Journalists should report without fear or favour, said the award winning Cameroonian journalist
Standing in solidarity with imprisoned Ethiopian journalists, Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation from fellow journalists and other guests, at the Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture held this evening at Wits University.
Human rights activist and journalist, de Morais delivered the address for Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. He stressed the importance of investigative journalism in advancing democracy and defending the freedom of expression in the face of opposition and fear incited by government authorities.
Driven by “national and civic conscience”, de Morais says he is proud of his work in defending the rights of fellow Angolan citizens through the exposure of conflict diamonds and corruption. “Journalists should defend constitutional rights”, he said to a packed auditorium.
De Morais criticized the Ethiopian government as an enemy to journalism for arresting and imprisoning journalists. “Journalists and human rights campaigners must be embarrassed for doing little to support our peers in Ethiopia.”
He also called for a campaign to move the African Union, currently based in Ethiopia, to a country that respects human rights.
Although the challenges of investigative journalists have not changed since de Morais started practicing, he says the Internet has proven to be an advantage in publishing content and reaching wider audiences. De Morais has started his own watchdog website Maka Angola which exposes corruption through his investigations.
De Morais told Wits Vuvuzela that as the values in society have deteriorated, so has the quality of investigative journalism. He says investigative journalists can combat opposition if they realise “government officials are men and women like us”. He says we can limit their abuse of power because “the power comes from the people”.
De Morais said he corresponded with but never met Carlos Cardoso, in whose name the lecture was given. Cardoso, a journalist and a Witsie, was murdered in Maputo in 2000 while working on a investigation into fraud at a major bank.
Remembering the guerrilla typewriter
The talk honouring the work and memory of Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardosa, who was gunned down in November 2000 after his investigative reporting threatened to reveal the full extent of multi-million dollar corruption involving the Mozambican government and the state bank.
Lister titled her lecture “Guerrilla Typewriters: Fighting for Media Freedom before and after Liberation”, and deliberately set out to light the fire of revolution under the conferences delegates mainly comprising journalists.
The tactic was a success as the idea of a public service journalism, inspired by Cardosa’s work, stirred more passionate rather than clinical discussions, reflected in the words that came from the panel as well as from the audience as journalists.
Wits deputy vice-chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe’s opening remarks set what was to be an introspective tone streaked with jubilation:
“There is a historical resonance between Carlos Cardosa and investigative journalism. To have Gwen Lister and Anton Harber under this photo of Carlos Cardosa is an absolute historical moment. Take out your phones and your cameras. Get the picture,” Prof Kupe enthused.[pullquote]At an earlier session in the same auditorium addressed by investigative journalist extraordinaire Mzilikazi wa Afrika, the audience challenged the newspaperman and each other over the feeling that there was no fraternity amongst journalist.[/pullquote] One journo said she was disappointed when fellow journalists had not stood up for a BBC journalist when he kicked out of a press conference by then ANCYL president Julius Malema.
Lister’s address sought to sew together these fractures by reminding journalists of their revolutionary responsibility to creating democratic societies.
Reading from what sounded like a carefully written, emotive speech, Professor Harber picked up the thread.
After reminding the audience of Cardosa’s history as Wits SRC (Students Representative Council), president and his consequent deportation back to Mozambique by the South African government for his writing criticising the Lisbon Coup, Harber sought to draw out the meaning of Cardosa’s work as a journalist bent on exposing corruption to journalism today.
“We gather to remember Carlos not just as a fierce and brave investigative journalist, but as one who came to symbolise the spirit of public service that is at the heart of great journalism.”
Journalism is a passion and vocation
Gwen Lister upped the momentum as the keynote speaker, speaking of issues at the core of what many feel is wrong with journalism today. She tackled the role journalists in the fight for media freedom from the onset.
“I see journalism as a passion and a calling … and this is underpinned by freedom of expression. I call on all of you to be journalists on a mission to excellence and advocacy.”
She said this right was continually undermined on the continent, seen in the impunity with which violence against journalists was committed.
“We need to get out of our nationalistic boxes and feel the pain when other journalists on the continent are being killed,” Lister said.
She described Cardosa as a crusader against corruption, but not the only journalist who has had to pay with his life for this kind of journalism. For Lister, journalists were linked by this common pursuit for freedom to report on wrong-doing and abuses in their societies.
“The power is still in our pens,” Lister concluded her talk, short of raising her fist to the rousing applause.