Ever heard of Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed? If not you’ve probably heard of their story. They are 3 of the 5 Al Jazeera journalists who were wrongfully tried and sentenced to 7-10 years in prison over allegations of “treason” by the Egypt government on Monday June 23rd 2014 while covering the aftermath of the Egyptian army’s removal of dictator Mohamed Morsi from the presidency in July 2013.
The prosecution made dubious claims that the 3 journalists were “guided by the devil” in aiding “The Muslim Brotherhood“, an Islamist political movement that sternly supports Morsi and was recently listed as a “terrorist” organization by the interim government. They’ve also been accused of propaganda and producing false news reports of the situation in Egypt.
Live spoke to 2 South African journalists (Neo Motloung from eNCA and Pheladi Sethusa from The Citizen) and 2 journalism students (Bobontle Mopeloa from University of Johannesburg and Nutty Kgobe from Boston Media House) about the effects such an act could have on journalism worldwide.
What’s your take from a journalist’s perspective on the Al Jazeera staffers getting arrested for doing their jobs?
Nutty Kgobe: A journalist’s responsibilities are – to educate, inform and to act as a watchdog to society – simply meaning that they keep us up to date with EVERYTHING that concerns the people, because in most cases it does end up being about the people. I feel that its nonsense to have to be treated like you have committed the worst crime, when you were acting responsibly to your role as a journalist.
Bobontle Mopeloa: It’s absurd to know that the Al Jazeera journalists were arrested for just doing their job, it concerns me because as a journalist we should be allowed to perform responsibilities for the sake of right to information and freedom of expression. Journalist should be allowed to have independence and the freedom to publish anything without intimidation from anyone. Journalism is not a crime, but it serve an important function of being a watchdog for the community.
Pheladi Sethusa: Obviously I think it’s ridiculous and find the whole trial nonsensical. There’s barely enough evidence to begin to suggest they were aiding terrorism in any way. That said, working in a conflict zone does come with its dangers and this is not as surprising as it should be to me.
Neo Motloung: It is unfair that journalist are getting arrested for informing the public. This show how some government disregarded the human right to freedom of expression.
Is this a fair reflection of how governments in Africa generally interact with media?
Nutty: Of course! We had the same thing happen in South Africa in 2010 withMzilikazi wa Afrika being a victim of this very same injustice. This makes it clear to other countries that the South African government will get rid of anybody that exposes the truth.
Bobontle: Yes, the African states in general do not understand the power of Journalism, In most African countries the media is still under scrutiny from those in power. The media is still not seen as having a critical role to play in creating and sharing information, for educating and building knowledge among citizens
Pheladi: I wouldn’t say in Africa specifically but yes. I think on this continent governments are not discreet in the way they “handle” us. But I think elsewhere journos are forced to shut up in other, less visible ways.
Neo: Not really certain African countries have an open policy to media freedom, but in recent years we have seen an increase in governments protecting information that may put the government in disrepute.
What are/will be the repercussions of this act to the art of journalism on both an African and a global scale?
Nutty: The repercussions are that the art of journalism will lack depth and people won’t believe in it anymore. How devastating would it be for someone who has dreamed of being a journalist and once you get that opportunity people don’t believe you and your work? Honestly I believe that the biggest repercussion is that journalists all around the world wouldn’t be able to connect with each other on pressing matters and it would be rather pointless, unless of cause you want to be in a mask like Anas Aremeyaw Anas and spend some 10 years in prison to be known as a hero
Bobontle: It will undermine the work of journalist,their principles and what they stand for restricting them from publishing certain stories that are in the best interest of the community. Journalist should be severnts to the people and not slave to the government.
Pheladi: Again I think it exposes how insensitive and hasty our governments can be when dealing with tjatjarag journos. It may scare some people into backing away from some stories but it may also make a lot of people more brazen in their reporting.
Neo: No one can really silence the media, especially in these times we a living. New media has open doors for those whose media has been silenced or taken over by governments. In countries like Afghanistan bloggers are really the mouth piece of the society.
Bringing it closer to home there has been a lot of media censorship when it comes to government issues – an obvious example being Jacob Zuma getting booed at Nelson Mandela’s funeral and the public broadcaster editing that part out – could we see this escalate?
Nutty: Without a doubt! We’ve got a lot more coming our way. The government wants everything to appear great on this side of the Africa and public broadcasters are all going to be the government’s way for them to paint a lovelier picture
Bobontle: Well, it depends if the public broadcaster is owned by the state or not. Otherwise South African Journalist understands their rights and duties towards their citizens they know that the public have right to have access to state information. They are not intimidated by the state on what they should and should not publish
Pheladi: Unfortunately censorship is becoming quite common with the public broadcaster. They pull doccies and certain commentators off air minutes before they’re meant to be on. It sets a dangerous precedent for people who don’t have access beyond the SABC because they then don’t get to fill in the blanks left out by the mundane editorial decisions made at the SABC
Neo: There is a great possibility of that happening more but media in South Africa is protected by the constitution governing the law of country.
With the secrecy bill on the horizon in SA & the biggest broadcasting station in SA being a state-owned entity what are the possibilities of the state seeking to seize more control of the media industry?
Nutty: The chances are high. I believe that in that way they will freely be able to blind society without having to worry about the one huge threat: The media.
Bobontle: There is a great possibility, with the way the government is interfering in Journalistic work it seems like in a couple of years to come, the state will be owning the media industry as a whole. there is evident cases whereby the government was the driving force behind the (SABC)’s decisions. The media’s censorship is nothing new in South Africa. If media industries do not
Pheladi: I think its no secret that our government would like to have more control over us. Hence the constant calls for good news coverage. I think the recent statements made by Hlaudi Motsoeneng about commercial media and his permanent appointment shortly after say everything that needs to be said about the relationship between the SABC and government.
Neo: SABC might be a state-owned company but it is run by credible journalist who have been working in the industry for decades and there is no ways they will allow the government to silence their voices
For more on current affairs follow me on Twitter @MrMosiuoa
Neo Motloung (@NeoMediaGuru)
Pheladi Sethusa (@Pheladi_S)
Bobontle Mopeloa (@SimplyBobontle)
Nutty Kgobe (@Nutty_Kgobe)
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