ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu did his best to evade some awkward questions on the #GuptaLeaks and media appeals tribunal during a Daily Maverick media event in Cape Town on Thursday.
Mthembu, DA spokesperson Phumzile van Damme and EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi took to the stage during a panel discussion on media and political parties, hosted by media personality Stephen Grootes.
During a round of questions, Van Damme and journalist Ranjeni Munusamy put Mthembu on the spot by asking if he had taken steps to discipline any members in his caucus implicated in the so-called #GuptaLeaks.
“On that issue, go and ask Gwede Mantashe … if any of those members of the ANC have been called to account for that information,” he responded.
“At this point in time, I’m not privy to that information.
“It’s only logical that people can be called when there are all these things around their names.”
Van Damme wanted to know if he had had conversations with MPs who have been implicated.
“We should refer that question to the answer that we have given,” he replied.
“We do not have different mechanisms. It’s a fair question, but we have a way of dealing with our deployees, and that way is through our political authority, which is vested in the office of the secretary general of the ANC.”
Media appeals tribunal
With regards to the ANC’s plans for a media appeals tribunal, the party was only now calling for a public debate in Parliament on what other mechanisms can be put in place to hold print media accountable, he claimed.
“As media, you charge all of us without exception. That’s the influence you hold. You can get into our bedrooms, you can get into our bathrooms,” he said in response to a question from Munusamy.
“Therefore, is the current mechanism to hold you accountable sufficient?
“When you self-regulate, in our view, maybe you can do better?”
Mthembu stressed that the government was not trying to control the media, but rather wants media to find a better mechanism to “independently” hold itself accountable.
Host Stephen Grootes asked why the ANC is so focussed on print media when the industry is actually in decline.
“We are quite aware that you are shrinking, but you are still an important player. We can’t just close our eyes.”
Mthembu motivated for a potential media Truth and Reconciliation Commission earlier during a speech, saying media role players should apologise to the people of South Africa for the role it played during apartheid.
He asked that the media look at the role it must play in a non-racial, non-sexist democratic South Africa going forward, as it is still affected by apartheid’s legacy.
The ANC resolved at its policy conference that a possible Media Appeals Tribunal can answer some of these questions going forward, he said.
Mthembu was also put on the spot about the renewal of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
He admitted criticism of the ANC was valid, but maintained that the party has risen to the occasion.
He assured the panel and the audience that Parliament and his caucus would for its part put forward candidates that can handle managing the broadcaster at board level.
He also said that the current Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo and the interim board will ensure the new board can take over its duties effectively.
Van Damme interjected and said it wasn’t the ANC who rose to the occasion but the SABC inquiry, which was one of the great multi-party achievements of Parliament.
‘Preaching to the converted’
All three panelists agreed that South Africa without media would be a disaster.
Ndlozi said that he can’t imagine a democracy without media. He also believed self-regulation was the way to go, but it needed teeth.
South Africa’s media suffered from a legacy of “apartheid geography”.
The vast majority of poor people in rural areas who have the capacity to change the political landscape are not being addressed as readers.
The big media houses are essentially preaching to the converted with their exposes.
He lauded the SABC for being the only outlet with the capacity to reach different audiences in their languages. – News24