Editorial: Good press, here’s a bone

The media quarantine at the ANC policy conference was highly successful in achieving its apparent aims.

Corralled behind a guarded fence, the press enthusiastically engaged with any and all politicians who graciously took the time to pop past the barricade. And in the absence of much other news, they largely just reported the carefully crafted messages fed to them. So bereft of activity was this gilded cage that members of the media even interviewed each other to generate content.

Heaven forbid you should have permission to attend an event elsewhere. A highly-strung security official would insist that accreditation tags – coloured bright red for media – were prominently displayed before counting and then escorting the group to the venue in question. In any given crowded area, media were asked to form a line.

Word from within the press prison was that this was because the ruling party could not afford an errant journalist seeing just how heated deliberations in the policy commissions had become.

The location of the conference, in the south of Johannesburg, also helped the party’s aims. In Mangaung, journalists and politicians would inevitably mingle in the same venues after hours, but this was this was certainly not the case in the sprawling city, especially with no obvious place nearby the Nasrec expo centre to convene.

The strategy was effective. As President Jacob Zuma noted in his closing address, the media had been well-behaved. He thanked the press for coming out in their numbers as a live camera feed cut to the hordes of reporters gathered in front of the stage. All the while, ANC delegates chuckled at the not-so-subtle swipes taken at the media.

The ANC may argue that its attempts to control the movements of media at this event were as a result of mischievous reporting. Some honest introspection would probably reveal that the real problems stem from within the party and not from the reporting on it.

Zuma noted that 1 600 media representatives had attended the event. It is worth wondering, however – given the handling of the press this past week – if an ANC event will ever attract such numbers again.

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