SO MUCH MATERIAL: TOO LITTLE TIME

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations” George Orwell.

Last weekend’s publication of a scandalous story which revealed that South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is alleged to have been nicknamed cupcake by one of his mistresses – has left the country’s journalists and editors accusing each other of taking sides in the current power struggles ravaging the ruling party ANC ahead of its  54th National elective conference in December.

“I must admit that I am terribly disappointed in Ramaphosa, just one affair? What kind of presidential contender has one affair? “Cyril Ramaphosa the story that couldn’t.”

“South Africans don’t care about their leader sexual lives” “No lethal blow to Ramaphosa’ Campaign Over sex scandal, yet” “Cyril’s sex ‘scandal’ a damp squib.” “Nobody Cares About The Ramaphosa Sex Scandal” Some accused the editor of being a drama queen lacking in journalistic ethics after he complained of receiving death threats following the stories’ publication.

With twitter having cooled off from posting cupcake memes the editor in question published an opinion piece midweek explaining his actions while also accusing his colleagues in the media of pressuring him to reveal his sources vowing to stand for truth. The Mail and Guardian which published his position warned journalists to manage their biases.

“Power is being contested here. And whenever power is being contested, it is ugly. It is therefore imperative that all of us who work in the media to remember what happened in the run-up to Polokwane. Journalists and publications chose sides, they were proxies for factional battles and they were betrayed.” The editorial concluded that “We are journalists. But we are not freedom fighters. Noble though our work is, we must abandon our self-righteous zeal. Truth, justice, puppies and rainbows are sure to follow if we’re able to report the news as we ought.”

In theory ethical journalism is supposed to be about constrained expression, not free expression. It is supposed to be about professionals who impose self-restraint based upon the respect for others and an attachment to ethical principles. But this can only be done in an environment free from pressure and intimidation – which is why journalists should have a vested interest in defending and promoting high standards of human rights, which includes, in this case, the right for the editor in question to publish the story instead of attacking him.

Make no mistake.

The current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is a very powerful man. He not only has deep roots within the ANC and government, but he has amassed an immense amount of wealth and influence in the business sector since the advent of democracy.  He is a man well versed in almost all sectors of South African society.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of his character lies not in his alleged extra-marital affairs which he dismissed as “dirty-war-tricks” employed to damage his campaign for the presidency but his role leading up to the 2012 Marikana massacre in which 34 Lonmin mine workers were killed by South African police.  Ramaphosa who was the director of Lonmin at the time used his influence to order the police minister to deploy close to 800 policemen to the Koppie in Marikana and later persuaded them to end these “dastardly acts.”  He was calling striking mine workers cowards who lacked courage.

These are known public facts.  In May this year, the Deputy President apologised for his role in the Marikana Massacre saying it was an unfortunate use of language. Unfortunate words from someone who is a lawyer, a skilled negotiator, drafter of the country’s constitution, a businessman, a labour union specialist who at some point in his illustrious career represented the rights and aspirations of mine workers in South Africa. It’s his about turn from negotiating a peaceful settlement to putting pressure on government officials to do something which caused a huge blood stain on the very democracy he helped to build – which worries me.

He lacked restraint.

This image of Deputy President is more troubling to me.  I wonder about his motivations and whose’s interests he is serving or will serve once he becomes President. This alleged sex-scandal only serves to corroborate what we already know, Ramaphosa is a man, like President Zuma, who lacks restraint.  He just goes about it in a way which is more discreet and acceptable to the majority of South Africans. It is what he is capable of doing behind closed doors as illustrated in the Marikana massacre which makes this sordid story about his alleged sexual-exploits, ultimately relevant.

The attacks against the editor in question who was granted leave this week due to stress and trauma suffered as a result of publishing the story only serves to make us forget about history. To divert attention from what matters.

The failure by most South African journalists and editors to defend the editor in question’s right to publish the story without fear or intimidation is also troubling. This year has not been easy for the journalism fraternity and while journalists came out in full support for Journalists standing up against censorship at the SABC. Their silence on the rights for the editor in question to publish a story revealing the hidden character of a man who is in the running for the highest office in the land,  even after the editor has complained of harassment and death threats – is disturbing.

What is this story about?

As with the recent saga of Bell Pottinger, we know that there are many ways to manipulate the media and or public opinion. One of them is complete censorship and suppressing of information. The other is releasing an avalanche of information some of which is misleading, false, true or useless aimed at keeping said target preoccupied with sifting the sheep from the goats. Perhaps the editor in question and his colleagues may have been the victims of a Phishing attack or suggestio falci – a case of having too much information with little time to make sense of it. Time is currency in Journalism and unfortunately, it may have worked against him this time around.  But he still has the editorial right to publish information without fear or intimidation even if we don’t agree with its contents or deem it to be a “good” story.  None of us are beyond reproach in this business.

If President Jacob Zuma and his supporters are capable of engaging in nefarious activities to hold on to power and influence – what makes us think that the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters are not when history tells us otherwise?

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” 
― George Orwell