/ 3 February 2008

Nzimande launches stinging attack on City Press

South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande has accused City Press newspaper of adopting an ”extremely hostile attitude” towards African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma.

In an open letter published in Sunday’s City Press, Nzimande, who is also a member of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), tore into the paper for ”deliberately” writing about the party in a ”provocatively factionalist, divisive and highly subjective manner”.

The letter was addressed to Media24’s MD, Hein Brand, and publishing chief executive Francois Groepe.

”As far as I’m concerned, City Press has ceased to be a newspaper. It has become a lobby group inside our structures,” wrote Nzimande.

Slamming its ”pseudo-journalism”, he said he would have objected as strongly had the newspaper so ”passionately and factionally” come out in support of Zuma as it had for President Thabo Mbeki before and after the ANC’s Polokwane conference.

He said last Sunday’s story headlined ”Cracks in Zuma’s NEC” was a case in point.

”Apart from a deliberate distortion of ANC procedures and decisions in this article, City Press decided to privilege four anonymous and faceless sources over on-the-record responses of three senior leaders of the ANC who denied that there was ever an incident in which the ANC president supposedly burst out in anger over alleged gossip or ‘plots’ against him.”

‘Atmosphere of fear’

In its response, published on the front page of Sunday’s edition, City Press editor Mathatha Tsedu said South African media were being forced to rely more heavily on unnamed sources. This was due to ”an atmosphere of fear that is being created in this country”.

Nzimande wrote that boycotting City Press had been discussed at ANC alliance structure meetings.

In a possible hint to Media24’s management that it should fire the newspaper’s editors, Nzimande asked whether the current editors were capable of a ”non-partisan and professional” relationship with ANC leaders. ”Frankly I have my most serious doubts on this score,” he wrote.

In his reply, Tsedu wrote that the newspaper refused to ”bow to the new gods”.

He said Nzimande had chosen ”intimidatory tactics” over going to the Press Council of South Africa. Nzimande called the press ombudsman a ”relatively toothless institution”.

Tsedu said the newspaper stood by its story, and added: ”The accusation that we could be playing a divisive role by pointing at divisions is spurious in the extreme. The ANC does not need a divider. It is divided.”

Freedom of Expression Institute director Jane Duncan said it was ”deeply disturbing” that the letter was addressed to Media24’s management instead of the City Press editor.

”The unavoidable inference from Nzimande’s letter is that he considers Tsedu to be the main problem and wants Media24’s managers to intervene either to bring Tsedu to heel or even remove him,” City Press quoted Duncan as saying.

‘Media must stand firm’

The Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on communications, Dene Smuts, said the letter was ”threatening” and indicative of the intolerance that could be expected from the ANC’s new leadership. ”All media houses must stand firm,” she said.

Referring to a Sunday Independent report, she said that the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) had already been called to several meetings with the ANC over its reporting on Zuma and Mbeki.

The Sunday Independent quoted an anonymous ANC source as saying that the party had told SABC chief executive Dali Mpofu: ”We don’t want the SABC to be the mouthpiece of the next ANC government; we just want you to act professionally.”

New SABC board chairperson Khanyisiwe Mkhonza also had ”her ear pulled”, the report read. The board was controversially appointed by Mbeki after the ANC’s Polokwane conference.

ANC spokesperson Tiyani Rikhotso was quoted as saying: ”Our expectations of the SABC are similar to those of any citizen; we want a broadcaster that executes its public-service mandate.”

Smuts said the ANC’s communications policy that emerged from Polokwane was a ”hopelessly incoherent document”, adding: ”The only thread that runs clearly through it is that the media must serve the national democratic revolution and the ANC.” — Sapa