It is with great shock and sadness that the Right2Know Campaign learned of the passing away of whistleblower and media freedom fighter, Suna Venter. It is even more saddening to note that the media fraternity also lost SABC camera operator Zama Mbalo, Carte Blanche’s Johann Botha, and anti-apartheid photographer Ranjith Kally all in a very short space of time. Our condolences are extended to the families of these journalists.
Right2Know campaign draws a lot of inspiration from the commendable courage of Suna and her 7 SABC colleagues for their refusal to back down in the face of death threats, bullets and intimidation. The secret war that has been waged on members of the SABC 8, the group of public broadcaster workers who blew the whistle on censorship and mismanagement at the SABC, will not be lost on our collective memory. For her principles and courage, Venter’s car came under bullet fire in a late-night shooting, she had her brake-wires cut in a separate incident, she survived a series of unexplained house break-ins, and threats sent via SMS demanding that the journalists drop their court case against the SABC or risk death.
R2K stood in consistent solidarity with and practically supported the SABC 8 last year, including a physical sit-in at the SABC building, during which Right2Know activists were forcibly man-handled, briefly detained and thrown out of the building. We have been energised by the SABC 8’s court victory and the combined efforts of many who have stood and continue to fight for freedom of expression, the right to dissent as well as media freedom and diversity. We are glad to see the fruits of these efforts in the unfolding of reforms at the public broadcaster. R2K is perturbed though, by the decision of the interim board at the SABC to fire Ravi Govender from Lotus FM for exercising his freedom of expression at a social media site. Equally disturbing are the death threats that have since been issued to him. We also note that a plastic bottle of petrol was found at the SABC Morning Live studios raising suspicions of a botched arson attack. We call for vigilance at the SABC to ensure that the gains we are beginning to see are not reversed and that media workers are able to do their work in an environment free of harassment and intimidation.
Suna worked at the SABC, which is by far the most accessible media outlet in the country, carrying more information to more people than any other media institution – the value of her work, both as a journalist and as a media freedom defender, cannot be understated. It is a tragic betrayal of history that we have lost a young media freedom fighter to broken heart syndrome induced by constant persecution from hired thugs.
We recognise that achieving a free, diverse and broadly accessible media system is not limited to ensuring that journalists are able to do their work free from harassment and intimidation of the type that Suna suffered. The problems are complex, multifaceted, structural, and the media sector itself has a lot to answer for, especially with regard to its low accessibility and lack of representivity of grassroots and poor communities. BUT, we will never achieve the media system we want, one that is both free, diverse, accessible, and one which responds to the needs of ALL our people , not just the elite few, if our media workers are not able to operate freely and independently to begin with.
R2K is seriously concerned by the increasing levels of mafia-style politics and actions, a behavioural pattern that we have seen surface before when individuals have the courage to speak out against those in power and to expose corrupt activities. The latest example of such behaviour comes from the small ‘Black First, Land First’ grouping who have evidently taken it upon themselves to be the primary imbongis for the Gupta crew under the guise of a ‘radical’ (but in reality, reactionary) politics.
We condemn in the strongest terms the attacks that BLF has perpetrated against Tiso Blackstar editor-at-large Peter Bruce and their stated intention to further intimidate and harass Bruce, Business Day editor Tim Cohen, Amabhungane investigative journalist Sam Sole, News24 editor Adriaan Basson, EWN journalist and political commentator Stephen Grootes, columnist Max du Preez, EWN reporter Barry Bateman, journalist and political analyst Karima Brown, political commentator and talk show host Eusebius McKaiser, Huffington Post editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee, Primedia Group editor-in-chief Katy Katopodis.
While noting the Minister of Police, Fikile Mabalula’s warning to the BLF to stop the attacks R2K trusts that the SAPS will offer full support to any journalist who is intimidated, threatened and/or attacked. In this spirit, we support the application for an urgent interdiction filed by SANEF and the 12 journalists in the High Court.
We call upon all who live and work in South Africa to defend democracy by standing solidly in support of the constitutional rights to media freedom, freedom of speech and the free flow of information.