A step back in media freedom for Pukke paper

The journalists at Wapad, the student paper of North West University’s Potchefstroom campus, said a decision to ban their publication is part of a plan to control media distributed on campus.

On Monday, Pukke’s marketing and communication department told Wapad editor Kevin du Plessis that the paper would not be published due to uncollected advertising fees of almost R80 000.

[pullquote]Banning, part of a plan to control the newspaper’s content to ensure it upholds the university’s reputation.[/pullquote] The university said neither a printed edition nor an online edition will be allowed to be published for the rest of the year until the money is collected.


Controlling media 

However, du Plessis said the banning was part of a plan to control the newspaper’s content to ensure it upholds the university’s reputation.

“This would mean that the newspaper will be managed by the marketing department and that everything will have to be checked by them before being published. The new chief editor they are going to appoint will also be an employee of the marketing department,” du Plessis said.

Wapad takes the fall for outstanding money

Pukke spokesman Johan van Zyl, in an article published on the M&G Online, denied du Plessis’ accusation and said Wapad could be published after the debt was settled.

“We stand for media freedom and actually promote it. It’s up to them to put the funds as soon as possible,” van Zyl told the website.

Promoting critical thinking

Du Plessis said this year has been a “culture shock” for the paper in terms of content. Wapad journalists have tried to write about prominent issues that promote critical thinking and expose injustices within the university including issues of sex, race, discrimination and abuse.[pullquote align=”right”]The blowback to Wapad’s articles have included physical violence.[/pullquote]

Earlier this year, Wapad published an article on a lecturer who made discriminatory and homophobic remarks. The lecturer allegedly said homosexuals are unnatural and should not exist.

Wapad also reveal the harsh treatment of first years by student leaders in Veritas residence. They published images of male students, bent over with their bottoms exposed, badly beaten and bruised to the point of having large, open sores.

Violent repercussions 

The blowback to Wapad’s articles have included physical violence. Last Saturday, du Plessis was assaulted by a student from Veritas men’s residence.[pullquote]”The university only cares about their reputation and tradition”[/pullquote]

The student allegedly hit du Plessis in the face for publishing an article which he claimed was disloyal to Veritas res.

Du Plessis said the university does little to provide the newspaper with feedback on what actions will be taken when the paper reveals misbehaviour.

“The university will never give us a formal press release to tell us what they are going to do about it. They only care about their reputation and tradition,” he said. [pullquote align=”right”]“I will keep fighting this fight because I want the person who takes over from me to be able to continue with what we have achieved and be able to write independently.”[/pullquote]

Boycotting Wapad

Du Plessis said leaders in residences have boycotted the paper in the past by telling students not to read it and not allowing it to be delivered.

“I will keep fighting this fight because I want the person who takes over from me to be able to continue with what we have achieved and be able to write independently,” said Du Plessis, who is leaving the paper at the end of the year.

In Wapad’s May edition professor Johannes Froneman announced that he will step down from his position of media regulator at the paper. He said he was disappointed with the lack of independence the paper has from the university and that this infringed on their right to freedom of speech.

Menell13: Media freedom unpacked

[Photographs by Nokuthula Manyathi]

Some of the most influential South African journalists gathered at the Sol Kerzner auditorium at the University of Johannesburg on Saturday, to discuss various topics under the media freedom umbrella. The topics ranged from government propaganda to secrecy laws and beyond.

Inside the belly of the beast

Keynote speaker and host of Faultlines on Al Jazeera, Josh Rushing spoke candidly about being a marine and a journalist.

“I was inside Al Jazeera, inside the military and inside the Bush administration – I had a unique vantage point,” said Rushing.

In 2003, Rushing was with Central Command and tasked with speaking to the media about the invasion in Iraq. A controversial documentary, Control Room, showed Rushing speaking about the invasion. The Pentagon muzzled his attempts to speak about the documentary, so he resigned after 14 years of service.

It was at this point that Rushing helped to start up Al Jazeera English. Rushing explained that Al Jazeera had always been vilified as being the mouthpiece for Al-Qaeda and he resigned so he could speak about what it wasn’t.

Power corrupts

Rushing said that the Obama administration is possibly the least transparent and most aggressive towards the media. “When he (Obama) was a senator, he championed media freedom,” lamented Rushing.

He explained that the U.S Espionage Act of 1917 has been used seven times under Obama’s watch. Rushing said that even though President Obama may have good intentions: “All power leads to abuse at some point.”

He touched on data mining and how companies like Apple and Google are colluding with the current administration to store people’s data.

Secrecy laws back home

A panel consisting of Nic Dawes, William Bird and Ylva Rodney-Gumede spoke about secrecy laws and how they would possibly affect journalism in South Africa. [pullquote]“People can classify information that should not be classified in the first place”[/pullquote]

Dawes explained that the amendments that had been to the Protection of State Information Bill since its inception were great, but didn’t cure the concerns he had with the bill. But was happy that: “We’ve made freedom of information a broad public debate,” he said.

Bird was less optimistic and bluntly said the bill as it stood was “evil, old apartheid stuff”. He said the fact that people’s travel schedules could be classified was a problem, when someone like President Obama’s schedule is available online for the world to see.

“People can classify information that should not be classified in the first place,” bemoaned Bird.

Mzilikazi wa Afrika said that the bill would be problematic for journalists. He highlighted the contradictory message being sent by government.

“On one hand they have hotlines for people to call in and report corruption and other such crimes and on the other they are saying if you blow the whistle, we will send you to jail,” he said.

Media attorney and moderator of the panel, Dario Milo jokingly said he calls it the “some Secrecy Bill”, after the amendments that have been made. To which Rodney-Gumede replied, “great the SS Bill”.

Public Protector

“Journalism allows people to have oversight over the people they have entrusted with power,” said public protector, advocate Thuli Mandonsela.

She also highlighted the parallels between her office and investigative journalism, namely the investigative aspect and the role they play in strengthening our democracy.

The role of investigative journalism

Adriaan Basson, deputy editor of the City Press said that the success of investigative journalism cannot be measured against prosecutions. “What happens after investigations is not our job,” said Basson.

He went on to list three ways in which investigative journalism could be improved. Firstly, the stories of the victims of corruption need to be told. The impact of corruption needs to be highlighted to empower people. “It’s not about us, it’s about them,” said Basson.

Secondly journalists need to experiment with new technologies and data journalism to make their stories appeal to people. Lastly, “Get off twitter and get into the Corolla,” said Basson.

Mzilikazi wa Afrika of the Sunday Times agreed with Basson and explained how he had found two of his award winning stories by way of not sitting behind his desk waiting for news.

Piet Rampedi of The Star said that threats and intimidation from the top are the price you pay “if you dare to do investigative journalism”.

Investigative journalism isn’t a special category, “just great journalism” expressed an audience member.

Dodge propaganda and spin

Justice Malala, host of The Justice Factor on eNCA spoke about the media “falling” for government propaganda and government spin doctors. [pullquote align=”right”] “For four years we ran after the theatrics of politics and ignored the important things,”[/pullquote]

Malala spoke out against the way the media is easily distracted and gave the example of Julius Malema. “For four years we ran after the theatrics of politics and ignored the important things,” he said.

He expressed the need for journalists and the media to start talking about institutions as opposed to speaking about isolated incidents, incidents that people often forget about. “We forget sometimes, I also forget and go with the noise,” added Malala.

Senior researcher at Wits Journalism and panelist, Glenda Daniels disagreed with Malala and said that the media doesn’t just fall for spin and that there is a lot of continuity in media stories, giving the example of the Gupta scandal.