Harber: Stop claiming you’re defending RT press freedom

MOVES are afoot by state-sponsored news channel Russia Today (RT) to set up a regional hub in South Africa. Despite our pacifist constitution expressly outlawing ‘propaganda for war’ under article 16, (2) (a) — limitations on press freedom when it comes to calumny and disinformation to pursue ‘special military operations’ are simply being ignored. The result looks a lot like the apartheid government purchase of the Washington Star.

Laws implemented in Russia earlier this year, make it an offense to criticise Putin’s ‘special military operation’ and lead to protests outside the Russian embassy by a local chapter of Amnesty International. In response, Independent Group have been running paid opinion pieces produced by Russia’s Sputnik news agency. There appears to be a well-orchestrated campaign of Russian influence and news-peddling when it comes to South African media — politics redolent of the manner in which the apartheid-state sort to win hearts and minds.

Claims made of press privilege that would allow RT to broadcast from South Africa ring hollow considering the level of aggression displayed by Russian military in the Ukraine, and the channels’ support for an imperialist ‘war of conquest’ outlawed by the United Nations Charter, and our own constitution.

Advocates of press privilege when it comes to state-news channels, such as Professor Anton Harber ignore warning signs that our own media, though relatively free, remains under threat from government intervention and non-aligned media within Russia is non-existent. Several news outlets are blocked within the country. The Setevyye Svobody (Network Freedoms) Telegram channel reports that editors for Mediazona, Republic, Taig.Info, and Lentachel had all filed lawsuits against Moscow decisions to block their sites .

Harber is the former editor of the Weekly Mail, a news title which experienced a dirty tricks operation, at the behest of the Bureau for State Security (BOSS) — instead of defending press privilege in terms of our constitution, (need I state my own case?) he has become somewhat of a stooge for Putin, a situation consistent with the professor’s acquiescence with similar campaigns during apartheid.

Apartheid operative Paul Erasmus, for instance claims that he succeeded in getting Harber to publish ‘absolute lies about the late Winnie Mandela.’ Though the adjunct professor of Journalism at Wits, refuses to apologise, nor does he engage with such public submissions, he successfully defended accusations brought by a mainstream political party that he was in effect, a ‘Stratcom agent’.

Correction, a mere tool of Stratcom.

Increasingly populist discourse in favour of any self-serving cause, is given the rubber stamp by Harber and his ilk, the result is a rejection of democratic centralism i.e. constitutionalism, in favour of narrow, authoritarian geopolitical goals of despots like Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi. With the inevitable silencing of debate in favour of political expediency — do South Africans dare to deliberate on anything these days?

As I write this, the events of last July look as if they are repeating themselves in Durban’s CBD as the current Ramaphosa administration falters under Arthur Fraser and Carl Niehaus well-orchestrated counter-intelligence campaign — all flowing from the accusations made at the Zondo Commission.

UPDATE: Harber – SA will be giving Putin the space he denies others

And so Harber sues a political party

THE ERSTWHILE editor of the Weekly Mail, one Anton Harber is suing a local political party. Alongside SABC journalist Thandeka Gqubule, both are fingered by Winnie Mandela in a documentary carrying allegations of Stratcom activity in apartheid-era newsrooms, the same claims repeated by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party.

Gqubule claims to have gained access to ‘declassified records’ held by the state allegedly ‘proving her innocence’. Instead of being a spy for Stratcom, she alleges she was rather the ‘object of an intelligence gathering exercise’ and thus seeks to have her day in court where the records will no doubt be examined to determine which version is true.

The EFF have been given one week to provide evidence supporting their own allegations. Like South Press, Grassroots and New Nation, I have no doubt that the former Weekly Mail was the target of a dirty tricks campaign. The gory details are not the subject of this piece, but rather, the opportunity to examine the failure of Harber to uphold any of the values he purports to serve.

Hence the criticism below that what comes around, goes around. Harber himself has used similar smear tactics.  The Mail & Guardian, the successor to the parochial Weekly Mail resoundingly failed to defend the historical record of struggle journos and has gone so far as censoring my own writing (see here). One has therefore got to challenge Harber’s tacit claim to being the sole representative of the struggle press in South Africa.

Like Max du Preez, whose position as former publisher of the Afrikaans duel-medium Vrye Weekblad, who then turned himself into a monument made from apartheid-era granite at News24.com, ( a racist rag if ever there was one), Harber moved on from publishing out of Houghton, and the nascent white counter-culture of Johannesburg, to rooting for Remgro, Big Capital and ENCA.

If one reads Harber, these days you could easily make the mistake of thinking the old Weekly Mail was the only periodical of its time. The trouble with having unchallenged opinion and editorial conceit writ large by the likes of Harber and du Preez, is that the truth and reality are rather different.

The all-white newsrooms of the ‘white alternative press’ though allies of the struggle, only operated because they enjoyed privileges gained from decades of race segregation, and separate development. Harber et al, were nowhere close to the coalface of activism as the black press on the frontlines and barricades. Black periodicals such as Grassroots which bore the brunt of Stratcom dirty tricks were closed down, without the funds needed to secure any legacy defense.

Significantly, Harber was never detained as such, nor imprisoned for his views, on the contrary, this treatment was regularly meted out by the Bureau for State Security (BOSS) upon editors who dared to defy the Botha government whilst being black, and guilty of insurrection.

Time for a radical re-assessment of the period.

SEE Harber used same tactics