Thursday, June 15, 2017

ANN7 editor-in-chief Moegsien Williams: Flurry of complaints because viewers don't like our 'alternative narrative'; claims SA media 'involved in plot to oust president of the ANC'.

The Gupta-owned channel ANN7 (DStv 405) carried on MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV platform says the Broadcasting Complaints Commission has received a barrage of complaints over its coverage since president Jacob Zuma fired Pravin Gordhan as finance minister and that DStv subscribers "simply didn't like the alternative narrative of ANN7 that the president probably had good reason to get rid of Gordhan".

Moegsien Williams, ANN7 editor-in-chief says that if a petition to remove ANN7 from MultiChoice's DStv were to be successful, that it would "seriously hurt public discourse".

His response comes as the Gupta-owned media are feeling increased public heat. The SABC and Eskom has cancelled subscriptions totaling millions of rand of The New Age newspaper.

The new interim SABC board also canned the controversial The New Age Breakfast Briefings that had cost the public broadcaster R20 million since 2011, with the SABC making no money and revenue going to TNA only.

DStv subscribers have also been vocal that they don't want their subscription fees to fund the Gupta-owned TV channel with an online petition that was started in April, that has now grown to over 12 4000 signatures and comments from irate viewers who are voicing concern over the channel's "propaganda broadcasts".

Last week the Democratic Alliance (DA) political party called for a boycott of all Gupta-owned media in South Africa after it was revealed that the department of communication spent close to R1 million on just one of the TNA Breakfast Briefings in May 2016.

In an open letter by Moegsien Williams, editor-in-chief of The New Age newspaper and ANN7 published online on ANN7 and in the Gupta-owned newspaper on Thursday, he said "silencing The New Age and ANN7 would make all of us poorer".

Moegsien Williams claimed South African editors and journalists of being "involved in a plot to oust the president of the ANC".

Here is the open letter, republished in full, without any editing:

"If TNA and ANN7 were no longer available, where would South Africans obtain a different point of view from that of the mainstream?

THE late and legendary editor of the Sunday Times Ken Owen had a lengthy if somewhat vitriolic polemic with the then leadership of the DA under Tony Leon.

The central thrust of Owen’s argument was that the leadership of the DA at the time, while claiming the mantle of liberalism, were not true liberals at all. He accused them of not being cut from the same cloth as classic liberals like Alan Paton, Margaret Ballinger and Leo Marquard.

One of debates centred on the abolition of the death penalty and a sense that the DA would not be averse to a referendum on capital punishment.

The current leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane, seems to have inherited this DNA, flirting with the notion of the reintroduction of the death penalty during a sermon/lecture at at church gathering some years ago.

The same illiberalism seems to be imprinted on the DNA of the DA when it comes to the media. Recently it was unambiguous in its call for the shutting down of this newspaper and its sister TV channel ANN7.

“It is time to stop giving The New Age (TNA) and ANN7 the time of day, and see them for what they are: the Guptas’ own closed circuit television. It is time to stop all funding of ANN7 and TNA, to put a stop to the Guptas’ propaganda campaign.”

In fact, the DA campaigned against the paper and ANN7 from the day they were launched for one simple reason: they were and are alternative voices to the one-eyed partisan media, prepared to articulate the views of the progressive movement, the government, the ruling party and the 62% of the electorate who voted for the ANC in 2014.

The DA has joined a throng of people who signed a petition to DStv, on whose platform ANN7 broadcasts, to have the channel taken off air. 

We have also seen a flurry of complaints to the Broadcast Complaints Commission of South Africa from the time Pravin Gordhan was axed from Cabinet by President Jacob Zuma. 

These people simply didn’t like the alternative narrative of ANN7 that the president probably had good reason to get rid of Gordhan. This was accompanied by direct hate mail, texts and calls to me personally expressing unhappiness over the TV channel.

My message to all of them was that the remote control is a great tool of democracy, switch channels if you didn’t like news and views sprouted on ANN7.

Now my good friend and comrade Mathatha Tsedu has entered the fray.

In an inexplicable statement last week, he said: “We live in very trying times, the profession is under siege, not from normal enemies like the state and communities … we face subversion even from inside whereby you get institutions like ANN7 who are specifically manufactured to discredit journalism.”

It’s the same tone of language I heard uttered by white newspaper bosses in the ’70s and ’80s about Tsedu, myself and many others as activist journalists trying to highlight the evils of apartheid.

The Tsedu I’ve known for more than 40 years is not a neo-liberal but a person with a keen mind and an independent thinker with a strong belief in Pan-Africanism. He has lectured to our interns at TNA and just last year he accused Julius Malema of behaving “like an Idi Amin” when the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) barred ANN7 from its press conferences.

My message to Tsedu is that the interns he had lectured about his brave exploits in the then Pietersburg as a correspondent for the Sowetan are now in our newsrooms trying to
emulate him.

They hung onto every word on how he tried to get stories published about political trials and the broad struggle against apartheid in the face of an overwhelming sectarian media.

They are not into fake journalism or trying to discredit the profession – but simply providing another media voice.

I can only surmise his attack on ANN7 –without proffering any proof – was prompted by his membership of the interim SABC board and that he sees ANN7 as a rival channel to
the TV news channels of the SABC?

His stance boggles the mind because he has never uttered similar invective against the hegemonic media companies which helped to buttress the apartheid edifice and continues to control media in South Africa today.

And there was nary a word uttered at the South African National Editors Forum AGM last weekend about a revealing editorial that appeared in the Daily Maverick recently with
reference to the so-called Gupta leaks.

It said: “The heroes are whistle-blowers who may be risking their lives to expose the truth and others who assisted in the process. For now, for their safety, they shall remain unsung.
“The misguided are people whom we had trusted and let into the process, but who took a copy and without our knowledge caused a selection to be leaked to the two newspapers
last week. Their motive was short-term political gain.

“They seem to have thought they could influence the ANC national executive committee to recall the president. They failed.” Editors and journalists involved in a plot to oust the president of the ANC. If this is not a discredit to journalism in South Africa, God knows what is.

These critics of TNA and ANN7 have probably never heard of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who famously said in 1906: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your
right to say it.”

It’s a difficult truism to stomach in a South Africa where the body politic has become so divisive and bloody-minded. In the cacophony of our noisy democracy, it has become difficult to hear another narrative not in sync with your own.

But if you believe in fundamental liberalism as enshrined in our Constitution and consider yourself a defender of democracy, you should defend our right to exist.

While you may not agree with everything we say, we have a right to say it and you have a right to counter us in healthy debate.
The media is an essential forum for debate that strengthens our democracy. But only if multiple and differing views are encouraged.

While some may disagree with the editorial position of TNA and ANN7, calls to take our station off the air are misguided. The Bill of Rights in the Constitution affirms our country’s democratic values and defends the right to freedom of expression. 

It is vital to the health of our nation that the government, political parties and businesses are held to account by journalists.

We believe that South Africa suffers when the biggest media houses in the country share a similar political opinion.

The overwhelming media narrative is one that is highly critical, to the point of being obstructionist, of the ANC and the government’s policy platform.

The 2014 general election saw the ANC take 62% of the popular vote. The DA and EFF achieved 22% and 6% respectively. Some might be surprised then that TNA was the only newspaper to come out in support of the ANC. As small as we are, our position is in line with the electorate and the majority of our people.

This should not be viewed as unusual. In developed democracies around the world, especially in Europe and North America, newspapers and broadcasters often come out in support of political parties ahead of elections.

We supported the ANC’s reform programme then and we do now. However, it may not always be this way. Our journalists are independent and critical and they report on stories in the way that they see appropriate.

Our editorial line is supportive of the ruling party, but our support is not blind and is not guaranteed. It’s critical journalism applied without fear or favour. If the petition to remove ANN7 from DStv were successful, it would seriously hurt public discourse.

If ANN7 was no longer able to broadcast, where would you turn to if you wanted to hear a different point of view from the mainstream?

Where would you turn to hear more positive news about the ANC’s reform programme and fresh thinking about the restructuring of the economy to be more inclusive? We stand ready to defend our point of view and look forward to continuing to debate the best path to more prosperous future for South Africa.

Silencing TNA and ANN7 would make all of us poorer.

Moegsien Williams, editor-in-chief, The New Age and ANN7