My submission to the Press Freedom Commission
Following my September 2008 email detailing what I thought were irregular practices in the Gauteng Department of Public Transport, Roads and Works – and the allegations, counter-allegations and investigation that followed – my name was unfairly dragged through the mud by the media.
I do feel, and have made the allegations in the past, that the hand of Ignatius Jacobs, former MEC of the department, was behind some of the negative coverage of me in City Press in late 2008.
The central thrust of these articles was that the contract surrounding the construction of a certain hospital was messy, and the impression was created that the failure to deliver the hospital was due to inefficiency or even corruption on my part, which was not the case.
In my opinion, the articles were completely biased, inaccurate and unfair as they sought to paint me in a negative light despite me having provided comprehensive information to the journalists from City Press. In order to assist in clearing my name and improving my dented public image, I have attempted to tackle some of what I thought was unfair media coverage.
This involved challenging the City Press coverage, the substance of which I took issue with. I was advised that the press ombud did not consider this matter as I had resigned from my position as HOD of the department. I thereafter petitioned the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on this issue. Sanef responded by saying that it was not the correct platform for this, and I needed to re-approach the press ombudsman. This has proved to be a wild goose chase.
Unmitigated abuse of the power
The Press Freedom Commission has invited members of the public to submit their views about press freedom and about the regulation of the print media. This invitation has been published in various newspapers under the heading, “NOW IS THE TIME TO VOICE YOUR OPINION”.
This invitation was attractive enough to inspire me to write a submission – based entirely on my personal experience with the print media. It is important at this stage to clarify that I do not consider myself to be an expert on the topic – my opinion derives from what I consider to be unmitigated abuse of the power of the pen by those who have access to this power.
In this regard, I have come to the conclusion that press freedom is integral to democracy. There can be no guarantee of democratic governance without a robust and free media. Free media is the ultimate test of true democracy.
There is, however, a problem with the press in South Africa, particularly with print media. Based on my personal experience, I have narrowed the problem to three basic issues:
- Too much reliance on anonymous sources;
- Speculation that masquerades as journalism; and
- Lack of accountability.