William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has issued the following statement in response to the ANC Youth League’s call for a boycott on Media 24 for its reporting on League leader Julius Malema as well as the ANC-led government.
Bird writes: The media has come under increasing attack in recent times with the latest being a call for a boycott on Media 24 issued by the ANCYL in Limpopo. Clearly any media that fails to convey or present news fairly and accurately is doing a disservice not only to its readers but to democracy as well. Many valid critiques of our media can be made in terms of their accuracy, quality, balance and speaking to all South Africans. Specifically the voices of the poor and marginalised are seldom heard or their needs catered for by the mainstream media. It should be noted that this is true not only of the bigger commercial media but also our public broadcaster. That so many South African’s views and stories are afforded so little voice in the media is a concern for all South Africans and all media and must be addressed. In this regard it should be noted that two of the bigger titles in to South Africa are targeted at lower income groups, the Daily Sun and The Voice, and while their content may at times be questionable they do have the support of the communities that read them.
Further it should also be noted that one of the few growth areas in the recent figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations is in the African language newspapers, specifically Isolezwe. Our media is by no means perfect of where it should be but without them there would be even less chance of the poor and the marginalised views being heard at all.
Accordingly calling for the boycott of any media house, be it Media 24, the SABC, or Bua news agency is both deeply unfortunate and constitutes a threat to media freedom, pluralism and diversity of the media.
This is not to suggest that a boycott should never be practised in a democratic state, rather MMA asserts that such drastic action only be undertaken when every possible avenue for constructive engagement and change has been exhausted with no effect.
The ANCYL press statement gives no supported evidence of such engagement. For such a drastic measure surely there would have to be incontrovertible research showing and proving the allegations made against Media 24. There is a claim in the press release that Media 24 publications “attack the ANC-led government as well as ANC leaders 37 times per day through publications such as Beeld and City Press.’ No source for this is provided nor is it clear if they had approached Media 24 with such evidence and sought redress, or indeed if they had lodged complaints with the Press Council or the courts.
Perhaps the most fundamental error of calling for a boycott however is to ask the question, who will really lose out if the boycott succeeds? You can be sure that the wealthy owners will not, they will simply move their capital elsewhere. The real losers will be the ordinary citizens, who will be deprived of numerous media titles and crucially information about what happens in South Africa. Maybe some of it is inadequate, and perhaps some even biased, but surely access to a greater diversity of views and news enables citizens to decide for themselves?
MMA is also deeply concerned by the viciousness of the recent attacks on the South African media – from the physical attacks on Tuesday outside Luthuli house, to calls for a boycott and other threats to media freedom. There can be no doubt that our media leaves a lot to be desired. We have seen them make some incredibly stupid, awful and appalling choices in their reporting, misquoting, making errors, being played by others, as well as poor ethical decision making. All these things are true. But, we must not forget, and cannot forget that overwhelmingly the media get a lot right a lot of the time, far far more in fact than they get wrong. Indeed if we were to look at any area in South African society we could make the same claim. A glance at the National Planning Commission Report on the State of our Nation could lead one to calling for a boycott of government for the failings pointed out therein. Clearly however that would be equally pointless, destructive and anti-democratic.
Journalists and media risk their lives on a daily basis to bring us the news. They have to report the best and the worst of our society, and they have to help us make sense of it. They will get it wrong, and they will err, but their role in reporting to us and the world big events like when we became a democracy in 1994 through to matric children who pass with several distinctions enables our democracy to function. Without free media there can be no democracy. We call on the ANCYL in Limpopo to rescind their call for a boycott and rather to engage with Media 24 directly with their concerns.