ANC lashes out at press club 'alienation'

France's Agriculture Minister Bruno le Maire (L) welcomes his South African counterpart Tina Joemat-Pettersson before a meeting of the Group of 20 top nations Agriculture ministers, on June 23 2011 in Paris. (AFP)

France's Agriculture Minister Bruno le Maire (L) welcomes his South African counterpart Tina Joemat-Pettersson before a meeting of the Group of 20 top nations Agriculture ministers, on June 23 2011 in Paris. (AFP)

The ANC says the Cape Town Press Club cannot be regarded as a neutral ground for parties that have no presence in the club, in remarks slammed in turn as “opportunistic” by the National Press Club’s chair.

“This has been vindicated by the partisan attitude demonstrated by chairperson of the National Press Club Yusuf Abramjee and the chairperson of the Cape Town Press Club Donwald Pressley towards minister Tina Joemat-Pieterson’s protestation against this anomaly,” spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.

“If these bodies continue to operate in this manner they run the risk of alienating themselves.”

This followed comments after Joemat-Pieterson protested about speaking at a press club breakfast briefing on Friday because of the presence of Democratic Alliance MP Pieter van Dalen.

It was apparently her belief that he wanted to use the opportunity to continue a disagreement they had during her budget vote speech on Thursday.

According to her adviser Rams Mabote, the minister had been under the impression she was addressing members of the media and not politicians.

‘Questionable grounds’

She told the press club that if one political party was there, other parties should also have been present.

Van Dalen agreed to leave so others would not be denied the opportunity of hearing her speak. Van Dalen is a fully paid up member of the Cape Town Press Club.

Mthembu said the ANC was disturbed that a public representative for a political party was a member of the club.

“This anomaly is symptomatic of an institution that is founded on questionable grounds given the fact that generally the membership of a press club is a preserve of professionals in the media space who are expected to be objective and non-partisan when it comes to party politics.”

Earlier, the Cape Town Press Club said it would review its membership policy at an annual general meeting.

“We’ll put it up for discussion by our members at the AGM, which is either this month or next month, depending on Donwald Pressly’s travel schedule,” vice-chairperson Brent Meersman said.

Nature of the club

He said the nature of the club, since its inception in 1976, was to consider all types of people involved in the news-making process and not only journalists.

The club extended membership to those in industries associated with the media, for example politicians, academics, and legal, business and foreign government representatives.

Meersman said politicians sometimes joined the club because it was important for them to connect with journalists.

He said past members included ANC politicians.

“There is no partisanship in the club. The chairman will control the meeting.
If he feels that someone is trying to make a political statement instead of asking a question, he can stop that.”

On Sunday, ANC chief whip Mathole Motsheka said that press clubs should revisit their membership criteria and look at the role members played.

He said they should also “conduct a frank discussion on the desirability of having politicians as members”.

‘Self-serving feast’

Business Day editor Peter Bruce wrote in a column on Monday that the minister had been “quite right” in refusing to address the club while her DA opposition spokesperson was present.

“As the debate on these pages concerning the so-called ‘National’ Press Club in Pretoria has shown, membership of what should constitute a press club is a moveable and usually self-serving feast,” he said.

“Press clubs should be for journalists and should be run by them. Money is a problem, but that isn’t ever best overcome by easing up on the core principle.”

The Cape Town Press Club has more than 500 members, of which 133 are business people and 125 journalists.

Club secretary Gloria Barrett said there were 86 members in public relations, 77 uncategorised members and 52 people who had retired.

A small number of writers were registered. About 18 people were registered as politicians.

Barrett said politics was a broad category and included city managers and political advisers.

‘Opportunistic’ remarks

The National Press Club on Tuesday criticised Mthembu for “opportunistic” remarks.

“Mthembu must ensure that he has correct information at hand before making factually incorrect and unfounded statements,” Abramjee said on Tuesday.

“We wish to place on record, yet again, that the NPC does not accept politicians as members.

“We issued a statement yesterday stressing that the NPC’s membership is only for members of the media and communication practitioners. They are full time and associate members respectively.”

Abramjee said although the Cape Town Press Club was not affiliated to the NPC, he called on it at the weekend to review its membership procedures after it emerged it accepted politicians.

“We are glad that they have since said they will review their membership criteria,” Abramjee said.

The NPC said the ANC was “quick to jump to conclusions about our membership without checking its facts, even after [the NPC] stated publicly that politicians do not, and never will, qualify for membership”.

Abramjee said the ANC should take up its fight with the Cape Town Press Club directly.—Sapa

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