ANC Submission on Media to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
30 September 1997
The Media as Employer
The Media as
Disseminators of Information
Stratkom and the Media
A Few Observations on
the Role of the Media
The Contribution of the
The South African media is not a monolithic institution, and any examination
of the role of the South African media during apartheid therefore has to
distinguish between its various sectors - each of which had particular
objectives and characteristics, and each of which played a particular role,
during the period under review.
This document examines the role of the media under apartheid by:
- looking briefly at the context in which the mass media operated;
- examining the role of media institutions as employers;
- studying the role of the mass media as disseminators of information (i.e.
as publishers or broadcasters);
- making observations on the activities of the mass media in bolstering
- acknowledging the valuable role played by the alternative/
progressive/independent media in reporting a broader truth.
The apartheid system - condemned by the United Nations as a crime against
humanity - denied all South Africans their basic human rights.
Those working in the media were denied certain rights as workers - they were
prevented from collectively organising and mobilising.
They were also affected as citizens - they were denied the right to freedom
of association, freedom of movement and so on.
However, they were particularly affected as gatherers and disseminators of
information, as apartheid deprived them of a range of basic freedoms.
Heavy censorship was applied to all publications and broadcasts throughout
the period under review. The apartheid state imposed a complex web of
legislation, designed to protect itself from exposure and control what people
read, heard and saw. This legislation affected the activities of the police, the
army, the prisons, the courts, parastatals, the public service and many other
state institutions. It restricted the publication or broadcast of Information
about the liberation movements; it threw a heavy blanket over entire communities
and institutions; it prevented people from being quoted in the media; it gagged
an entire nation, and subjected them to the views of a minority.
This legislation restricted both access to information, and freedom of
During the states of emergency in the mid-80s, as the apartheid state came
under increasing pressure from all sides, the regime stepped up its offensive
against the media and imposed a virtual black-out on information.
The impact of this repressive framework cannot be under-estimated. Control of
the media was one of the most important tools in the apartheid arsenal, and a
battery of censorship legislation undoubtedly played a role in helping to ensure
the survival of the regime - in particular, in ensuring ongoing support from its
key constituencies by keeping them in the dark.
Individual media workers, and some media institutions, took great risks in
their attempts to publish or broadcast the truth. Their untiring commitment to
seeing that the truth came out played a vital role in bringing about the
downfall of the apartheid system.
Many media workers were jailed or detained in the course of their duties, and
others left the country to escape repression. Several died on duty. The African
National Congress pays tribute to their efforts, and to the part they played in
bringing about democracy in our country.
However, we also believe the South African media played other (broader) roles
during the apartheid era, and we believe these roles need to be examined.
This examination is vital if we are to understand our past, to bring about
reconciliation, and to broaden our understanding of basic freedoms.
It is also vital if we are to ensure true freedom of expression - including
freedom of the media - in our new democracy.
South Africa needs a watchdog media, not a lapdog media. The African National
Congress believes the Truth & Reconciliation Commission can play a
significant role in helping us to understand the role of the media in the past,
which in turn can shape our understanding of the role of the media in the
THE MEDIA AS EMPLOYER
The South African media operated in a political, commercial and economic
environment which favoured the interests of the ruling class, and which helped
to entrench the skewed economic development of our country.
Afrikaner and English capital were the primary stakeholders in the commercial
media sector, and they profited greatly from the economic injustices which
resulted from apartheid. Monopolistic practices (and legislation) ensured that
the commercial media was able to conspire against any who threatened its
interests. It is fair to say that freedom of the press only applied to those who
were rich enough to own one.
Media companies enjoyed the privileges of all other apartheid-era employers,
where labour legislation legitimised discriminatory practices and entrenched the
disempowerment of workers.
Examples of this include:
- Petty apartheid in the workplace Like most, if not all South African
employers, the media applied apartheid in the workplace despite (in some
cases) its public criticism of these practices. Separate toilets and
canteens were the order of the day and black workers were treated as
second-class employees. Workers were, in the process, denied basic human
rights such as freedom of movement and freedom of association.
- Suppression of workers' rights Workers were subjected to the myriad of
apartheid labour laws which discriminated against blacks. Certain jobs were
reserved for whites. Worker disputes were dealt with in terms of
discriminatory labour legislation, often depriving workers of their rights
to organise and mobilise. In addition, media managements recognised (and
thereby condoned) racially-exclusive trade unions such as the SA Typographic
- Second-class treatment of black media workers Black media workers were
rare during the period under review. Media institutions tended to downplay
the contribution of the few who were employed, very few of them were
promoted to positions of seniority. Black editors were the exception rather
than the rule (even on newspapers or radio stations targeted at black
readers or listeners) and they were not given the status of their white
- No corrective action to redress imbalances Despite their recognition of
the inferior quality of bantu education and its impact on the career
prospects of black people, media institutions did little to train or develop
black staff. Black media workers remained in junior positions because of a
lack of training or career development.
- Little protection for employees under threat Several black media workers
were detained, banned or otherwise restricted under apartheid legislation.
Although on some occasions they received protection from their employers,
many media workers still recall that they felt neglected or exposed because
of a lack of protection by their employers.
- No advancement of the disadvantaged: black workers Black workers were
discriminated against both in law and in practice. Despite being aware of
the situation, the South African mass media did little (if anything) to
advance the cause of the disadvantaged.
There is no evidence of initiatives by the mass media to proactively
implement programmes of corrective or affirmative action or to develop and
advance staff from disadvantaged backgrounds. As a rule, where these programmes
have been introduced (post-1994), this has been at the insistence of trade
unions rather than as a proactive measure.
No advancement of the disadvantaged: women media workers There are countless
examples of the media industry's tardiness in redressing gender imbalances.
Little, if anything, was done to advance the cause of women media workers. On
the contrary, the African National Congress believes the mass media actively
restricted the career advancement of women media workers. The African National
Congress believes this practice was a deliberate attempt to suppress the rights
and advancement of women media workers, and to ensure a male hegemony in
newsrooms and boardrooms.
Punitive action against striking workers The mass media, as most employers in
apartheid South Africa, adopted an attitude of dismissing workers who exercised
the right to strike. One of the better-known cases is the Media Workers'
Association strike in 1983 at what was then the Argus Company, where many
workers were fired after striking for better pay. Despite its public criticism
of other employers who took a hard line against workers, the Argus Company did
not seem to use apartheid labour legislation to act against its own workforce.
Punitive action against victims of the apartheid state There are many
documented examples of media workers losing pay, or even their jobs, after being
acted against by the apartheid state's security forces. The African National
Congress believes the mass media should have acted in support of its staff when
they were victimised or abused, rather than having punished them.
We believe this argument applies particularly to media workers who were
detained, harassed or jailed as a result of actions taken in the course of duty.
Conclusion As employers, the South African mass media can therefore be
regarded as beneficiaries of apartheid. They generally failed to challenge or
defy apartheid legislation. So, while some media institutions were publicly
critical of apartheid labour legislation, the owners of these institutions would
not hesitate to use this legislation to suppress their own workers' rights.
As far as can be ascertained, the media industry made no attempts to use its
economic muscle to bring about change--whether by threatening to withhold tax
revenue, by implementing alternative business Practices by promoting workers'
interests, by advancing the disadvantaged, or by lobbying as an industry for the
abolition of apartheid legislation. Nor is there evidence that the commercial or
private sector media lobbied within its broad ownership base (Afrikaner and
English capital) for change.
THE MEDIA AS DISSEMINATOR OF INFORMATION
3.1 The state-owned media During the period under review, the SOUTH AFRICAN
BROADCASTING CORPORATION was the most important weapon in the apartheid state's
battle for the hearts and minds of the people.
The SABC's three TV channels and its multitude of radio stations
(broadcasting both internally and externally) were the primary source of
information for the majority of South Africans.
The state controlled and ran the national broadcaster. Through the SABC
board, it regulated the corporation's activities, its budgets and its
management. Through the SABC's management--primarily Broederbond appointees--it
ensured that the corporation stayed true to its mandate of propping up the
apartheid state through spreading disinformation.
There are numerous reported examples of state interference in the SABC's
activities, and it is an illusion to imagine that the SABC was anything other
than the propaganda machine of the apartheid state during the period under
Its actions during this period can be summarised as follows:
- The SABC's channels were primarily used to promote only the interests of
the ruling party, and to propagate only those views which reinforced the
hegemony of the apartheid state.
- In addition, the SABC was often a virulent opponent of the liberation
movements, and played a primary role in spreading disinformation and lies
about the activities of these movements and their leaders.
- As a rule, there was no attempt made to apply balance to coverage of news
events. Official sources were generally the only sources of information.
Apart from spreading disinformation, the corporation also denied South
Africans access to information and opinions. Countless events and developments
went unreported, ensuring that millions of South Africans remained unaware of
developments in their own country.
The impact of this was that millions of South Africans were subjected to
propaganda masquerading as news. In the case of the illiterate, they were
subjected to one view without being able to access other views or sources of
information. The state broadcaster effectively had a stranglehold on the
provision of information to the majority of South Africans.
Management and media workers at the SABC, as a whole, went along with this
broad objective. Many senior editorial managers, for example, were either
Military Intelligence operatives or in other ways part of the apartheid state.
There are examples of principled media workers and other SABC staff who left
the corporation rather than go along with its policies, or waged their own
struggle to change the nature of the SABC; the African National Congress pays
tribute to their commitment and resolve.
But the general rule (at least until early 1990) seems to have been that the
corporation employed media workers, producers, researchers etc. who were broadly
supportive of the apartheid state.
The state-owned media had other weapons at its disposal:
- The BUREAU FOR INFORMATION (later the South African Communications
Service) served a dual function: as a propagator of state information,
supplying the mass media and foreign audiences (through embassies) with
pro-apartheid information; and as a gatherer of information, with its staff
acting as the eyes and ears of the apartheid state in local communities,
feeding information to the many security management structures put in place
by the regime.
- The DEFENCE ESTABLISHMENT'S information machinery, responsible for
wide-scale disinformation and cover-ups about the war in Namibia and Angola,
cross-border raids etc.
- The POLICE INFORMATION MACHINERY, largely responsible for disinformation
about local-level conflicts, for covering up the activities of hit squads,
- The RESEARCH ESTABLISHMENT (such as the Human Sciences Research Council,
Central Statistical Services and the Council for Scientific and industrial
Research), responsible for manipulating data and supportive information to
substantiate the interests of the apartheid state.
These were all primary sources for both the state-owned media and other media
institutions, and helped to reinforce the apartheid state's propaganda war.
Although discredited in the broad public domain, they remained as
"credible" sources for almost all forms of media during the period
3.2 Newspapers owned by Afrikaner capital Newspapers published by Afrikaner
capital played a similar role to the SABC during the period under review. In
particular, they represented the interests of their owners--Afrikaner capital
--and played a part in ensuring the survival and growth of that sector of the
economy. It championed the interests of a class who believed its very survival
depended on apartheid.
Like the national broadcaster, their agenda was set by the ruling party.
Their primary functions was not to publish news and information but to advance
the interests of the apartheid state among the core of its supporters--white
Unashamedly pro-National Party, they functioned as party mouthpieces
unaffected by notions of objectivity and balance.
Managers and editors were almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of the
Broederbond, with many working in close allegiance with senior National Party
Titles such as Die Burger, Beeld, Rapport and Die Volksblad played a vital
role in reinforcing the messages propagated by the SABC, and thereby advancing
only the interests of the ruling party: justifying the actions of the, apartheid
state (in particular the security establishment) and heatedly opposing the
These newspapers played a major role in building morale among those white
Afrikaners who supported apartheid - for example, by glorifying cross-border
raids, and downplaying the successes of sanctions campaigns.
These newspapers also assisted in the dangerous "demonisation" of
the liberation movements and their leadership, as well as less-effective
political formations such as the liberal establishment. This led to increasing
polarisation and hatred for people from other race groups.
Apart from spreading disinformation, the newspapers of Afrikaner capital also
denied South Africans access to other non-official sources of information and
opinions. Large chunks of South African life went unreported in these
newspapers, leading to increased ignorance and reinforcing the so-called
"laager mentality". This denial of information was one of the most
important shortcomings of the Afrikaans-language press.
There are examples of principled media workers who left the Afrikaans press
because of dissatisfaction with its approach, or who waged their own struggle
for the truth within these institutions; the African National Congress pays
tribute to their commitment and resolve.
Although this sector has become a process of self-transformation, and has
separated itself somewhat from the interests of the National Party, we believe
it still has much to answer for because of the role it played in reinforcing
apartheid ideology and in shaping the mindset of Afrikaansspeaking South
We believe these newspapers should reflect honestly on the role they played
during this era, for the sake of themselves and their readers.
3.3 Newspapers owned by English capital Owned and controlled by English
capital more specifically by the mining magnates, the English-language press
advanced the interests of this sector and championed its commitment to these
To understand this sector, it is worth referring to the recent submission to
the TRC by the former Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers), in which the
company concedes "shortcomings" in its behaviour during the apartheid
It makes several concessions, which the African National Congress believes
can also be applied to the rest of the English-language press then owned by the
- Insufficient effort was made to circumvent restrictions imposed by
apartheid and other legislation.
- White perceptions monopolised judgements on the newsworthiness of
- The contribution of black editorial staff was not recognised.
- A "gradualist" anti-apartheid policy was adopted, leaving the
impression that English-language newspapers were colluding with the regime.
- In a climate of intensive state propaganda, there was insufficient contact
with the liberation movements.
There is no doubt that the English-language press produced editors and media
workers of tremendous courage and moral integrity during this period. South
Africa owes much to those who lived the truism of "publish or be
This courage was, sadly, often lacking at the level of editorial
decisionmakers, where editors chose to suppress good stories or were happy to
replicate state propaganda. The ANC believes there are many examples of this
which need to be told, and encourages media workers to come forward so that the
South African public knows the full extent of news manipulation by the so-called
A key issue here is hypocrisy. While the state-run media and the newspapers
owned by Afrikaner capital made no bones about their loyalty to the apartheid
state, the newspapers owned by English capital trumpeted a liberal commitment to
balance and objectivity - while failing to apply these principles in their own
They failed dismally to reflect the feelings of "ordinary" South
Africans. They relied heavily on government sources of information, no matter
how discredited they were, and made very little effort to obtain information
from alternative sources.
In their coverage of the struggle against apartheid, including the armed
struggle, the English-language press relied almost exclusively on information
from arms of the state. Contacts with the liberation movement were insufficient,
and the paradigm remained the "white world view". This served to
entrench the polarisation of apartheid, rather than exposing readers to a range
This "white world view" applied not only to the selection of news,
but to its treatment. Few can forget the sense of triumph in the Sunday Times'
response to the SADF raid into Botswana, in which several civilians were killed
(headline: The Guns of Gaborone!).
Not everyone was prepared to accept this mindset: There are examples of
principled media workers who left the English-language press because of
dissatisfaction with its approach, or bravely waged their own struggle within
these institutions. The African National Congress pays tribute to them.
3.4 The privately-owned broadcast media During the apartheid era,
privately-owned radio stations (such as Radio 702, Radio Bop and Capital Radio)
broadcast from the then-bantustans, operating under licence from bantustan
Despite this, one of the hallmarks of "non-SABC" radio was their
quality news coverage, their refusal to rely on "the official story"
and their commitment to balance.
Despite their limited resources, they reflected a much broader spectrum of
news than that offered by the state broadcaster or the press. They pioneered the
concept of debate on radio, as opposed to the dissemination of "his
master's Voice. They also enabled victims of violence and apartheid repression
In doing so, they forced South Africans to hear, and engage with, views
different to their own and helped to broaden understanding among various sectors
of the population.
This resulted in a better-informed populace - and, in addition, put some
pressure on the state broadcaster to improve the quality of its service and to
seek additional sources of information.
This sector has grown significantly since the advent of democracy, and its
growth is to be welcomed.
3.5 The privately-owned African language press Although small, newspapers in
this sector had a noticeable impact in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu/Natal during
the period under review.
In the Eastern Cape, Imvo Zabantsundu was used by Afrikaner capital to
occasionally promote sentiments and institutions which were opposed to the
liberation movements. The newspaper had little political credibility because of
this, however, and its reach remained limited.
In KwaZulu/Natal, Ilanga was owned by the Argus Company until it was sold to
an Inkatha Freedom Party-owned company in the mid-1980s. The newspaper played a
role in promoting the interests of Inkatha during the late 1980s, and
understandably took a partisan approach to the conflict which raged in the area.
These newspapers are, significantly, the only two to have had an impact on
the attitudes of rural black South Africans.
3.6 The independent press and radio As with privately-owned radio stations,
this sector has played a vital role in championing the rights of the oppressed,
in exposing South Africans to a diversity of views, and in providing a channel
of communication for those ignored by the mainstream.
The contribution of the independent press to exposing the horrors of
apartheid, and in probing the activities of state-sanctioned hit-squads in
particular, is well documented. These newspapers played a vital role in bringing
about the collapse of the security establishment, and in exposing human rights
atrocities committed under apartheid. They restored dignity to communities which
had been ravaged by apartheid, and helped promote a human rights culture in our
Despite their limited resources, they were prepared to take on the state's
oppressive censorship machinery and succeeded in creating space for others to
publish. Their commitment to freedom of speech, and their creative approach to
the challenge of publishing under apartheid, deserve recognition.
However, it would be wrong to ignore the contribution made by smaller, less
influential publications such as those produced by pressure groups and literacy
groups, as well as those made by communities in Oudtshoorn, on the Cape Flats,
and in townships across the country. These small publications and radio
stations, which published and broadcast at great risk, also restored dignity to
communities who lived under the yoke of apartheid tyranny.
The African National Congress believes it is a great pity that many of these
publications and radio stations have collapsed without receiving recognition for
their contribution to human rights.
STRATKOM AND THE MEDIA
"Wars are not won on the battlefield but in the minds of
men". Andre Beaufre
We refer the Commission to Section 4 7 of the ANC's first submission to the TRC
(August 16), in which the bedrock of the apartheid state's approach to the
political threats it faced - "counter-revolutionary" tactics - was
described in some detail.
We again draw the attention of the Commission to some of the centrally
important points made in this submission of particular relevance to this paper
on the media.
During the 1980s the State Security Council was served by a Secretariat of
around 100 functionaries seconded from various government departments. It had
four branches, including a Strategic Communications (Stratkom) branch. It is of
critical importance to again point out that the Stratkom committee under the SSC
remained in place after 1990, as indicated in the official Manual on the
National Co-ordinating Mechanism (which replaced the National Security
Management System in 1990).
We have previously urged the Commission to understand the importance of
thoroughly investigating the activities of this particular branch of the SSC. We
take this opportunity to again urge the Commission to understand the importance
of doing so with regard to its investigations into gross human rights
violations, including assassinations and other violence against civilians,
rather than seeing this branch of the SSC as only being involved in
"sort" operations such smear campaigns against selected enemies of the
former apartheid regime Some Stratkom operations involved violence, in fact,
violence has been a critically important component of anti-ANC propaganda in our
country for many years.
As stated in our first submission to the Commission, the Stratkom branch of
the SSC was tasked with working out a total package of strategy alternatives in
response to requests from Ministries, government departments, or Joint
Management Committees (committees of this nature continued to function into the
1990s as shown in the NCM Manual.) These plans could include tactics such as
assassinations, attacks on neighbouring countries, economic sabotage by
spreading negative propaganda about a particular country, campaigns of character
defamation, setting up various front companies to engage in operations to
influence the media and decision makers -- in general, the entire gamut of what
have become known as "dirty tricks" operations.
These operations were not only confined within the borders of South Africa,
but extended to a range of fronts in various African and Western countries which
attempted to counter the negative attitudes towards the apartheid regime in
these countries, and to promote proxy right-wing (and violent) forces such as
UNITA, Renamo, and in the latter part of the 1980's and into the 1990's, Inkatha
( in terms of the guidelines set out in Operation Marion.).
All these operations needed both Violent and non-violent propaganda
components to successfully take the battle to the most crucial arena -
perceptions. The establishment of a network of agents in the mass media, and the
setting up of a number of specialist fronts tasked with ensuring that
perceptions were influenced in a manner considered appropriate by the apartheid
regime and its allies, was obviously critical to the success of such plans
The establishment of The Citizen newspaper (to counter the "overly
critical" English medium mainstream press) with covert funds provides just
one key example of work of this nature in the context of this submission, but
there were many other operations, such as the setting up of Dixon Soule
Associates to promote the image of Bophutatswana, or the National Students
Federation to counter NUSAS, or the International Freedom Foundation to demonise
the ANC and promote the image of UNITA, Renamo and similar Forces - in which the
mass media - wittingly or unwittingly - played a pivotal role in influencing
The Bureau for Information played an important role in the apartheid regime's
attempts during the 1980's to influence the perceptions of the public and
manipulate the mass media. The Bureau acted both as propagator of information -
disseminating disinformation to the mass media - and as a censorship structure
during this period.
Besides the SABC, every single government department had a Stratkom
component, even those which had no obvious security or intelligence functions.
For example, the Department of National Health and Population Development
closely co-operated with Military Intelligence operations such as Project Henry,
which entailed attempts to promote the image of the "Reverend" Maqina
as a counter-force to popular UDF or ANC - aligned leaders through
"counter-revolutionary" violence as well as the distribution of food
parcels in an attempt to "win hearts and minds."
During the 1980s AND the 1990s the Department of Military Intelligence had a
major Stratkom department in the form of the Directorate: Communication
Operations (DMI/Comops), renamed DMI/ Command Communications (Bevcom) after
In our first submission to the TRC we drew attention to the fact that FW de
Klerk approved the continued operation of around 40 Stratkom operations in l991,
including Operation Marion and several projects which fell under the auspices of
Project Ancor (Adult Education Consultants.)
We urge the Commission to call former commanders and key operatives from this
sector of Military Intelligence to testify with regard to their activities in
the 1980s and 1990s. We also call the attention of the Commission to the
considerable amount of information supplied by former communications specialist
and Comops employee, Major Nico Basson, on the activities in the propaganda and
disinformation field in which the former government was involved in its efforts
to manipulate the outcome of the elections in Namibia. These activities did not
only involve propaganda, but also operations which resulted in the deaths of a
number of people. In the cynical world of those who set out to manipulate
perceptions, this is par for the course.
In this regard we draw the attention of the Commission to the range of
"fronts" set up by state Stratkom structures in the 1980s and 1990s to
act as smokescreens for illegal and violent activities, and to influence the
perceptions of decision-makers. It was recently stated by a former SAP official
that the "Wit Wolwe" (which "claimed" responsibility for the
blowing up of Khotso House before the ANC or UDF was blamed) was "nothing
but propaganda." The media has shown no interest whatsoever of following up
the far-ranging implications of this statement. We have already drawn the
attention of the Commission to another "right-wing" front, the Orde
Boerevolk, which came into operation at the time of the Namibian elections,
continued operations throughout the negotiations phase, and was strongly
implicated in the assassination of Chris Hani. There were several others.
As pointed out in our first submission, Stratkom operations initiated in the
1990s including Project Marion and various Adult Education Consultants fronts
continued with the full approval of FW De Klerk throughout the negotiations
phase in the 1990s. Literally millions of Rands of taxpayers' money was spent on
these covert projects during the 1990s (for example, see responses from the
Minister of Defence to questions posed by Llewellyn Landers, MP on the subject
of the continued funding of Adult Education Consultant fronts during the 1990s.)
During the negotiations phase, Stratkom operations intensified as the NP used
every means at its disposal to gain advantage at the negotiating table, both in
terms of influencing domestic and international perceptions of the process, and
in terms of destabilising its prime adversary, the ANC.
The sudden explosion of so-called:"third force" violence on the
Reef in July 1990 was an integral part of these operations, as were operations
aimed at subverting or "countering" SDU's set up to protect
communities from violence of this nature. Some media people may recall the
bizarre phenomenon of so-called "ANC attackers" who apparently took
the time to scatter membership cards and shed their clothes with slogans painted
on them at scenes of violence.
One of the few propaganda operations in which DMI/Comops (or Bevcom) was
involved which came close to being exposed was Project Echoes. Little has
emerged on this operation besides that which came to light after Leon Flores and
Pamela du Randt were arrested in Britain on suspicion of attempting to
assassinate Dirk Coetzee, an operation which was generally portrayed as really
being about an attempt to link MK and the IRA in the minds of the public, in
order to damage the image of the ANC. We do not believe that Project Echoes was
only about linking the IRA and the ANC in the minds of the public, and call on
the Commission to directly demand information from former commanders of Military
Intelligence Comops (Bevcom) structures to testify with regard to the activities
of their departments.
Another key propaganda operation carried out for a considerable period of
time, and which was wittingly and unwittingly promoted in the commercial press
during the negotiations phase was that of "Operation Sunrise/Sunshine"
This operations entailed a relatively sophisticated faked "SACP strategic
document" which was used on a number of occasions in an attempt to portray
the SACP as being involved in attempting to covertly create conditions for a
"revolutionary seizure of power" whilst pretending to go along with
the ANC's policy regarding the negotiations process. This "SACP
document" was used in attempts to influence the negotiations process by
stirring up fear and hatred in the ranks of the far right, with Tienie
Groenewald - formerly a senior manager in the Bureau for Information -
apparently playing a role in this regard. If necessary a copy of this "SACP
document" and related information can be supplied to the TRC.
Related Stratkom operations which depended on the active collusion or
attempted manipulation of elements in the mass media included sustained
allegations that the late Chris Hani was involved in setting up a covert
"Black People's Army" consisting of disaffected and
"radical" members of MK and Apla who would oppose and organise against
an ANC-led government - and these reports went so far as being fed to a
Parliamentary committee by the former intelligence services - should be the
focus of intensive investigation by the TRC. The anti-Hani propaganda which
distinct!y intensified in the months leading up to his assassination bear all
the hallmarks of what the DMI called "klimaatskepping" - the
"creation of a climate" in which an action can take place, and be
generally perceived in the desired manner by the real perpetrator of the action.
Again, we urge the TRC to use its powers to fully investigate all projects of
the Strategic Communications branch of the SSC In the 1980s and 1990s, and to
ensure that the public is fully Informed on the nature and extent of Project
Echoes, as well all other covert projects involving strategic communications
projects and the manipulation of the media during the 1980s and 1990s.
We do not only insist this is important in terms of understanding our
history, and the intimate relationship between propaganda and violence that has
characterised the counterrevolutionary effort since the early 1990s, and which
drastically intensified during the negotiations era.
We remain convinced that elements of these Stratkom networks and fronts
remain in place and that they must be exposed, as some are actively engaged in
attempting to sabotage the new order through sustained, deliberate attempts to
negatively influence perceptions with regard to issues such as the level of
crime in South Africa, the ability of the new government to govern, and
allegations regarding corruption. Once a perception has been successfully
established that a country is a crime-ridden, corruption-infested basket case,
that perception is very hard to eradicate.
We should not forget Baufre's maxim regarding the true terrain on which wars
are won or lost.
A FEW OBSERVATIONS
ON THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA
The South African media was, and is, a powerful institution. It had tremendous
power and influence - not just in South Africa, but on the world stage. It was,
and is, part of an influential international community of media institutions.
The African National Congress believes that one of the greatest shortcomings
of the commercial media was its failure to use this power and influence to bring
pressure on the system of apartheid.
As disseminators of information, the commercial media failed to resist
censorship and encroachments on its freedoms. Instead, it chose to either
willingly comply with the conditions laid down by an illegitimate government (in
the case of the Afrikaans-language press) or to apply selfcensorship (in the
case of the English language press) through a range of agreements. The media
volunteered to establish regulatory institutions such as the Press Council, made
up primarily of middle-class white men. It agreed to the institution of
regulatory mechanisms such as "accreditation" for police and military
correspondents, thereby complying with the state's restrictions on who could
The media also regularly repeated the state's claim that South Africa had
"the freest press in Africa" - despite the fact that it was subject to
more than 150 statutes limiting freedom of expression.
The role of organised media owners
The acquiescence of institutions like the Newspaper Press Union (NPU) has yet
to be fully revealed, and the African National Congress urges the Truth &
Reconciliation Commission to probe the nature of the many "agreements"
which were drawn up by the NPU and elements of the apartheid state such as the
South African Defence Force.
Although the process of negotiating these "agreements" has yet to
be revealed, enough is known to make us believe that these "agreements were
in fact voluntary self-censorship mechanisms introduced by the mass media - at
the expense of the South African public, who were effectively deprived of the
right to know by the very advocates of that right.
The question of editorial independence is rather a spurious one when applied
to both the state-owned and the commercial media. In both institutions, the
"owners" (whether the government or capital) as a rule would only
appoint to senior positions individuals who would "toe the line". If
they did not. they were either fired or their publications closed.
The possibility of management interference with editorial content was often
as a result, purely academic: "He who pays the piper calls the tune."
However despite this it appears there were often examples of specific
interventions into editorial content on the basis of either political or
economic concern by managements. The African National Congress encourages those
who have experienced this to make submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation
Misinformation and disinformation
One of the greatest shortcomings of the state-owned and commercial media was
its gullible acceptance of "dirty tricks" - its uncritical publication
of lies spread by agents of the state.
There are some well-known examples of how the media was used by the apartheid
state to publish lies and distortion. Many of these relate to character
assassinations on leaders of the liberation movements: for example, The Star's
insinuation that Joe Slovo had been responsible for the assassination of Ruth
First, or the hysterical coverage of the apartheid state's attempts to smear
None of the media's often-trumpeted tenants of "balance" or
"Objectivity" were applied in the development of these articles. No
attempts were made to ascertain the accuracy of these articles. Instead, the
approach was to swallow the smears of the security forces - hook, line and
White lives are worth more than black lives
Throughout apartheid era, state-owned radio and TV as well as the commercial
print media adopted the approach that white lives are more important than black
lives. This approach to "newsworthiness" cheapened black lives and
reinforced the apartheid notion of first and second-class citizens. Black South
Africans did not just lose their dignity -- they lost their right to
representation in the media.
White politics is the only relevant form of politics
The state-owned and commercial media ploughed resources into the creation and
maintenance of dedicated parliamentary political newsteams, to cover
parliamentary debates and party congresses. "Political coverage"
implied only the activities of those privileged enough to have the vote. There
are few signs that the same resources were applied to extraparliamentary
politics, or to ensuring that the political aspirations of those not represented
in parliament (approximately 8% of the population) were represented in the
The ghettoisation of news about black people
The South African print media reinforced the divisions of apartheid by
creating apartheid editions of their newspapers. These "extra"
editions effectively prevented whites from reading about events affecting
blacks, and vice versa. Those working on these "extra" editions were
also treated as second-class media workers, with smaller staff and fewer
While it may have made some commercial sense, this approach was hurtful and
divisive. It was, among other things, responsible for entrenching ignorance of
blacks about whites, and vice versa, and for reinforcing stereotypes. It
separated readers rather than uniting them, and ghetto-nised news.
Spies in the newsroom
It is no secret that the apartheid security establishment relied heavily on
networks and spies across the media spectrum.
The extent of these networks is gradually beginning to emerge, and the
African National Congress welcomes this development.
Spies in the newsrooms operated with a broad mandate; among other things,
they were to use their newspapers or other institutions to get across the
"party line". They were to spy on their colleagues, and use their
access to communities to spy on the broader community.
The African National Congress believes these apartheid spies betrayed the
trust of their colleagues and their readers. No-one knows the extent of this
betrayal, or the impact it may have had on the lives of sources or other media
workers. The African National Congress therefore believes that media workers who
were on the payroll of the apartheid regime should be forced to testify before
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so that all may know the truth.
One additional observation, however, is that the management of some media
institutions seem to have displayed particular enthusiasm to root out staff
members who were favourably disposed to the cause of the liberation
movements--but displayed little interest in doing the same to those who spied
for the apartheid state. The African National Congress believes that media
institutions should comment specifically on what attempts they made to identify
media workers on the apartheid payroll, and what action they took in this
Demonisation of the liberation movement and its leadership
One of the most reckless activities undertaken by elements of the South
African media was their demonisation of leaders of the liberation movement.
Here, the African National Congress thinks specifically of the attempts to
demonise our late leader, Comrade Chris Hani, shortly before his assassination.
This demonisation took the form of untruths, unsourced allegations and the
publication and broadcast of information without comment from the liberation
movement. The outcome of this reckless and irresponsible campaign was to
demonise Comrade Chris Hani in the eyes of particular communities, and to whip
up hysteria. We can only speculate on the impact this campaign had on those who
eventually issued the order to have him killed.
One side of the story
The absence of an official African National Congress presence inside the
country until 1990, and the repressive legislation outlawing utterances of the
ANC, enabled the media to publish or broadcast without having to "get the
Media workers may argue that they did so in the hope that the public could
"read between the lines". This may explain their fond recollections of
trips undertaken in SADF tanks, in the back of SAP Hippos, or on navy frigates.
But at a time when the ANC and other liberation movements were silenced, one
would have expected a vigorous media, committed to the truth, to do all in its
power to "get the other side". While there are a few examples of this,
we believe that too often the media chose to publish only the official version.
THE CONTRIBUTION OF
THE INDEPENDENT MEDIA
The phrase "independent media" is used to refer to what was described
at the time as the alternative media, the progressive media, and community
media. It refers both to publications - i.e. New Nation, New African, UmAfrika,
Vrye Weekblad, Work In Progress, SPEAK, Learn & Teach, Saamstaan, etc - and
news-gathering agencies such as East Cape News Agencies, Concord etc.
The courage of the independent media, and individuals working for the
independent media, cannot be under-estimated or down-played. Despite having
limited resources, it displayed a tenacity, a courage and a creativity of which
the commercial media should be more than a little embarrassed. Its relentless
attempts to go beyond the boundaries of the law are admirable.
It was the small, under-resourced independent media which posed the greatest
challenge to the apartheid regime - whether in the courts, where it fought for
space to publish, or in the streets, where it stayed true to its mission of
publishing the truth.
We believe the independent media played a critical role in critiquing and
pressurising the mass media. In addition, it played an invaluable role in
ensuring that South Africans were exposed to "the other side of the
story". It is important to note, however, that the response of the mass
media to these new voices was, as a rule, to try to squeeze them out through
monopolistic practices rather than to assist in their development.
The South African media was a major influence on the thinking, attitude and
behaviour all who lived under apartheid rule in South Africa.
This document is in no way to be conceived as a blanket condemnation of the
South African mass media. As stated upfront, the media is diverse and there are
therefore varying degrees of complicity--as there are varying degrees of courage
and commitment to the truth.
But whatever the argument, we believe large sectors of the media failed in
their obligation to fully inform their readers, viewers and listeners:
- They failed in their obligation to provide balance and context.
- They failed to commit resources to fully uncovering what was happening
inside their own country.
- They failed to fully explain the horrors of apartheid.
- They failed to break through the barriers of ignorance and
misunderstanding which formed a cornerstone of apartheid.
- They failed to tell the truth.
It is interesting to note the growing assertiveness within the media industry
around basic human rights such as freedom of information, freedom of association
and freedom of expression
Obviously, it is much easier to champion these rights in a democratic
society, where these freedom are enshrined in the constitution - thanks to the
brave efforts of millions of South Africans who fought for, and are deeply
committed to, these ideals.
However, we in the African National Congress cannot but wonder at this recent
conversion by many in the media industry to what are, after all, basic human
We cannot also but wonder what the impact would have been on the history of
our people if the South African media had been prepared to express such a
fundamental commitment to basic human rights before it became "safe"
to do so.
Having said that, it would be irresponsible not to note the significant
changes which have taken place in the South African media since the advent of a
To some extent, the media has been transformed. The public broadcaster, for
example, is now free of government control. Major changes in ownership have
taken place, and the media industry is starting to deal seriously with
shortcomings in the field of skills development and black advancement.
There is still a long way to go, however. Huge strides need to be made to
talk about equality in the South African media, and in building the diversity
and depth which a developing society such as ours so desperately needs.
Finally: It must also be recorded that the ANC is disappointed with the
media's lack of response to the call from the Truth & Reconciliation
Commission for hearings into the media under apartheid. So far, only one media
company has made a submission to the TRC.
We are particularly concerned that this debate has been limited to the role
of the English-language press, as we believe other sectors of the media have a
lot to answer for.
The ANC hopes that other media institutions will recognise the importance of
evaluating their actions under apartheid, and that individual media workers and
other employees will come forward with their own testimony.
We believe there is an urgent need for all South African media
institutions to probe their past and to come forward to establish the truth,
promote reconciliation and strengthen the basic media freedoms.