South African bloggers have waded into the spat between the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and the media.
#SpeakZA — a Twitter trending topic — was formed earlier this week, and now has more than hundreds of followers. For the uninitiated, a Twitter trending topic is a subject of interest that gets taken up by users.
The trouble all started earlier this month when ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu attempted to “leak” a so-called dossier on City Press investigative editor Dumisane Lubisi to other reporters.
Shivambu threatened to expose reporters who refused to write about the dossier, saying that he had incriminating information about them as well.
The “dossier” alleged that Lubisi was corrupt and that he had accumulated wealth that was inexplicable because his salary as a journalist was far too low to account for his assets. Lubisi has been working with fellow City Press reporter Piet Rampedi on several stories detailing ANCYL president Julius Malema’s use of political influence to get government tenders worth hundreds of millions of rands in Limpopo.
Last week a group of 19 senior political reporters wrote to the ANC, the ANCYL and the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), decrying the intimidating tactics of the youth league and expressing concern about the league’s apparent access to confidential information about journalists’ private lives.
Shivambu said on March 17 he would not apologise for threatening to reveal personal details of reporters’ activities, and vowed to continue doing so.
Which brings us to lone blogger and part-time law student Sipho Hlongwane, who this week kicked off the SpeakZA topic.
“As a country, we face challenges, but we face them together as a nation, with the media as a partner. A free press holds us — as a government, as citizens, as individuals — accountable.
“No individual or group of individuals can abridge that responsibility through threats or intimidation,” said Hlongwane.
“Especially just after the anniversary of Human Rights Day, we wanted to remind the ANC of the vital role played by the the press in the liberation struggle.
“A free press is not the enemy of a free society. The ANC should not forget this.”
Shivambu told the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday that he was not aware of SpeakZA.
“We have 800 000 members behind us and millions of other ANC activists … we will not be intimidated by desktop activists,” he said.
Meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma — accepting the Newsmaker of the Year award from the National Press Club on March 19 — said reports of spying on journalists by government officials created a “totally unacceptable” scenario.
Referring to the Lubisi incident, Zuma said: “What I’ve heard is actually shocking. We are now investigating journalists, for what?”
But back to Twitter and the viral response that SpeakZA has generated.
Amanda Sevasti had some advice for the youth league: “Dear ANCYL: Please read Section 16 of the Constitution. Please note that there are no typos in it.”
“Censor the Media, Julius? Thats so 1900’s of you. Apartheid went there, did that, #SouthAfrica bears the scars,” wrote blogger Wayne Thompson.
“Dear Mr Malema, where would you be without the media? Don’t stop us now, we’ve only just begun,” wrote fashion journalist Milisuthando Bongela.
Hlongwane told the M&G on Wednesday that he had been very disturbed by the incident, and realised the lengths the ANCYL would go to to protect its interests.
“Their response to the complaint displayed astonishing hubris. Not only will they not apologise, but they’ll continue [in this way].
“I realise the reach of social media in South Africa isn’t that great, but that’s no excuse not to stand by my convictions.
“This protest that happened today [Wednesday] is about freedom of expression and media freedom, which goes to the heart of democracy.
Hlongwane said while he had only founded SpeakZA as a rallying point for the Shivambu issue, he envisaged “raising our voices again” should it be needed.
Read the full complaint
COMPLAINT AGAINST THE ANC YOUTH LEAGUE
We wish to lodge a formal complaint against ANC youth league spokesman Floyd Shivambu, who last week threatened several journalists when he attempted to “leak” a so called dossier to certain reporters.
His behaviour constitutes an attack on several freedoms including media freedom, and presents a danger to constitutional provisions South Africans enjoy. It also amounts to intimidation especially if one considers his threat to make public so called embarrassing information about the private lives of reporters.
As political journalists we reject anyone within our ranks who accepts money or payment for writing slanted stories. We hold no brief for corrupt individuals within our fraternity and encourage anyone who can prove instances where ethics have been violated to report it to the relevant authorities including editors and watch dog bodies that regulate our profession.
However, we believe that Shivambu’s actions was less about exposing unethical behaviour in the media, and had more to do with wanting to silence us with threats of public embarrassment over our private lives. We wish to place it on record that Shivambu’s efforts sought to intimidate political journalists from doing their legitimate work.
Last week Shivambu approached several journalists with a “dossier” on City Press journalist Dumisane Lubisi, which he claims came into the youth league’s possession anonymously. He provided no proof of the allegations contained in the document, but insisted that the information contained therein was true. He then threatened the reporters who expressed concern over the accuracy of the information saying “you next” when they expressed reservations about the veracity of his claims and said they would not run the stories.
Shivambu’s efforts to bully reporters is the latest in a series of attacks on journalists by the ANC youth league. At a recent press conference addressed by ANC president Julius Malema, some youth league figures, including Malema accused journalist’s unethical behaviour and threatened to arrest those caught in alleged wrongdoing. He hurled abuse and launched personal attacks on individual journalists. Comments about their salaries, credit worthy status and sexual behaviour were made without a shred of evidence.
Of concern is the youth league’s apparent access to confidential information relating the private lives of journalists. The candour with which they rattled off confidential information points to a larger sinister pattern. If one accepts even for a minute that any of the information in the ANC youth league’s possession is true, questions arise about how it was accessed and how a political organization could obtain it without breaking the law.
We believe that if the actions of the youth league remain unchecked, it could put SA on a slippery slide where the lives of journalists could be in danger and media freedom eroded.
We demand that Shivambu issue a public apology for his actions. Furthermore the ANC youth league is obliged to reveal how it had received the information and whether state or other resources were used to illegally intrude into the private lives of journalists and other individuals who may not agree with its activities.
We call on the ANC and the league to distance itself from Shivambu’s shameful actions.
Business Day: Karima Brown, Wilson Johwa
Independent Newspapers: Moshoeshoe Monare, Gaye Davis, Xolani Mbanjwa and Carien du Plessis
Mail and Guardian: Rapule Tabane and Mandy Rossouw
The Times/ Sunday Times: Moipone Malefane, Sthembiso Msomi and Nkululeko Ncana
702: Stephen Grootes
City Press: Moffet Mofokeng, Piet Rampedi, Dumisane Lubisi, Japhet Ncube, George Matlala
Media24: Chandre Prince
eNews: Hajra Omarjee
Read the full statement in response by ANCYL leader Julius Malema issued later on March 17:
ANC YL RESPONSE TO A MOB OF CONCERNED JOURNALISTS
17 March 2010
The ANC Youth League received a complaint written by a mob of political Journalists who appear to be a nameless concerned group.
The complaint is based on their immature characterisation as bullying by ANC Youth League Leadership, in particular the ANCYL Spokesperson, Floyd Shivambu.
The mob of Journalists has made various allegations that the leadership of the ANC Youth League has threatened to expose their private information and will consequently result in threatening the freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution.
In their statement, the mob raises false alarms in response to a genuine case of alleged tax evasion and money laundering by City Press Journalist, Dumisani Lubisi.
The ANC Youth League will never retreat from its programme to expose the possible corruption and tax fraud of any person in South Africa and will do everything in its power to expose Millionaire Journalists who do not pay tax and cannot explain how they accumulated their wealth.
The complaint by the gang of Journalists is contrary to what they intentioned, an inspiration to pursue the case against potentially corrupt Journalists.
The leadership of the ANC YL and its Spokespersons always speak on behalf of the organisation and any attempt to isolate the any leader/member of the organisation from the organisation will be rejected with absolute contempt.
The ANC Youth League maintains the view that there are Journalists in South Africa who are corrupt. They continue to take bribes and practise infantile, racist and unethical journalism.
This is a reflection of reality and there will never be any apology for making such a correct observation. No one will ever apologise for making such a truthful observation.
Journalists in South Africa should begin to appreciate that the freedom of expression enshrined in the country’s Constitution is not solely and exclusively for Journalists and media houses. The freedom of expression expands to all citizens, including the activists and leadership of political organisations.
Journalists should also appreciate that they are citizens of South Africa before they are employees of various media houses. They therefore should stand up against all forms of corruption, fraud, racism and unethical professional practice including against colleagues in the profession.
The mob of Journalists has also assisted the ANC Youth League to identify those who are real enemies of our organisation and what they stand for. These are people consistently write nonsense about the leadership of the ANC Youth League and they have now decided to club themselves into an undefined mob.
We are aware that there are some who did not sign the petition who are enemies of the ANC Youth League and we will work very cautiously around these people. The fact that certain Journalists have signed and some did not reflects the agendas behind the signatories in the petition and fear exposure of their underhand dealings, corruption, racism and unethical behaviour.
The ANCYL does not acknowledge the ill -formed mob and will not retreat from principle. They must never expect any apology from the leadership of the ANC Youth League for standing up to principle. Because this mob is not properly defined, the ANC YL will never meet them as a group. Those that have concerns should arrange to meet the ANC Youth League one by one and raise their specific concerns.
Issued by the President of the African National Congress Youth League, Julius Malema