ANC set to do bat­tle with print, so­cial me­dia

CityPress - - News - ANDISIWE MAKINANA andisiwe.makinana@city­press.co.za

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.

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