White journalists fume over forum's Zuma meet

White journalists expressed their dismay after they were denied access to the “hottest news ticket in town” when barred from listening to African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma at a forum exclusively for black journalists.

Zuma addressed the Forum of Black Journalists’ (FBJ) relaunch at the Sandton Sun hotel in Johannesburg on Friday. The ANC president himself saw nothing wrong with white journalists being denied entry to the event, in which he delivered an off-the-record address.

“I saw nothing wrong,” said Zuma when asked whether he approved of the exclusion of white journalists. “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.”

The ANC president’s arrival at the forum after midday spurred white journalists, waiting in the wings outside, into action. He was questioned about why he would address a gathering that excluded journalists on the basis of race.

He declined to comment immediately but, after delivering his address to the forum, he agreed to a five-minute press briefing with all the media—including white journalists—to explain himself.

Zuma said he has been invited to speak in many different forums and is currently considering an invitation from the Black Management Forum.

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

Earlier, reporter Ben Said from e.tv was denied entry to the room. Talk Radio 702’s Stephen Grootes was asked to leave after having gained entry.

Grootes said he was all for an organisation comprising only black journalists. “The forum should exist, I understand the need for it ... for me the issue was Zuma,” he said.

When asked why he had entered the venue knowing it was for blacks only, he said: “I didn’t think they would go through with it ... it was wrong for them to deny us access to the hottest news ticket in town because of race.”

‘Shocking’ behaviour

Abbey Makoe, FBJ steering committee chairperson, described his white 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. Makoe said the journalists in question were aware they were not allowed inside but gained entry anyway, only to be shown the door before proceedings began.

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

Talk Radio 702’s group head of news and talk, Yusuf Abramjee, and another black journalist were vocal about their views on their white colleagues being barred from the event. They subsequently walked out, in solidarity with their white colleagues.

A black journalist attending the event defended the forum, saying it was a platform to redress the damages wrought on the media by the apartheid system.

Talk Radio 702 has laid a formal complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) of racial prejudice. The SAHRC confirmed receipt of the complaint and said it will be dealt with through its normal complaints 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.”

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) strongly condemned the exclusion of white reporters, saying this “has no place in South Africa today”, adding in a statement: “Our democracy came after a hard-fought struggle at several levels, including the media, and every effort should be made to protect it.”—Sapa

Natasha Marrian

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