What does Muthambi hope to learn from the Chinese Propaganda Machine?
Some people may think that I was being unduly pessimistic about the future of media freedom in South Africa, please read what Gavin Davis MP DA Shadow Minister of Communications has to say about in a press release issued today.
During this week’s parliamentary oversight visit to the SABC, it emerged that Minister Faith Muthambi was leading a delegation to China that included SABC Chairperson Obert Maghuve and newly appointed CEO Frans Matlala.
When questioned about the purpose of the trip, SABC Deputy Chairperson Leah Khumalo was curiously evasive. After twice avoiding the question, she would only say that the Committee will be furnished with a full report in due course.
Since then, Minister Muthambi’s office has said in a press statement that the trip is a “good opportunity to learn more about China and its development in broadcast and the broader TV industry.” The statement also said that Minister Muthambi would meet with the Chinese Minister of State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, as well as the Minister in the State Council Information Office.
One can only wonder what knowledge our Communications Minister hopes to acquire from a one-party state that was ranked 176 out of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index.
Maybe she is interested in learning more about the Chinese government’s system of licensing journalists – a similar proposal was mooted by the SABC’s own Hlaudi Motsoeneng last year. Chinese journalists who fall foul of government’s content restrictions can be fired, blacklisted and even jailed.
If Minister Muthambi is specifically interested in Chinese broadcasting, she will no doubt pick up some pointers from the Minister of State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. This Minister – working with the Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department – has full control of China Central Television and China National Radio, and ensures that all content accords with the views of the Chinese government.
In addition to its use of the state broadcaster as a party propaganda tool and its clampdown on journalists, China is notorious for its draconian Internet censorship laws.
The “Great Firewall of China” prevents access to around 3 000 websites including YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook. It also blocks certain keywords from search engines, and regularly imposes localised Internet blackouts in areas where there is social unrest. Minister Muthambi’s visit should sound alarm bells for all South Africans concerned about our government’s nascent move towards Internet censorship via the Film & Publication Board’s draft online regulation policy.
This is the Minister’s second visit to China since she assumed office just over a year ago, and it looks like there are more in the pipeline. As she said in her press release: “It is also meant to lay a foundation for further exchange and cooperation in these fields between the two countries.”
Minister Muthambi has always denied that she was deployed to set up a party propaganda machine in government. These protestations ring hollow in the face of her intention to learn from one of the most sophisticated and repressive state propaganda systems in the world.
The developing relationship between Muthambi and her Chinese counterparts is ominous indeed.
Gavin Davis MP
DA Shadow Minister of Communications
082 528 7903
Until next time,
This newsletter is published by Clive Hatch former Leader of the Opposition in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature and former DA Provincial Leader. These views are my personal views and do not represent those of any other person or organisation.