As the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) come under increasing fire for its decision to exclude various media houses from covering its second National People’s Assembly (NPA) in Johannesburg this weekend, party leader Julius Malema has blasted media for speaking “badly about the leadership [of the EFF]”.
During a media briefing following the presentation of his political report of the EFF on Saturday, Malema welcomed eNCA’s decision to withdraw from covering its second and elective and policy conference held in Johannesburg. Although Malema described eNCA’s decision as “unfortunate,” he added that since the 24-hour news channel withdrew from covering its conference, it is not welcome to cover any of the party’s events further.
“If that is going to be their attitude then let them bring it on. We have not expelled them,” he said.
Malema is also sceptical of the channel’s decision, saying that he has been interviewed by staff at the channel “many times.” He claimed that eNCA stopped its livestream of the event and withdrew its staff after he spoke of businessman Johann Rupert during his political report.
eNCA announced that it had pulled its reporters, anchors and technical team from covering the event soon after Malema took a swipe at one of its political reporters, Samekelo Maseko, by calling him a “stupid journalist” for asking if any funds were used from the liquidated VBS Mutual Bank to organise the conference. Both Malema and his deputy, Floyd Shivambu, have been accused of benefiting from the looting of the bank, which collapsed in 2018.
“How can a liquidated company pay?” Malema asked, going off his prepared presentation to the conference.
“Domkop, domkop!” he said, referring to Maseko.
Maseko posed the question to Leigh-Ann Mathys, the party’s treasurer-general, during a media briefing on Friday. Mathys denied that any funds from the defunct bank were used and that all funds were from the money that the party receives from participation in parliament, membership fees, provincial legislatures and local councils across the country.
In a statement, eNCA editor-in-chief Jeremy Maggs said the decision was taken following the exclusion of other media houses from the conference.
“We believe that the decision by the EFF to bar organisations like amaBhungane, Scorpio and the Daily Maverick is a threat to media freedom. And we have taken a principled decision to stop covering the conference, because we think this is an attack on press freedom in this country,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Malema accused some media houses in the country of being “hunting dogs” for factions of the ruling party. He urged the 4 000-strong delegates to resolve to push for alternative means of communication for the party that will be used to communicate the EFF’s activities and policies — without the media as a middleman.
During his presentation of a political report about his own party, Malema said: “The advances in technology gives us direct access to the people on a daily basis in real time without depending on media platforms.”
Malema also defended the party’s decision to exclude various media houses including Daily Maverick, Scorpio, amaBhungane and Rapport from covering its conference, saying that despite allegations to the contrary, the EFF stands by the principle of media freedom. Despite journalists from the publications accrediting themselves for the conference, their accreditation was declined.
Malema said that the EFF could not accommodate over 600 applications from the media to cover the event, suggesting that some media houses would not get approval for accreditation.
Pointing to the rows of journalists that were seated close to the podium where he was speaking, Malema said: “Media freedom is guaranteed, they are here. They wanted more than 600 people which is three provinces combined.”
“Those whose agenda is to destroy the EFF must be isolated. Our constitutional right of association is also a right to not associate with representatives of enemy forces,” Malema said.
“No other institution in democratic South Africa has more more manipulative, abused and abusive as the media,” he added.
Editorial note: It is the Mail & Guardian’s belief that it is unacceptable for a political party to ban media that they disagree with. Journalism is an essential part of democracy, and the free flow of information informs voters.
We will however continue to cover the EFF conference as we believe the third largest political party in the country must be the subject of the attention of news media. This how we hold those with power to account.