ANC set to do battle with print, social media
The ANC sees itself under attack not only from what it regards as a hostile print media, but also from social media, and its communications policy discussion document calls for its members to flood the space with the party’s own agenda and narrative.
In the document, the governing party says it has been under sustained attack from the opposition, social media and the fourth estate, claiming: “The hegemony in the battle of ideas has resulted in the odds being stacked against progressive forces...”
The party also notes an increasingly rapid uptake of social media by many citizens, especially the youth, and its increased primacy as a platform of choice for accessing and disseminating information.
The party raises concerns over the rapid use of social-media networks, “where information is unmediated and unfiltered”.
It notes that its branches, regions and some provinces are not optimally capacitated to engage in the battle of ideas permeating society, while the rapid use of social media often demands speedy and accurate responses.
In the document, a comprehensive plan is proposed to help the organisation formulate responses. This includes prioritising the provision of training in digital political communications.
It is hoped the plan will be adopted at the ANC’s national policy conference in June.
“We must invest in agenda setting, actively participate in the battle of ideas and provide leadership at all levels. The ANC must command hegemony in agenda setting,” reads the document. “In the context of forging unity, the ANC must not have its own sponsoring negative narrative against its own.”
It is perhaps with this in mind that State Security Minister David Mahlobo wants to regulate social media.
Mahlobo came under heavy criticism earlier this month when he told journalists that government was considering regulating social media, in light of issues that included the spreading of fake news and the existence of persistent scammers.
Mahlobo said social media was being abused to peddle false information.
Similar proposals by ANC members were mooted ahead of the party’s national general council in 2015, including setting out detailed criteria for the ANC’s “war rooms”.
At the time, the party called for its war rooms to be strengthened and repopulated with the requisite skills. An ANC covert war room campaign to discredit opposition parties in the run-up to last year’s elections was uncovered in January, when public relations expert Sihle Bolani sued the party for R2.2 million for the work she had allegedly done leading up to the polls.
In court papers, Bolani outlined the various strategies discussed as part of the ANC’s campaign, including recruiting influential people on social media, who would use their profiles to give coverage to the party. The ANC distanced itself from the project.
In the current discussion document, the ANC also notes that media consolidation and hegemony in South Africa has meant that the larger media houses, “many of whose editorial positions on government and the governing party are adversarial”, predominate the conversation.
“Greater convergence has meant that these anti-ANC voices, some of which overtly favour the political opposition, dominate not just one, but multiple platforms at any given time,” it adds.
The ANC also notes that the crises at the SABC have been costly for the party, as millions have turned to social media and the “antagonistic mainstream media platforms” for information because of citizens’ lack of trust in the public broadcaster.
As has been the case for the past 10 years, the party’s call for a media appeals tribunal features in the document as an option to regulate the print media, which the party describes as robust and potentially hostile.
The ANC reaffirms the need for “independent” regulation of print media, stating that self-regulation has failed.
In the document, the ANC proposes that Parliament undertake an inquiry, before the June policy conference, into media accountability mechanisms, including the desirability of establishing a media appeals tribunal and the possibility of amending defamation laws.