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‘Claims of political interference concerning’

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Amidst a storm of controversy surrounding the suspension of Etv boss, Marcel Golding, one political analyst has expressed concern over the surfacing of allegations pertaining to political interference, in the station’s news coverage. It comes two days after Golding resigned from the post, after an unsuccessful bid to stop disciplinary proceedings with parent company Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI), as well as having his suspension overturned.

Golding was suspended following accusations of ‘gross misconduct’, with suggestions that he invested R24 million of shareholders money into the Ellies group. However, he has hit back by claiming the suspension was based on his refusal to buy into government interference in Etv’s editorial policy.

Media analyst, Aeysha Kajee, the former director of the Freedom of Expression Institute, expressed deep concern that such allegations of interference were surfacing at a private media organ. Should Golding’s claims of external pressure be found to be true, she said it would be particular concerning for the state of freedom of expression in the country.

“Of course it is not confirmed true as yet, and it may well be that Mr. Golding is making these allegations in the face of his suspension, and counter allegations that he purchased shares without the proper approval. But the very fact that these allegations are surfacing in our media environment, that is of huge concern,” she said.

In recent days, Golding has sought to back up his allegations by suggesting that he received an email from HCI executive director, Yunis Shaik. The email reportedly states that Shaik had been contacted by Economic Development MEC, Ebrahim Patel, who had requested Etv cover a ‘newsworthy’ and positive story about President Jacob Zuma, who had opened a dam that same day.

Kajee said such attempts to exert influence on Etv’s editorial decisions were something to be expected from the public broadcaster, but not from one that purported to be independent.

“The public broadcaster is meant to be working in the interest of the public and not that state, so we shouldn’t have that happening at the SABC either. But when it happens at a private and independently owned company, it becomes really concerning,” she stated.

The issue has also brought about questions around President Jacob Zuma’s perceived inability to negative publicity leveled against him. Kagee was surprised by the sensitivity of the president to negative coverage, in particular the great lengths he would take to avoid it. She said this was in stark contrast to former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela, both of whom were more open to criticism.

Furthermore, she expressed concern that continued political interference in the media sphere, would serve to take the country into a ‘fascist era’ in terms of news coverage.

“Are we actually retrogressing to the type of media censorship, and censorship of editorial policy that we came from, and we vowed we would never see again? Are we entering a different kind of media restrictive era, where we go the path of our Northern neighbors in Zimbabwe?” she questioned. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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