When I arrived on Wednesday the 22nd of March at the Pietermaritzburg High Court, to support President Jacob Zuma in his private criminal prosecution of advocate Billy Downer and Media24 journalist Karyn Maughan, I was met with the extraordinary sight of journalists who are members of SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), picketing with placards stating that the prosecution of Maughan was an ‘attack on media freedom’.
As I had to pass the SANEF picket line in order to get into the court building I greeted them. In fact I took the trouble to introduce myself, and to shake their hands. While doing so I also asked them who they are, and they introduced themselves as journalists from several media groups, among them News24, The Witness and various other media houses.
I proceeded to engage with these journalists about the content of their placards, which showed that they were labouring under the erroneous misconception that the criminal charges that President Zuma brought against Maughan were an attack on media freedom. The exact words that I used were: “Guys, I do not think you understand the Constitution, and therefore you confuse criminality with media freedom”. I then enlightened with them about the fact that they as journalists have actively entered the political terrain by holding a picket and asked them how it is going to be possible for them to report professionally and objectively about Maughan’s case, when they have taken a public standing protesting in support of her.
Instead of answering my concern some of the journalists started chanting ‘Viva Media Freedom’, trying to drown out the very valid concern that I raised. Furthermore, instead of responding to my concern the Executive Director of SANEF, Reggy Moalusi, decided to throw in the red herring of an ill-conceived so-called ‘insult’ that he was apparently experiencing, for me having said that the placards show that they do not understand the Constitution.
Mr. Moalusi, himself a Media24 employee, was clearly in urgent need of a dictionary to get a proper definition of what the word ‘insult’ actually means, because not by the furthest flight of the imagination can one construe a comment that someone does not understand something, as an ‘insult’. But obviously he was simply obfuscating, and trying to avoid my question, because he knew very well that it was going to the heart of SANEF’s outrageously unprofessional conduct.
Continuing with this cheap, and very transparent tactic, Mr. Moalusi then insisted that I must first ‘apologise’ for having ‘insulted’ the journalists, which I was obviously not going to do, because I have not insulted them at all by having made the very valid statement that their conduct indicates that they do not understand the Constitution. This he was churlishly doing while I calmly, and without raising my voice, insisted on driving my point home. Namely, that a criminal act by Maughan, having illegally received and published the private medical records of President Zuma, which is protected by law and was leaked to her by her fellow accused, the serial leaker Advocate Downer, should not be confused with media freedom.
It is in fact very simple: media freedom does not grant journalists carte blanche to behave as they wish, and to act criminally and willy-nilly to contravene the law. Downer and Maughan are both South African citizens, and as such they are subjected to the rule of law, similar to all of us as South African citizens. The fact they are respectively an advocate, and in Maughan case a so-called ‘legal expert’ journalist (without any legal qualification, I must hasten to add), certainly does not place them above the Constitution, and our country’s laws.
Mr. Moalusi and his SANEF gang were evidently not prepared to allow themselves to be convinced by such basic facts, they were hell-bent on their ‘media freedom’ propaganda picket stunt. While I continued to make my unassailable constitutional argument, they proceeded to shout me down, and on instruction of Mr. Moalusi – as their cheerleader – some of the journalists turned their backs on me, behaving like immature children on a school playground.
All this childish bullying conduct was accompanied by the ridiculous and laughable chants of Mr. Moalusi, that I was the one insulting them! Fortunately there is video footage of the whole sordid incident, providing ample proof of who were actually the rude, and insulting ones. As the old saying goes, a picture (in this instance a video) tells a thousand words.
Now let me return to the facts, rather than the farcical, ill-mannered and intemperate, hot air that the SANEF journalists were blowing outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court. After having entered the political fray boots-and-all, and declared their ill-conceived biased support for Maughan, the very same journalists then folded up their placards, and entered the courtroom where Maughan is a criminally accused, in order to report on the case.
How on earth can anyone even remotely expect that they will report objectively, and professionally, after having demonstrated so openly and publicly that they have taken sides in favour of the accused? Later the same afternoon I narrated this farcical situation in an interview with an international television news channel, and the journalist who was interviewing me actually bursted out laughing, asking how on earth was this at all possible? She queried me with incredulity, whether these were really journalists?? Of course, her question was entirely justified: are we dealing here with journalists, or with paid propaganda agents? That it is the latter, is patently obvious.
This was borne out by the conduct of the so called ‘journalist’ Kaveel Singh of News24 who actually participated in the SANEF picket, and then proceeded to write a triumphalist article about how I was apparently ’swiftly’ rebutted by Mr. Moalusi, and proudly headlined his piece of trash biased ‘journalism’, “SANEF turns their backs on Carl Niehaus”.
Kaveel then walked with a firmly made up mind into the courtroom, and wrote a most shameful and biased article totally, misrepresenting the arguments that advocate Dali Mpofu advanced in defence of President Zuma. Instead of reporting factually, Kaveel shamelessly used the biased and judgemental language that: “Mpofu waffled about various laws, and took hours on end to make simple legal points”. As if this was not already unprofessional enough, Singh then wrote a praise song to the council of the accused, advocate Steven Budlender, saying that in less than 30 minutes he “commanded the attention of the judges and the courtroom”.
This was gutter Stratcom-like propaganda journalism of the worst kind, and one would have expected that his Editor in Chief would have spiked such biased journalism in an attempt to protect the journalistic integrity of News24. But of course there was no chance any such quality control, and professionalism, because his Editor in Chief is Adriaan Basson (who is by the way also the Deputy-Chairperson of SANEF), and who during a previous court appearance of Maughan in the very same court, on the 10th of October 2022, ‘proudly’ sat in support next to her.
So there we have it: The whole click of hacks are in cahoots, and Singh was only doing what his boss expected of him! Let me conclude with the one salient observation that this sordid tale of biased and unprofessional journalistic conduct once again drove home: SANEF, and most of our mainstream media are captured, and well paid, by their White Monopoly Capitalist owners, and their black compradore capitalist lackeys in tow. Anyone who expects factual, unbiased, and professional reporting from them lives in cloud cuckoo land.
These are shameless mercenary propagandists in the mould of Joseph Goebbels.
*Ambassador Carl ‘Mpangazitha’ Niehaus is the National Chairperson of the Working Board of the African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (ARETA).