The role of the media is to hold leaders accountable, what happens when the media becomes too powerful, bias and indifferent?
The magic bullet effect of the media in shaping the political discourse has left even progressive and constitutional fearing South Africans such as The President of The Republic, Cyril Ramaphosa, oblivious to the grievous findings by a chapter 9 institution on Minister Pravin Gordhan. Locating not only Minister Pravin Gordhan as a constitutional delinquent but the President himself.
The question is why would President Cyril Ramaphosa who hails himself as the champion behind drafting of the constitution of the country and the media deliberately ignore the findings of the Public Protector? For this particular piece I will focus on the South African media because of the power they hold in setting the political agenda.
It is not a surprise that the ruling of the Public Protector, Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane, on Minister Pravin Gordhan, has been reduced to “timing” of its release by the media in particular. They suddenly see the connection between “law and timing”. Indeed, I agree that “timing” can be material and sometimes immaterial in law. However, if the South African mainstream media was consistent and not mischievous, their defense premised on “timing” of the Public Protector’s findings would also apply to everyone including former President Jacob Zuma who has used “timing” to argue his court case.
The rule of consistency becomes technical and subjective to them. The principle of consistency in law and accounting dictates that once a method is chosen and decided it is followed until the end and must be applied to everyone irrespective. Consistency in general means the quality of doing things the same way, having the same standards and quality of always being the same. But not with the South African media which has lost credibility by being part of the story to the extent of attacking those who present an opposing and different perspective.
Constitutionally speaking, both former President, Jacob Zuma and Minister Pravin Gordhan are cut from the same cloth and are Constitutional delinquents; but treated differently. So my question is; is “timing” an acceptable argument in law and accounting? And if the answer is yes; the question would be, to who?
The same gang of journalists that wants to see Zuma in court and who see “timing” as “legally immaterial” on Zuma’s case are Gordhan cheer leaders and supporters. Having seeked expedience and hiding behind political “timing” of the release of the Public Protector’s report. They with Minister Pravin Gordhan, argue that the Public Protector’s “timing” is mischivious as it was announced before the appointment of Ministers. Which begs another question if whether it was automatic for Pravin Gordhan to have been appointed as Minister?
The argument that the “timing” of the Public Protector on Pravin Gordhan is problematic and questionable holds water in and only if the same argument is acceptable to Zuma’s case and everyone. But if the “timing” question is only applicable to Gordhan but immaterial to Zuma and others, it is inconsistent and bias. And this is problematic because biasness is an unfair act or policy or behavior stemming from prejudice.
The South African mainstream media is therefore facing both a moral and ethical dilemma on how they respond to corruption and allegations of corruption. The recent findings by the Public Protector on Minister Pravin Gordhan and the attacks meted on her office reinforces the observation that the South African mainstream media is captured.
Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a professor of democracy studies, defines media capture “as a situation in which the news media are controlled either directly by governments or by vested interests networked with politics.” The definition by Professor Alina provides an important cornerstone in understanding how the South African media have become blind to corruption and allegations of corruption by some powerful politician and those with vested interest.
This attacks on the Chapter 9 institution took place immediately after the report was released which begs the question if whether our honourable and esteemed journalists even took time to read the Public Protector’s report in order to better inform South Africans of the basis of the interpretations and applications which informed the findings on Minister Gordhan? In any case the effects of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ has come to symbolize South Africa as others have proven to be more equal than others.
In Setswana we say “molato ga o bole”, meaning that justice knows no time. Therefore Minister Pravin Gordhan and the media must allow the law to take its cause without casting aspersions on those who interpret the law. What do we do as academics and the intelligentsia when a small section of society overlooks injustices, racial discrimination, prejudices, landlessness and inequalities, has absolute control over our political, social, economic and cultural discourse? When we find ourselves in an age of sophisticated tyranny.
BB Senokoane is an Associate Professor at UNISA in the College of Human Sciences. He writes in his personal capacity.