The great Struggle journalist, Max du Preez, founded South Africa’s fabled anti-apartheid newspaper Vrye Weekblad back in 1998 and revived it in 2019 as Vrye Weekblad Online.

He recently wrote an article deploring eNCA TV’s suspension of two of its most experienced anchor/presenters and quoted me.

Here’s Max’s article:

Yesterday, @XoliMngambi and @JaneDutton made an unfortunate judgment call on President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cogta Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma around the debacle on the cigarette ban.

Translated from the original Afrikaans:

 eNCA se selfmoordsending

 What on earth is going on at eNCA? On what kind of suicide mission are this bunch?

In its senior appointments eNCA has made one blunder after another in recent times and is losing its place as the biggest news station to the 24 hour service the SABC provides with 40% market share. The station that replaced ANN7, Newzroom Afrika is also rising from strength to strength.

And then, this week eNCA, believe it or not, suspends two of its most experienced news anchors, Xoli Mngambi and Jane Dutton, over comments they made about the NDZ-cigarette debacle.

They were possibly not the smartest remarks but they were made spontaneously in the heat of the moment.

And it is the management of eNCA who a year ago encouraged their news presenters to be more relaxed in their presentations, to make brief monologues/summaries of the news and to generally express their views. It is the tendency elsewhere in the world too to present news in a more lively and colourful way.

What I would like to know is who phoned the news channel to complain, in the same way that PW Botha would call the SABC to give it orders. I am pretty sure it was not Ramaphosa. I’ve known him long and well enough to know that this is really not his style.

My money is on the Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, who considers himself something of an expert on the media and enjoys acting as Cyril’s foremost watchdog. It was he who at the time led the campaign against City Press after they published an unflattering painting of a naked Jacob Zuma.

Poor Xoli Mngambi and Jane Dutton first had to read a cringing apology and then it was announced the next day that they were suspended.

This is a kick in the gut of the channel’s credibility and prestige. The other presenters at the channel and the reporters should actually have protested and refused to air a further bulletin until the two are reinstated.

For some time I have felt that news-presenters should not place themselves into the stories and offer commentary, which is a nonsense. Just look at Fox News and CNN and you will know what I’m talking about.

And then, just this week, an old guru in the field of TV presenters wrote about this. Tim Knight is a veteran newshound and TV man who spent years at American and Canadian news channels and later became one of the best educators of presenters in the world.

I know Tim well. When I arrived as a newspaper man at the SABC in 1994, he taught me the ropes of what and what not to do. Much later he came to SA and now lives in Muizenberg.

Tim writes in his blog about the his irritation about the phenomenon – the breaking of the traditional division between presenter and reporter.

“Over the decades, we broadcast journalists have developed a system within which the anchor sets the scene, context and housekeeping, the who, what, where, when of the story. Then the reporter does the storytelling, rolls out details, tries to answer the why question and deliver analysis, depth, meaning.

“The system protected the network and anchor from charges of taking sides, particularly political sides. It wasn’t the anchor representing the station who reported the latest government screwup. It was the reporter, likely present at the scene.

“Traditionally, you could trust the anchor to be impartial, not take sides. The unbiased anchor was the symbolic, objective guardian of the integrity of the news.

“Now though, because of Trump, news anchors feel it right and proper to editorialize whenever the urge overwhelms them. As a result, viewers tend to put TV news networks — represented by their anchors — into categories.

“This network is pro-Trump. That network is anti-Ramaphosa. The fix is in. They’re all biased. You can’t believe any of them.”

Max:  I agree, Tim. What an old pro you are.

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