NEWS & ANALYSIS

SANEF condemns disuption of book launch, stratcom slurs

Forum says such labeling of journalists an incredibly dangerous trend

SANEF Condemns the Violent Disruption of Journalist Book Launch and the Increased Attempts to Refer to Journalists as “Stratcom”

10 April 2019 

SANEF strongly condemns the violent disruption of journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s “Gangster State” book launch at Exclusive Books, Sandton, Johannesburg last night.

Video footage of the incident shows that protestors wearing t-shirts displaying the logos of the ANC and SANCO, destroyed copies of Myburgh’s book. They loudly chanted “Ace, Ace” and prevented the event from taking place. Pages of the books were torn apart page by page.

This flagrant suppression of freedom of speech has no place in our democracy and we welcome the condemnation issued by the ANC. We however call on the ANC and SANCO to take the relevant steps to conduct internal discipline and corrective action against those responsible. The call by the ANC Free State Youth League to host a “burning” ceremony referring to the same book is deeply disturbing and needs urgent redress by the party.

We again encourage all members of the public, those in business, politics and in communities to make use of democratic institutions like the media, the courts or regulatory bodies to air their grievances with Myburgh and his book – but not to resort to acts of censorship.

The burning of books, and for that matter any literary material, has no place in a democracy where free speech and access to information is a constitutionally protected right.

Stratcom allegations

Further, SANEF is perturbed by the increasing use of the term “Stratcom” to describe journalists.

In the past few weeks, the ANC and EFF have both referred to journalists these parties disagree with as supposedly belonging to “Stratcom”. In the most recent case, the ANC issued a statement labelling Pieter-Louis Myburgh “Stratcom” for writing his book on Ace Magashule.

In April last year, titles in the Independent Media group labelled journalists reporting critically on the company’s chairperson Iqbal Survé as “Stratcom” members.

Stratcom was the name of a dirty tricks unit that operated under the apartheid State Security Council. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) heard evidence from former Stratcom members about how they would infiltrate media houses and use the media to spread disinformation about struggle leaders like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

This disinformation led to the death of activists and the manipulation of the truth to suit the National Party’s agenda.

Calling a journalist “Stratcom” implies they are paid by the state’s security agencies to distort the truth or spread disinformation. It is an incredibly dangerous trend to refer to journalists you don’t agree with as “Stratcom”, without evidence that they are corrupt or involved in nefarious activities. It casts doubt on the media industry as a whole and puts the safety of journalists at risk.

SANEF urges politicians and businesspeople who are unhappy with the work of journalists to make use of the available regulatory mechanisms at the Press Ombudsman of South Africa or institute civil defamation proceedings in the country’s courts instead of attempting to taint journalists with a Stratcom-brush. 

Issued by Kate Skinner, SANEF Executive Director, 10 April 2019