/ 27 August 2010

Free press, free country

Free Press

Shaun de Waal recalls how the M&G took a stand against the state’s intention to muzzle the media 25 years ago — a dilemma the industry now faces anew

The publication of 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian coincides with the huge debate about the ANC’s proposal of a Parliament-mandated media appeals tribunal to curb what the party sees as the excesses of the media.

As Kevin Bloom wrote on the Daily Maverick website, the book should function as a reminder to the ANC that they are proposing to do something rather like what the late despised apartheid state tried to do — muzzle the media — and how it ultimately failed, thanks in part to this newspaper’s persistent challenges to the state’s legal efforts.

That’s the context in which 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian appears, but a lot more happened in the quarter-century since the paper was started (as The Weekly Mail) by a group of journalists retrenched from two big papers that had been shut down by their owners. It was to be a newspaper run by journalists, and so it remained for many years. The paper has a new owner now, but the sensibility it generated in the South African media has not gone away.

The book tells the story of the paper’s birth, growth and development, up to the present day, primarily through a selection of its front pages, which means it is also an account of what has happened in South Africa’s public and political life over the past 25 years.

Former editors of the paper were invited to contribute essays to the book, reflecting on their time as editors in the context of a changing South Africa.

Anton Harber, one of the founding co-editors, will join Ferial Haffajee, editor from 2004 to 2009, and present editor Nic Dawes, to talk about the paper’s history and its place in the South African scene.

Session 6: The Mail & Guardian at 25 will take place on Saturday September 4 from 4.30pm to 6pm. Panellists will be former editors of the M&G, Anton Harber and Ferial Haffajee, and its present editor, Nic Dawes. Shaun de Waal, editor of 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian, will chair