VIDEO: In memory of Ruth First

Ruth First, a South African journalist, activist and former Witsie was assassinated 32 years ago, yesterday. Every year, Wits awards a fellowship in her name, to address the need for in-depth reporting on social issues. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to this year’s fellow and others about the impact of the fellowship on communities around the country.

 

Ruth First colloquim addresses issue of media freedom

From left to right: Dr Last Moyo, Ferial Haffejee, Essop Pahad and Anton Harber.      Pic: Dinesh Balliah

ONE OF the main messages that emerged from the third session of the Ruth First memorial colloquim today was not to generalise when it comes to discussions about the media in South Africa.

Prof Anton Harber of the Wits School of Journalism said people should be hesitant about making generalisations about South African journalists being obsessed with the ANC-led government.

Harber said it was clear that the print media was directing investigative efforts at corrupt politicians, instead of just the government as some people have implied. “There will always be massive attention on the state.”

Harber went on to talk about the importance of independence. He said he believes that every journalist should declare all their interests and beliefs in the name of transparency.

Harber said: “I’ve argued at a number of forums that journalists should embrace that form of transparency.”

Dr Essop Pahad, along with Ferial Haffejee, editor of the City Press, joined Harber on a panel chaired by Dr Last Moyo.

Ferial Haffejee listens to audience remarks during the Ruth First memorial colloquim. Pic: Dinesh Balliah.

Pahad emphasised that never before has the ANC-led government been so factionalised. He warned the media to be careful about these factions and to ensure that they themselves did not become a faction supporting one or other group within the ANC.

Pahad felt that problems with the media’s reporting on the government stemmed from the juniorisation of the newsroom.  “I think this issue of the juniorisation of our newsrooms needs to be addressed, and addressed very seriously. I do believe that the media needs to go back to some of its basics.

“We do require that our journalists spend more time in the newsroom. They get hired by the government or go where the money is,” said Pahad.

Pahad also said the media needs to be much more critical in dealing with issues such as the way international bodies such as the EU and the USA have interfered in countries such as Libya and Syria.

He pointed to his observation that there was not a single journalist that questioned Hillary Clinton about the USA’s the right and authority to demand regime change in Syria on her recent visit to South Africa. “Why is it that our commentators uncritically report on the so-called Free Syria Movement.”

Dr Last Moyo, of the Wits Media Studies Department, also raised the issue of the training of journalists. “A journalist staying in Sandton, working for the Mail and Guardian in Rosebank, driving past Alexandra or Diepsloot sees no story. The question is how to train them to see a story.”