Time to break culture of fear

Congratulations to the SABC editorial staff – Thandeka Gqubule, Foeta Krige, Lukhanyo Calata, Suna Venter, Vuyo Mvoko, Krivani Pillay, Busi Ntuli and Jacque Steenkamp on receiving the Nat Nakasa Award. 

It is encouraging to see their bravery in standing up to censorship being recognised. The SA National Editor’s Forum, Print Media SA and the Neiman Society must also be commended for recognising these particularly brave journalists who have refused to compromise their ethics amid a sustained effort to capture the airwaves of this nation.

This award was established to recognise media practitioners who demonstrate “integrity and report fearlessly; displaying commitment to serving the people of South Africa; and resisting censorship”, among other qualities. If it were up to me, these same qualities would be encouraged for all citizens of this country.

These characteristics are particularly important because the situation at the SABC pretty much pervades throughout South Africa. Those connected to the political elite swing borrowed power around like a sledgehammer, causing ordinary people to cower in silence.

These mechanics of fear violate every freedom we sought to achieve with democracy, particularly our democracy – one that we won at great expense.

If we want to build an equitable, just society it is imperative for citizens to hold integrity close to our hearts and to be courageous in service to our nation.

This is how we will rally towards common goals. It is what will assist us to call leaders to order sooner rather than later.

And it is how people will exercise control of their country. It is how we will set the pace for those we lend power to.

If more of us are upright, patriotic and brave enough to act, we will not only become a voice, but seal our position in our democracy, over and above the vote we exercise in five-year cycles.

If such a culture of courage is encouraged and nurtured, it will quickly replace the one in which censorship can become so entrenched that it turns into a self perpetuating phenomenon.

Boldness in the pursuit of justice will replace the climate in which citizens are reluctant to make their voices heard in fear of being alienated, victimised, losing their jobs, or at worst, killed.

When we defend the freedom of journalists to report freely – with integrity and commitment to serve – we do so because we want the same freedoms upheld in our society.

Further, being at the centre of disseminating information, journalists play an invaluable role in providing fresh and relevant information to all. Such information informs society, allowing people to assess the direction the nation is taking daily.

Public discourse is what allows for necessary corrections to be made, hopefully in time to avert disaster.

If this does not happen, if a society is closed and censored, that society becomes blind and dependent on leaders who themselves are blinded by self-interest.

It is with this in mind, that the people of South Africa must always encourage and uphold the freedom of journalists to report without fear or favour.

The struggle of journalists to report without the heavy hand of censorship is also inseparable from the constant struggle of citizens to be heard.

But speaking out cannot be left to journalists and activists alone. It is a core duty of all patriotic citizens.

Demonstrating integrity and bravery are vital for defending the freedom of expression. This extends far beyond political affiliation. It is in the interest of the nation.

It is high time the likes of Hlaudi Motsoeneng and his political counterparts, who use coercion, threats, myths and outright lies, realise that people will not be bamboozled into supporting those who are willing to ride roughshod over our freedom.

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