page 2 – number 10.]

“Control of the media was one of the most important tools in the apartheid arsenal and a battery of censorship legislations played a role in helping to ensure the survival of the apartheid regime…” [MTOD page 7 – number 45.]

*”Our objectives therefore are to vigorously communicate the ANC’s outlook and values (developmental state, collective rights, values of caring and sharing community, solidarity, ubuntu, non sexism, working together) versus the current mainstream media’s ideological outlook (neo-liberalism, a weak and passive state, and over- emphasis on individual rights, market fundamentalism, etc.).” [MTOD page 7 – number 50.]

Do you get the gussied message? Allow me to paraphrase it for you… editors and journalists critical of the ANC, its members, its policies or its track record, must be legislated (scolded and intimidated) into obeisance of The Party’s pre-approved collective rights value system. And as long as they can get you to believe that you’re participating in meaningful debate on whether or not to cut your tongue out, you won’t realize that the ANC’s “National Democratic Revolution” (NDR) is an attempt to harness the wild horses to the revolutionary mill-wheel.

The “Fourth Estate”, as the document refers to the media (now apparently ranking equal to the legislature, judiciary and executive?), will be required to refrain from “neo-liberalism”. The ANC seeks to transfer control of the ‘economy of information’ from the private sector to the present custodian (It) of the public one.

“It needs media to critique public policies and their implementation, but do so in a manner that adds value to the national endeavor and reflect on the broader questions about how our souls are being poisoned by the spirit of conspicuous consumption in a socio-economic formation that encourages greed.” [MTOD page 83 – number 11.]

The MAT is a vehicle with which to impose a party political ideology. Together with it’s revolutionary comrade the Protection of Information Bill, MAT will effectively shackle independent investigative journalism, prevent access to information in the public interest, and punish editors and journalists for expressing contrary opinion. Sounds awfully like the machinations of an awakening socialist totalitarianism.

The ANC discussion document characterizes the print media as possessing “an astonishing degree of dishonesty, lack of professional integrity and lack of independence”, without citing any actual evidence to support its blanket condemnation of the print media in general. Are all journalists and editors unprofessional lap-dogs to shady “political agendas inimical to our democracy”? The criticisms could so easily apply to career politicians in the Liberation Party couldn’t they?!

In praising the virtues of diversity of expression the African National Congress has failed to realize the deep and abiding significance of the statement ‘freedom of diversity of expression’ in a democracy; that the people have the right NOT to believe!

Before preaching the gospel of we are all one under a revolutionary Sun, I’d like the drafters of this Trojan floor-covering to take some of their own medicine from the often quoted Brazilian educator and theorist Paulo Reglus Neves Freire, “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people, they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”

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