Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) notes with concern the allegations, among other issues, of racism and lack of transformation within eNCA. We find ourselves in a heightened environment of pressure around media freedom, calls for media transformation and a public interest in the fight against censorship and a media that entrenches democratic principles rather than stifling them. We are in the middle of one of the most highly contested local government elections we have seen in the last 20 years, with levels of violence escalating. It is disturbing that more than 20 years into democracy we still see allegations of racism and lack of transformation being leveled at key media houses. We believe that eNCA has the potential to realize a real opportunity to redress a crisis of credibility that emerged in 2014. We also know that in 2014 despite the crises at eNCA it would appear little action was taken. At the time, MMA called for etv to take five steps to address its credibility crisis. It would seem that despite ongoing pressure, eNCA has yet to make its editorial policies public or to include their audiences in the process. We remain optimistic that under the leadership of Anton Harber these processes will now be more open and transparent.
In her open letter, Phakamile Hlubi indicated that the problems at eNCA include “lack of transformation, racism and salary discrepancies among people who do the same work”. She also raised her frustration in dealing with these issues with eNCA management. While these allegations have not been tested, as an organization committed to media freedom and promoting quality ethical reporting, we advocate for all media (including private media like eNCA) to practice journalism in an environment that is not toxic and riddled with fear and self-censorship. We advocate for media to encourage journalists to stand up for their rights, and not “frustrate them into quitting”. The possibility of being seen as having double standards, where one media house condemns another when there are concerns over free and critical journalism, cannot be underestimated.
In addition to the issues of transformation raised, last week we saw the South African Communist Party (SACP) protesting outside eNCA offices in Hyde Park. This was in response to eNCA commissioning IPSOSto conduct a poll to give indications of where we are heading regarding election results. SACP argued that the method used by IPSOS was not an accurate reflection of what was actually happening on the ground. The response given by eNCA was that “we did it because it increases interest in the ballot, gives us a sense of where things are heading, and should make both voters and political parties more aware of what they are dealing with and how important their vote will be”. While the media’s role includes increasing public interest in voting, this should be done through research that is rigorous, reliable and valid both in terms of the methods used and the findings made.
Yesterday’s ruling against SABC censorship by ICASA should not just be seen as applicable to the SABC alone. Rather private media should see it as a clarion call not to fall into the same trap as the SABC, but rather to ensure they commit themselves to practicing the highest standards of ethical journalism. In as much as we cannot tolerate what is being done to our public broadcaster, we also cannot stand by silently while private media houses are the subject of serious allegations of racism and lack of transformation. Media Monitoring Africa calls on eNCA to fully engage with their audiences in the review of their editorial policies and make these public. We also call on eNCA management to engage with civil society organisations on these matters so that together, we can find the best way forward and promote media freedom and quality journalism.
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Thandi Smith (MMA, Head of Policy Programme)
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