Aaisha’s Ramadaan Diaries, Day 26: On censorship, press freedom, and the SABC

Day 26: On censorship, press freedom, and the SABC
On Friday I was not at home, but my heart was in Auckland Park with my fellow journos protesting against the SABC’s extreme editorial policies and the censorship they’ve got in place.

I perhaps take for granted how lucky I am to be a part of a news organisation that respects the press code, and makes it our main priority to uphold democracy by promoting freedom of speech and by showcasing viewpoints that are not only diverse, but also that are unexpected and not always found in mainstream media.

To fire journalists for covering a protest because there’s a rule that says they can’t cover protests is ridiculous. To fire people for complaining about these policies is also ridiculous. I’m really angry at the SABC and at the same time have so much respect for the journalists working there who are speaking out against these practices.

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to talking about protests and media coverage on them in South Africa. It’s by no means a simple matter, and a lot of organisations could definitely do better when it comes to their coverage of them. As Professor Jane Duncan writes, “Journalists need to get the South African protest story right for their own safety.”

But besides all of that, the SABC’s decision to not cover protests at all is plain insane and its reasoning for doing so – that showcasing violent protests will incite and encourage violent protests – is downright ridiculous.

Hlaudi says that protests encourage violence. In reality, only 10% of protests are actually violent at all – this censorship is doing nothing but reinforcing that narrative, and therefore arguably making protestors immediately suspicious of and antagonistic towards the press.

Besides that, journalists themselves became targets during the Tshwane protests not too long ago. If they’re the ones being targeted – how is that them “seeking attention”?

There is so much to unpack and look at, but it’s very clear: the SABC is acting unconstitutionally and treating its employees unacceptably.

To be a journalist in South Africa is wonderful – there are so many stories to tell, and so much to look at. But more than that, it’s also so important. We have a huge responsibility to hold power to account and to uphold what the principles of democracy are supposed to be through our work, and above all, we have a huge responsibility to be able to give our fellow citizens a good and fair account of how things are going and in what state the state is in – whether it’s good news or not. If the organisation that is supposed to be the public broadcaster cannot accept that – what kind of state are we living in?

I’ve reflected on a lot this Ramadan and something that has always stuck out and been clear for me is the need to attain and fight for justice. Censorship of information, whitewashed to be “nation building”, does the nation more harm than good and is severely unjust. I remain in full support of all of those journalists committed to fighting for rights to freedom of speech and freedom of press – keep fighting the good fight, and never stop believing in and advocating for what is fair.

This is a special Ramadaan series by our fave Muslim reporter, Aaisha Dadi Patel. For Day 25’s musings, click here

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