Storm brews over journalists' forum

“I saw nothing wrong,” said African National Congress president Jacob Zuma when asked whether he approved of the exclusion of white journalists from an address at the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ) on Friday.

“All of us as South Africans in the 13 years of democracy come from different backgrounds ... there are experiences that people would have that they may want to share”, he said.

Zuma was addressing journalists after the FBJ re-launch held at the Sandton Sun hotel in Johannesburg.

Zuma was only due to address the forum and then leave, but agreed to stay to address the media, including white journalists, to explain why he agreed to speak at an event that sparked controversy when white journalists were barred.

Asked whether he thought it was constitutionally correct to bar white journalists, Zuma said that was a question for the forum.

Abbey Makoe, FBJ steering committee chairperson, described his colleagues’ behaviour as “shocking”.

He accused the white journalists of “stage-managing” and causing a “total commotion” prior to Zuma’s arrival at the venue.

The forum allows African, Indian and coloured journalists to come together to “engage in healthy debate” regarding issues of common interest, Makoe had explained on Thursday.

Makoe said the body’s “modus operandi” was to “redress inherent past imbalances which affect journalists as they attempt to work in the public domain”.

He said the FBJ was no different from the Jewish Board of Deputies or the Black Lawyers’ Association.

Earlier, reporter Ben Said was turned away at the door and Stephen Grootes from 702 Talk Radio was asked to leave the venue after initially gaining entry.

Yusuf Abramjee and another journalist who had been allowed in left the venue in solidarity with Grootes.

Before leaving, they expressed their displeasure at the fact that white journalists were not allowed to participate in the forum.

Radio 702 laid a formal complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) of racial prejudice.

Earlier, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) strongly condemned the exclusion of white reporters, saying this “has no place in South Africa today”.

“Our democracy came after a hard-fought struggle at several levels, including the media, and every effort should be made to protect it,” Sanef said in a statement.

Sanef said while it strongly deplored the decision to exclude journalists who were not members of the organisation, it respected the FBJ’s right to organise and associate as it saw fit, “provided this does not undermine the open society and democratic values of our Constitution and country”.

The SAHRC confirmed receipt of the complaint and said it would be dealt with through its normal complaint process.

Spokesperson Vincent Moaga said: “We can’t comment further, we have to give the [FBJ] a chance ...
we don’t have all the facts.”—Sapa

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