The SABC’s journalists could be forced to give President Jacob Zuma even more love on the broadcaster’s channels. This proposal was made last Sunday at a meeting of the ANC’s party communicators and those deployed to work in government communications positions.
The assembled spin doctors expressed the fear that the ANC is losing the propaganda battle. They therefore want to “reclaim the SABC to tell the government’s good story”, to ensure that the public broadcaster shows “positive coverage” of Zuma and is “unapologetic” about it.
Also in the meeting were Telecommunications Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Small Business Minister Lindiwe Zulu, Deputy Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa (who heads up communications for the ANC Women’s League), Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi and spin doctor Chris Vick, who shared effective communication tips with the group.
The meeting, held at the party’s Luthuli House headquarters, assessed communication policy ahead of its national general council in June, a midterm gathering where policy is reviewed and progress weighed.
‘Liberal offensive media’
The gathering heard submissions that the SABC “can’t report like the liberal offensive media” and should focus on development stories.
Three sources who attended the meeting but did not want to be named said it was proposed that the SABC should not be part of the so-called “anti-Zuma” media bandwagon. “The government is the shareholder in the SABC, so the SABC must not be apologetic when reporting about the government,” one source said.
Yet, the Mail & Guardian understands that some communicators objected on ethical grounds, indicating that Luthuli House cannot dictate the SABC’s editorial policy.
“The other argument was that the SABC cannot take unrefined things from the government,” an M&G source said. “The SABC must be a platform where citizens communicate directly with the government, and the other way around. Once it becomes a talk-down approach, then you’re killing the SABC.”
A second source noted that it was said at the meeting that “it is wrong for SABC bosses to instruct journalists not to cover the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] and other smaller parties”.
The same source, whose views were corroborated by another communicator present at the meeting, indicated that concern was raised about the calibre of people appointed to head institutions such as the SABC and the negative consequences for the government.
Some of the communicators voiced their concern over the controversial appointment of SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, with one calling it an “own goal” for the ANC.
Last year Communications Minister Faith Muthambi ratified a decision by the SABC board to appoint Motsoeneng permanently to the position, despite public protector Thuli Madonsela’s finding that the politically connected Motsoeneng lied about having a matric certificate.
At the same time, mention was made of the debacle surrounding former SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala, who resigned after being found guilty by Parliament’s communications portfolio committee of falsifying her qualifications.
The spin doctors’ meeting debated at length the “urgent” need for the ANC to launch its own newspaper – a plan that has been on the cards for more than two decades.
The M&G further understands that the ANC has lost faith in the New Age newspaper to serve as the party’s mouthpiece. The paper is owned by the Gupta family, who are close friends with Zuma.
The idea for a party newspaper was discussed in 1992, and resurfaced in 2008 when the ANC was reportedly in “advanced talks” to establish such a publication. Two years later the Guptas launched the New Age, which by their own admission is sympathetic to the ruling party.
Some of those at the meeting were worried about the credibility of “pro-government news” and the perceived paralysis of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS). A third source told the M&G that some complained that the GCIS had lost all credibility when it was incorporated into the communications department.
“Has the new department of communications helped us revolutionise communications or not?” one of the participants asked. “My view is that if you confine the GCIS to a department, you are discrediting it. The GCIS must be able to communicate across departments.”
Communicators also reportedly urged the ANC to pay more attention to diversity in the media and to making the “ANC narrative” more visible “in the liberal media”.
“We looked at why it is important to engage even with media houses that we know are anti-ANC,” one source said. “The first day might be difficult and the second day, but eventually they will listen to us.”
A discussion document will be presented to the ANC’s national executive committee next month, which will be debated and then presented at the national general council.
ANC communications head Keith Khoza said he would not comment. “It was an internal workshop of the ANC,” he said.
ANC to do media stocktake
At the ANC’s 2012 Mangaung congress, the party took a range of resolutions aimed at improving communication by both the ruling party and the government. This year’s national general council will help it take stock of the progress made.
One of the 2012 resolutions was that cadres should participate more in public debates on political and ideological matters. Members who communicate with the media should be trained in how to respond effectively to what the party regards as “the growing onslaught against the movement in all media”, the ANC decided.
The ANC also said its political education syllabus should include media training, research and IT literacy.
But the party also decreed that the ANC-led government should be promoted from within. “No edition of ANC Today, Umrabulo and other publications should go [out] without an article from an ANC government executive (a minister, provincial minister or mayor) highlighting their department’s programme, progress and achievements … This must be mandatory,” it resolved.
The ANC also decided to enhance government communication and mandated the Government Communication and Information System to offer communication support to parastatals and other state agencies so that they could profile their work.
The party added that “government advertising must be used to drive efficiencies and transform the media industry. Government must diversify its ad spend to empower community, emerging commercial and public media.” – Mmanaledi Mataboge