By: Mapi Mhlangu, eNCA MD and Editor-in-chief.
On Sunday 18 March 2018, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Julius Malema accused eNCA of protecting white privilege and white supremacy on Twitter. This accusation is disturbing given the values at the core of eNCA’s journalism over the last decade. Despite our relatively small size as a news organisation, we have consistently dedicated our limited resources to stories which have put justice, equality and human rights at the centre of our news, in line with our insistence that we offer news without fear or favour. Our staff have consistently told stories about what is broken in this country, how it can be fixed and how we can make each other accountable.
Mr Malema’s characterisation of eNCA is not supported by the factual record. The channel’s majority stakeholder is a Black empowerment company, Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI), and of that a significant share of eMedia is held by the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU). The ownership of eNCA through eMedia is therefore not as has often been alleged in public. Additionally, the staff members at eNCA are representative of the diversity of people who make up contemporary South Africa, who bring to their work divergent political views and social experiences, which inform our story-telling in ways which South Africans have appreciated to the extent of making us the most-watched channel among news viewers.
Mr Malema’s tweets have consequences, not least because he is the leader of a political party with substantial representation and support across South Africa. The first of these consequences have been threats to individual journalists in the wake of his online messages. At any other time in our country’s history this would have required a response from the editorial team, not least because it is a question of ensuring the safety of journalists in a democratic society. In the year ahead of what may be South Africa’s most important general elections since the abolition of legislated apartheid, the role of the news media and the safety of those who work in this crucial sector, cannot be overstated. We must remind ourselves the role that South Africa’s journalists and media organisations played in holding executive power to account and their key role in protecting the democratic order, which eventually saw the reinstitution of corruption charges against a former head of state.
Furthermore, eNCA operates in a highly regulated space governed by The Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA). If political organisations or their leaders have concerns about news media organisations or their output, there are structures and processes in democratic South Africa available to them to pursue their complaints. The BCCSA is one avenue through which any person or organisation may pursue their complaint should direct engagement with that media organisation not be satisfactory. This is the democratic right assured all of us in democratic South Africa.
The legal and policy framework to which all news organisations are subject does not permit them to promulgate hatred or incite violence, or endorse such calls. We are strong supporters of this code, as is reflected in our editorial policy, which demand of our staff even more stringent commitment to the values of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. This is no small matter for eNCA; it is at the core of our ethos as a news organisation, and informs the work of all the people who work here on a daily basis.
Media freedom and the safety of journalists are under increasing threat around the world. South Africans fought long and hard to guarantee this freedom as a pillar of the constitutional democracy. Political parties, leaders and citizens have the freedom to criticise the media, but also have the responsibility to do so through the channels available to them in ways which contribute to strengthening democracy and accountability. eNCA is an organisation founded by people who opposed racist domination, and every day the hundreds of people who work incredibly hard to make eNCA the most watched news channel on satellite television in South Africa reaffirm that commitment to a democratic country in which we celebrate a plurality of views within the letter and spirit of constitutional democracy. We affirm that commitment to a democratic country in which we celebrate a plurality of views within the letter and spirit of constitutional democracy.