News / Opinion / Columns

William Saunderson-Meyer
3 minute read
23 Sep 2017
5:35 am

No, Sanef, the ZCC can boycott Tiso Blackstar as much as it likes

William Saunderson-Meyer

Constitutional rights work both ways, you know.

ATTRIDGEVILLE, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 28: Members of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) gather for a mass prayer meeting at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Attridgeville, South Africa. The members marked the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Land Act. (Photo by Gallo Images / The Times / Moeletsi Mabe)

Suckling as they do from birth on the pabulum of entitlement, it is hardly surprising that South Africans assume the world owes them a living. It is worrying, though, when journalists succumb to the same delusion.

This week, the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) urged the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) to withdraw a call upon its congregants to stop buying newspaper titles owned by Tiso Blackstar.

The media group publishes some of South Africa’s most influential titles, including the Financial Mail, Business Day, Sowetan and Sunday Times. It also publishes Sunday World, which sells itself on its gossip and celebrity coverage.

Last week, its entire front cover was the headline “ZCC bishop faces arrest” – a story that claimed ZCC leader Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane faced arrest in Botswana for contempt of court.

This prompted the church to call on its 16 million members to institute a boycott.

Into this fray rode Sanef on its constitutional charger.

“In Sanef’s view, the call for a consumer boycott is tantamount to editorial interference, bullying and censorship … A call for a consumer boycott of any media outlet should be discouraged and should not be acceptable in a constitutional democracy where multiple channels for redress are available.”

What a load of bollocks.

To boycott is a constitutional right, no matter how apparent it might be to an impartial observer that the decision to do so is muddled and dumb.

No one has to buy your newspaper. No one has to – because apartheid was destructive and the world owes us – invest in our country.

In similar vein, social media was abuzz with righteous wrath because an Afrikaner-owned furniture chain in Pretoria withdrew its advertising from Jacaranda FM because it did not like the supposedly racist tone of a talk show host.

South Africans don’t seem to understand how democracies work. It is irrelevant whether it is talk host Tumi Morake who is “racist”, or Eric Barnard Meubels, the store that withdrew its R100 000 monthly advertising.

It is a principle of democracy that you can say what you like, up to the point that your words become legally actionable.

It is also your democratic right to take your business elsewhere if you don’t like the behaviour of the entity for whose services you are paying.

Despite the apparent befuddlement of large sections of the commentariat, this is not a startling, new concept.

Media houses have always had to juggle the exercise of editorial freedom against the reality of withdrawal of support from an angry advertiser.

The Sunday World story was actually mischievously sensationalist. It’s one of those dubious could-be stories, more hype than reality. It’s a bit like the Sunday Times’ scoops about the SA Revenue Service’s “rogue unit”, which have now been revealed by a KPMG admission to have been pure fiction.

Never mind the collateral damage from this disinformation – the ousting of a finance minister and his deputy and a journalistic facilitation of state capture at the tax office.

Sanef has, as yet, said not a word about this failure on the part of a Tiso Blackstar title.

But then again it, too, has to weigh integrity against commercial reality. One never knows when the Empire’s intergalactic battle fleet might strike back.

William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer.