Over the past couple of months I’ve shared my opinion on the importance of the media in general, and investigative and in-depth journalism in particular. I wrote about journalism here, about the Mail & Guardian school of investigative journalism here and my respect for editor Nick Dawes here. I think it’s obvious that I find the idea of controlling information preposterous.
Yesterday Pick n Pay’s chairman Gareth Ackerman joined the press freedom debate. According to this article by The Times, Ackerman pointed out the link between economic and political freedom and the dependence of economic freedom on the free flow of information.
I find it ironic that one of the first businesses to join the debate would be the first business that ever made me doubt press freedom in South Africa. A couple of Jozi years ago, I was part of the ZOO editorial team. While the kind of reporting we did had no effect on national security, we did a lot of important in-depth research.
The magazine irritated a lot of people, including my poor parents who couldn’t reconcile my Christelik-Nasionale education and promising start at Beeld newspaper with my sudden interest in tits and ass. I think they finally accepted it when they realised it would have been a lot worse if I were actually in the magazine. In my time at ZOO a lot of us came under fire for the kind of content (or lack thereof) we published. However, we were all secure in the knowledge that we live in a democracy where press freedom gave us the opportunity to cater to a niche market.
Despite our relative notoriety in the industry, the only business owner that ever actually boycotted ZOO in my time there was none other than mister Ra Ra Press Freedom Gareth Ackerman. If memory serves his outrage had something to do with a photo editing blunder that rewarded the more perceptive among ZOO readers with an eyeful of punani on page seven.
I appreciate the fact that he’s taking a stand in this whole debate in his capacity as an important participant in the South African economic environment. However, I have a problem with the fact that mister Ackerman is advocating press freedom on the one hand while preventing the distribution of publications that don’t fit in with his idea of journalism on the other. I’m sure the media coverage of his patriotic point of view didn’t hurt either.
If we accept the South African Oxford Dictionary‘s definition of freedom, it means that the media has “the power or right to act, speak, or think freely”. Media freedom therefore encompasses all forms of media, regardless of quality or subject matter. Mister Ackerman is talking the talk. I sincerely hope that he and the rest of the press freedom choir remembers to walk the walk when this blows over. Live and let publish.
What do you think of Gareth Ackerman’s participation in the press freedom debate? Let me know in the comments section.