Ranjeni Munusamy, Karima Brown, Pauli van Wyk, Adriaan Basson, Max du Preez and Barry Bateman have all, at one stage or another, been in the crosshairs of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ vitriolic attacks on journalists they disagree with.
It recently was the unfortunate turn of veteran journalist Karima Brown to feel the wrath of an organisation that has, in the past, shown it is prepared to use fear to get journalists to back down from doing critical stories about it.
By making Brown’s cellphone number public, the EFF leader effectively invited the organisation’s supporters to attack her. In the words of political analyst and radio talk show host Eusebius McKaiser, the EFF decided “to outsource the violence” against journalists to its supporters. This way, its leaders’ hands will remain clean (criminally at least), should these journalists suffer physical harm.
Even though the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has, in the past, come out in defence of journalists, it is clear its methods – statements of condemnation – do not have any effect on the EFF leadership. “You condemn how we deal with journalists. So what?” seems to be the EFF’s response whenever they are confronted. And they are right to believe they can attack journalists with impunity because they have created an atmosphere that makes it acceptable to do so.
The chilling effect Sanef has referred to in the past not only applies to newsrooms, where journalists will think twice before penning anything critical of the EFF, but also to a generally accepted atmosphere that makes it possible to throw around labels like “Stratcom journalist” without providing any proof whatsoever that a journalist ever was an apartheid spy working for Stratcom.
The atmosphere gets further polluted when one realises that the main targets are white, Indian or coloured. Not that there haven’t been attacks of black journalists. But the main targets of the EFF’s attacks are people who can easily be targeted and labelled as racists by EFF supporters on social media.
It is no coincidence then that when Brown or Munusamy are demonised, the slurs take on racial undertones. Or when a Pauli van Wyk is called a Satan, it goes beyond her being a journalist critical of the EFF to a level where it’s open season on her on Twitter.
So, when a leader then says “these journalists must be dealt with accordingly”, the level of violence directed towards that journalist becomes acceptable, because what does a “Satan” deserve? What does a racist, Stratcom and “curry-eating” Ranjeni deserve? Ultimate scorn and violence, obviously.
It is a sad state of affairs that the Independent Electoral Commission is seen as the only body that can take decisive action to end these unwarranted attacks on journalists. The IEC is actually put in an impossible position of having to decide what the best punishment is for a political party which received more than a million votes in the last national elections, risking being labelled of standing in the way of democracy.
The use of fear by a political organisation to achieve its aims is not a new thing. Hitler used it, the apartheid state used it and it comes as no surprise when those that use it against journalists are called fascists.
Malema and his party know better and can do better to avoid being classed as such.