Society Must Recognise Our Media Heroes

I am sure I speak for many of us who woke up to the sad and devastating news of the passing of one of our country’s most stellar senior political analysts, commentator and broadcaster, Karima Brown. The shocking news of Karima’s passing provides yet another appreciation for our shared reality of loss and pain because of the Covid-19 pandemic. To date, the pandemic has claimed 50,366 lives in our country with Karima now counted among those who have perished due to Covid-19 related ill-health.

I write about Karima to really ask us to ponder this moment of collective loss, like we did with the recent passing of the former Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu who also died due to a Covid-19 related illness.

A few weeks ago, ActionSA launched the #ThankOurHeroes Campaign to honour all our frontline workers, especially those who may not ordinarily come to mind when mentioning frontline heroes. Often, we think of those in the medical profession such as doctors and nurses. However, since the pandemic has been part of our lives for almost a year now, we realise that there are many more frontline heroes in the value chain of people who have continued to keep the engines going at this unprecedented time in our country’s history.

The #ThankOurHeroes Campaign recognises the taxi drivers who brave the early mornings to get our nurses, cleaning staff and security guards at our hospitals to work on time. The petrol attendants who are there throughout the night to ensure that those needing a refill have access to fuel at crucial times while on their journeys. Many of us can relate to forgetting to fill up only to realise while en route and when the light flashes to remind us that we are running on empty.

And so today, we add another category, also often overlooked in our social consciousness as frontline heroes, our journalists and other media professionals who also brave the early mornings to give us breaking news so that we are informed early as we rise just before starting our day. And those who work in the deep of night to ensure that we do not miss a beat about the myriad of new developments both in our country and globally.

IN PURSUIT OF JUSTICE

Much can be said about the relationship between the media and democracy.

Many scholars have argued as to whether the relationship can always be interpreted to be a mutually beneficial and positive one. On the one hand for the good of society by exposing injustice, and on the other, not so good where the media works to aide an unjust government to peddle its propaganda. However, it is worth noting that in South Africa’s case, the two have been complimentary.

If not for the media, many scandals in our society would remain hidden and the public would be none the wiser.

Who can forget the courageous journalism of Thami Mazwai and his colleague, Joe Tlholoe, who refused to be used by the apartheid government to publish propaganda against student leaders and socio-political activists such as Steve Biko, who trusted Mazwai to lead from his conscience and be guided by the ethics of his profession?

Or the former editor of the Rand Daily Mail, Allister Sparks who exposed the apartheid government’s intention to use state resources to establish the “New Age” of that time, the more conservative Citizen newspaper, and to take control of other media publications who would be sympathetic to the government’s unjust and corrupt causes. Worse, media that would cover up state criminality of the highest order. Unfortunately for then Prime Minister, John Foster, Sparks’ exposé led to Foster’s resignation in 1979. 

I would be remiss to forget the unparalleled photojournalism of Peter Magubane, whose iconic capture of our country’s historic moments like the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and the Rivonia Trial of 1963 that led to the conviction and sentencing of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, and others multiple years of imprisonment on Robben Island. These images played a pivotal role in telling the world about the horrors of apartheid in pictures. Few of us will ever forget seeing the images of multiple bloodied and lifeless bodies scattered across the streets of Sharpeville.

And in recent times Jacques Pauw’s journalistic prowess in his book, the President’s Keepers; or Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s diligence in Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture; and now the late Karima Brown, whose dedication to keeping modern-day politicians accountable deserves the highest recognition.

There can never be any doubt that the media play a pivotal role in society, and when deployed for the greater good of society, deserves due recognition as they continue to risk their lives in pursuit of justice and to keep us informed.

In the words of American author and attorney Andrew Sachs, “Journalism is what maintains democracy. It is the force of progressive social change.”

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