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Media freedom – the other side of democratic midnight

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 15 December 2017 03:10


Last week I challenged the powers that be to walk the talk on media freedom. Because it had become increasingly obvious that only murder and mayhem separated the present dispensation from the previous regime.

Once in power all politicians feel the sharp thorn of the Fourth Estate’s disrespect. It is the same independence of spirit they encouraged and endorsed when they were in opposition. There is only the signal difference that where once the military jackboot of a government grown fat on the spoils of war stamped out all dissent with ruthless efficiency, a far more effete administration that has succeeded it in more ways than one – but is no less annoyed at a refusal of some segments of the press to pursue peace without honour – merely grouses in private, grumbles in public, and mutters maybe not so idle words about media conspiracies.

But today I want to be among the first to admit that it is not only an abundance of political chefs who spoil the media soup. There is an embarrassment of less than salutary practitioners too who have let the side down since time immemorial. Here are but a few representative samples of the well-known aspects of our industry, in a coded schema of sorts, which don’t get discussed much outside inside circles:


  • A ‘House by the Lake’ that has been traditionally owned and operated or overseen by the ‘House by the Oya’

    (A public secret; there’s no big revelation to be gobsmacked about there, folks)

  • A ‘Leading’ newspaper group with a Sunday flagship publication which was once, briefly, at the forefront of cutting-edge journalism – but in reality was a front for a presidential aspirant, and whose editor had political ambitions of his own and was probably assassinated for it

(An insider secret among those privy to private knowledge among the media glitterati, to which truth yours truly can attest perhaps a trifle shamefacedly)

  • The ‘Capitalist’ media house that has traditionally backed both houses in the House, but has recently realised the relative merits of going it alone, even if it still has powerful friends

    (The perception that is growing as a widespread social campaign consolidated in people’s hearts by a significant social media presence makes an impression at the political periphery, evidently with its eyes on the centre of power)

Other considerations also intrude on the media scene. These days the buzz in the media’s academic wing is much about the intrusiveness of the so-called nanny state. These same guardians of ours are also concerned with the rights of the general citizenry when it comes to matters such as ageism, sexism, and all the other isms and schisms that divide the free media from academia.

The form order tests

(If you are free, take this test. It is not a compulsory exam… so many politicos have not passed their O Levels, so why should the media be any different? But be warned. This is only a rough guide to the state of the Fourth Estate. Hoist by their own petard, the independent press may have to admit later that they were bought, kept, and discarded by their political masters – and mistresses.)

A. Essays

1.Critically evaluate the state of the free media today. Start up your own media house in order to launch an investigation if necessary. Perhaps you could consider purchasing the buying power of a moneybags politico with deep pockets and deeper ambitions with his eye on the main chance. (Caution: be prepared for the rat-bag to later deny all knowledge of his investment in you. Or to have him divest himself of his interest in you because you and your rag and rag-tag motley crew are no longer the leading edge… in investigative journalism – or the leader in anything, really.) [FULL MARKS FOR FLYING UNDER FALSE COLOURS FOR SO LONG…]

B. Short Answers.

1. Let us know your views in brief on the political ambitions of a certain ‘capitalistic’ media house that is going great guns in its hearts and hands campaign to position its presidential aspirant in the minds of the masses. YOU report. WE decide.

2. Do you think it is a good thing for the House by the Lake to be ‘owned’ (in some or any sense) by the House by the Oya, so that its majority members’ best vested interests can be presented and defended? (HINT… do remember that we’re supposed to be a functioning democracy these days, dear, not some banana republic or tin-pot regime!)

3. Was social media the real king maker in the revolutionary election of January 2015? Does the government know that it is in danger of being unseated by a similar movement if it does not get off its butt and dust off its long-forgotten laurels?

4. Have all those reputedly scurrilous online websites which are critical of the bureaucracy/state/government no real standing in civil society? Are they not free media too? Would the libertarian champions of an unfettered press stand up and speak out on their behalf as well…


1. A leading media house that had won the trust of its readership through its bloodied but unbowed stand before the bludgeoning of fate and those players in politics is:

    a. A scam, a sham, a shame.

    b.Bloodied and unbowed because it had the big guns of its day protecting it.

    c. Caught in the miserable political machine of money- and idea-laundering!

    d. Doomed to the dustbin of history as a result of its lamentably exposed track record…

2. If there was one thing you would want/need/like the free media to improve itself on, it would be:

    a. All of the below

    b.Better language skills (eds. and subs. take note)

    c.Clearer accounts of transparency (over to you owners and heads of stations)

    d.Decency in reporting sex-crimes+

    e. Every once in a while a sunshine story – not everyday

3.    The relationship between the media and its political masters could/should be:

    a. Acrimonious

    b. Brutally honest on both sides

    c. Cordial

    d. Distant

    e. Eh, I don’t understand the question – what relationship?

    f. Forget, sorry!

    g. Go figure.

    h. Have a small drink. Here is a small gift for you also.

    i. I thought I told you that we’re a functioning democracy, no.

    j. Just forget it. (See f. above also)

    k. Kiss my art (pardon my French)

    l. Love-hate. We love you. You hate us.

    m. Media IS/ARE the political masters, right?

    n. No comment.

    o. Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.

    p.Perhaps you could/should rephrase the question…

    q.Quiet there in the gallery, please, we’re trying to copy/cheat/think/swim/sink/launder money/drink to forget, etc.

    r. Really, is any relationship possible between a minister who once thought the press could be bought for a pint and the highfalutin grandstanding he’s doing these days?

    s. Shall we move on to the next question – already.

    t. Thanks, next question please. (Can I draft it and the PM’s office will approve the final, ah.)

    u.Understand that all the machinations are done by the Machiavellian Presidential Secretariat, not the poor premier.

    v. Video surveillance is not being carried out by our nanny state in order to maintain the sweetness of its relationship with the Fourth Estate.

    w. What’s up with all that “we promise impunity for the press” stuff when the powers that be still feel free to point fingers and lay blame at the door of media houses?

    x. X still marks the spot where the slain editor lies in eternal mystery as to his assassins, so don’t even start me on relationships.

    y. You can’t remember what the question is.

    z. ZZZ: I’m falling asleep on the job too, just like the rest of civil society.

I enjoyed that. Didn’t you? Perhaps though the point is not so much to be entertained by the free media as to be encouraged to think! Critical engagement with the powers that be whom we voted in by the way is best not left to party stooges posing as editors, paper or straw men parading their ignorance about media ethics, pathetic excuses for newspapermen schooled by their political masters. Civil society must step up to the plate in this electronically empowered era of online citizen journalism. That revolution will not be televised ‘in the middle of the village’. The time is ripe for a social media overhaul of traditional news and views outlets. It won’t happen if you just sit there reading this. Go. Start a blog. Or something. Bet it will be better than the balderdash I write. Good luck.

(A senior journalist, the writer was once the Chief Sub Editor of The Sunday Leader, 1994-8, and is ex-LMD, having been its Editor, 2004-8. He has made a career out of asking questions, and not waiting for answers.)

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