We forget fake news allowed George W Bush to invade Iraq and WMD (weapons of mass destruction) were more of an invention than WMC (white monopoly capital). The R68 000-a-day chasm between executives and workforce forces us to acknowledge our current failings. But now, in 2017, faux news has become the sharp end of a very phallic system of oppression and repression.
In an African, and ultimately global, context, the death of SABC journalist Suna Venter is a significant spike in temperature on a heat map of transgressions against the media. The assailants are largely faceless, yet ubiquitous. They move in the dark and yet spawn identities on social media. Welcome to the age of bots and rent-a-crowds, of hackers and henchmen.
From the tiny fingertips of Donald Trump to the blunt objects aimed at the bodies of Venter and thousands of journalists like her around the world, the slow strangulation of the media has only intensified in the slipstream of fake news, cyber-attacks and state-condoned surveillance.
I didn’t know Venter personally but her works speaks for itself. Her ordeal is too ghastly for any journalist to contemplate. To our knowledge, there is no evidence directly linking her death to foul play but only a fool would exclude the intimidation, kidnapping and attempted murder she endured as casual factors. Venter was systematically broken by forces at war with the organs of a democracy.
In America the system is only slightly more subtle. Trump saw fit to attack TV news presenter Mika Brzezinski, tweeting she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” and had begged to spend the New Year’s holiday with him. He was bullying her in full view of the entire world and, thankfully, he was called out for it.
Days earlier, the White House began banning cameras from certain press briefings, which infringes on press freedom.
Without being overly dramatic, it’s fair to say the Fourth Estate is at war with enemies on the outside and within.
Take the case of Keiso Mohloboli (above), a promising young journalist and African Independent correspondent on the run from the former Lesotho government. New leadership in her country recently doesn’t make her feel safe enough to return. She fears for her life after her editor was shot last year. Their crime? Reporting on an alleged golden handshake from the then prime minister and his deputy to the discredited defence force head. Africa is littered with journalists fearing for their lives.
Further afield, Al Jazeera has become a pawn in the Gulf crisis. Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh has been jailed for 10 years on propaganda charges. This after a one-day trial. We still have not accounted for South African journalist Shiraz Mohamed, kidnapped in Syria in January.
And what of the enemy within? The rampant marginalisation of skilled and experienced journalists in favour of a younger, cheaper workforce has jeopardised the profession and possibly damaged it forever. The balance of power in many media houses has shifted. The current economics of news can no longer hold in the wake of disruption from digital technology, unsympathetic media owners and the curtailing of government advertising.
It would be a shame to lose talent and courage in the media at this precarious juncture in our history.
No, it would be tragic.