Conscience of a Centrist: Free press is insurance for SA health

Johannesburg – Her name is Sli Masikane. She is gutsy, level-headed and defiant – everything we need in a journalist in these troubled times.

The harassment directed at her in the past few days by the red berets and some in its leadership for doing her job was not only shameful, but disgusting.

Her only sin is to work for eNCA, a station loathed by the EFF.

Even the feminists in the EFF found nothing wrong when a woman was harassed for covering student protests.

It appears politics trump feminist activism when the timing is opportune.

Masikane’s story is that of hundreds of reporters who get insulted, violated and humiliated for being true to their craft as watchdogs of society. It is the alarm of our moment, and the pitch of anti-press sentiment is at the most fevered it has been since the founding of our democracy.

South Africa’s founding fathers, after breaking free from apartheid, were determined to construct a government of checks and balances.

They realised that immoral men and women will now and again ascend to power and abuse the trust of the electorate.

Therefore, they saw it prudent to establish what has become an insurance policy for the continued health of the nation: a free press.

As a journalist, I know I have a stake in this concept.

But as a father who wants to see his children live in a country at least as free as the one I have enjoyed; a free press is more relevant than ever.

The media in South Africa has fallen prey to more nuanced efforts to throttle its independence including public denunciations of honest journalists. The courage displayed by Masikane and many other colleagues sends the correct message, particularly to girls who want to work in this noble profession: you have a right to exist and tell your country’s stories.

There is honour in reporting truths the powerful would rather remain hidden; for pointing out lies; and for questioning motivations that deserve scrutiny. Our elected leaders have made it fashionable to identify any expression of doubt as an act of opposition or conspiracy with imaginary forces.

Others, the repeat offenders such as the EFF, wage campaigns of harassment against media outlets or journalists they dislike.

This is a danger to democracy. Democracy can be throttled in full view of a public that couldn’t care less.

It’s time for South Africans to support the media and isolate those who tear it to shreds.

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