Let’s license lying SABC bosses instead

SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng's proposal that journalists be licensed is a ploy to get us to accept dangerous threats to our democracy. By Verashni Pillay.

Verashni-Pillay-180SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng has a delightful proposal for journalists: we should all be licensed. Apparently he thinks we should be treated like doctors and lawyers: proper professionals with a licence to practice, framed certificates on the wall and everything.

Motsoeneng, we’re flattered. And while we’re about it, can we professionalise the executives who run our public broadcaster, too? I’d love to see your qualifications framed and up on a wall.

But that’s not going to happen because, besides making news with his nonsensical proposals for journalists, Motsoeneng has dominated headlines because of his repeated misrepresentations about his qualifications.

Rumour has it Motsoeneng remained in his position thanks to his powerful connection with Number One, President Jacob Zuma.

And one thing Motsoeneng and Zuma do have in common is a dislike for an interrogating media that does not allow either of them to get away with much and has caused them both mass embarrassment. Cue the calls to regulate the media.

We’ve been here before. A few years ago it was threats for the media tribunal, which came from the very top of government and the ANC, and was reinforced through repeated hints and threats. Accordingly, civil society and the media rallied. We reasoned, compromised and cajoled government against anything so harsh. What the hell is a media tribunal anyway? I’m still not sure. All I know is that we launched a press commission, and changed the very nature and composition of our regulatory system — from self-regulation to “co-regulation” in a system that some saw as open to manipulation and potentially dangerous.

That was 2012. In the meantime, the secrecy bill was going on in the background, too. Likewise, we lobbied until the draconian clauses were “watered down”. And that’s what we have right now: a “watered down” poison to our democracy sitting on Zuma’s desk waiting to be signed into law. We’ll naturally take it to the constitutional court if he does, of course, as it contradicts the very tenets on which our democracy is based. But Zuma is yet to sign it, so anyone wanting to challenge the Bill is yet to fight it. What is he waiting for? A more complacent selection of judges at the constitutional court once our Judicial Services Commission is done watering that down too? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Which is why I refused to respond to Motsoeneng’s proposal that journalists be licensed. The debate around whether journalism is a trade like plumbing that you learn through apprenticeship or a profession like law has been raging for decades. It’s a good debate as the craft itself changes enormously, but it is one that must be held on its own merits: not as a thin veneer for some power-hungry, deeply compromised government deployee wants to control journalists.

You see, the threats of a media tribunal and now licencing of journalists constitutes brilliant PR. If I had a very unpopular idea that I wanted the public to accept, I would first propose an extreme version of the idea. For example: let’s put e-tolls on all roads in South Africa. Then I would allow my detractors to “win” what may look like major concessions and present a watered down version of the idea. For example: “Oh, okay, we’ll just do e-tolls in Gauteng then. And only on national roads. My detractors get to feel victorious and I get my original idea passed.” Easy.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Similarly, the media tribunal and the threats to license journalists are essentially a red herring. Together with the more draconian version of the Protection of State Information Bill, they created a perfect storm of threats against free media. Accordingly, we all rose up and wore ourselves out defeating this spectre, and with, say, eight out of 10 battles won, we’ll be happy to let two or so slide by and get signed into law.

Such as the bill’s proposal for bulk classification of sensitive battles. That means, if the bill was applied to the Nkandla situation, the fact that we rightfully should not report on, say, the strength of the bulletproof glass at Zuma’s residence for security reasons, we would not be able to report on anything else. The exorbitant fees that were charged, the use of public funds for features such as a lavish swimming pool that were clearly not for security purposes, the complete trashing of normal procurement processes and more. The same could be applied to any investigative story. Find one detail in the documents that is legitimately sensitive, and the state gets to classify everything and keep journalists at bay — or risk over 10 years of their life in jail.

This is not democracy. And, yes, Motsoeneng, we don’t even need to tell you how ridiculous your proposal is to license journalists because we see right through it.

  • Verashni Pillay is an associate editor at the Mail & Guardian
  • Visit the Mail & Guardian Online, the smart news source

Share this article

Why TechCentral?

We know that as a prospective advertiser, you are spoilt for choice. Our job is to demonstrate why TechCentral delivers the best return for your advertising spend.

TechCentral is South Africa’s online technology news leader. We don’t say that lightly. We believe we produce the country’s best and most insightful online tech news aimed at industry professionals and those interested in the fast-changing world of technology.

We provide news, reviews and comment, without fear or favour, that is of direct relevance to our fast-expanding audience. Proportionately, we provide the largest local audience of all technology-focused online publishers.

We do not constantly regurgitate press releases to draw in search engine traffic — we believe websites that do so are doing their readers and advertisers a disservice. Nor do we sell “editorial features”, offer advertising “press offices” or rely on online bulletin-board forums of questionable value to advertisers to bolster our traffic.

TechCentral, which is edited and written by award-winning South African journalists, cares about delivering top-quality content to draw in the business and consumer readers that are of most interest to technology advertisers.

We’d like the opportunity to demonstrate the value of directing a portion of your advertising budget to TechCentral, whether your company is in the technology field or not. Numerous opportunities exist for companies interested in reaching our audience of key decision-makers in South Africa’s dynamic information and communications technology sector. We offer packages that will deliver among the best returns on investment available in the online technology news space.

For more information about advertising opportunities, and how your organisation can benefit by publicising itself on TechCentral, please call us on 011-792-0449 during office hours. Or send us an e-mail and ask for our latest rate card and brochure.