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.