Friday, April 23, 2010


Themba Sepotokele

Any organisation that has been under the illusion that dealing with the media is a walk in the park should by now have prioritised five percent of its budget for communication, especially media training.

Two events which incidentally and ironically happened on the same day should have opened the eyes of many organisations, institutions, parastatals, political parties, government departments and municipalities.

Firstly is the ranting and raving of the ANC Youth League president Julius Malema who deemed it fit to show his out-of-the-cot toys and kick out BBC journalist Johan Fisher during a press conference recently. The Juju lost his cool as he briefed the media about his visit to the economically and politically ailing Zimbabwe. In front of cameras, he used words suc as “bastard” and “a bloody agent.”

You see the Bully Boy from Limpopo likes the media attention so much that he has held more press conferences than the mother body, the ANC Women’s League and the Veteran’s League.

When he was at his lowest ebb, after being jeered by the South African Community Party (SACP) conference last year, he pleaded with Yusuf Abramjee, the chairperson of the National Press Club to organise a media conference to speak his mind.  At this conference, Malema threatened “war” against the communist party and its leaders Blade Nzimande, Jeremy Cronin and Gwede Mantashe.  Why he didn’t use Luthuli House as it has been the case is anyone’s guess.

If my memory serves me right, he said nothing at that press briefing and hordes of media hounds were disappointed. However, the strategist that he is, he used the media platform to boost his bruised ego. I remember Business Day editor Peter Bruce saying he wished he hadn’t sent his reporters to cover that media briefing.

Malema’s lawyer Tumi Mokoena and ANC spokesperson Floyd Shivambu spewed a lot of hot air when they called journalists to a press conference in March.  They wanted to clarify that Malema was either not or no longer a member of SGL Engineering which has, according to the City Press exposé, done a lot of shoddy work with falling bridges.

As a media trainer and analyst, I have known that this was long time coming. The man who managed to charm most of the people who interviewed him was now on the attack, a clear sign that he is now under pressure and that he needs to hone his skills in handling the media.

In the second incident, Andre Visagie, the secretary-general of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) was never to be outdone by Malema.  He actually reminded me of an incident in 1995 when Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his bodyguard stormed into a studio during a live broadcast of an interview with Prince Sifiso on SABC TV's news programme Agenda.  Buthelezi had appeared on television shortly before Zulu and had been watching the programme on a screen outside the studio.

Visagie was having a debate on eNews Channel studios with the young and intelligent policy and gender advocacy director of the Trade Collective, Lebohang Pheko, when he lost his cool. The anchor Chris Maroleng had invited them to discuss the issue of race relations in the aftermath of the death of AWB leader Eugene Terre'Blanche.

Visagie became irritated and hot under the collar, telling Pheko not to interrupt him, before ripping off his microphone and storming off the set. However, he returned moments later saying:

“I am not finished with you; you don’t interrupting me” (sic).

Maroleng came to Pheko’s defence while AWB security staff also intervened. However, it was Maroleng’s utterances that left viewers laughing. He repeatedly said:

“Don’t touch me on my studio, don’t dare touch me on my studio” (sic).

The AWB member’s adamant response: “I’ll touch you on your studio,” left the country with stitches.

These two incidents should remind us that in dealing with the media, we must be cool-headed, be prepared and expect questions from hell – those that you wouldn’t otherwise like to be asked and be able to navigate without being compromised or, worse, compromising yourself. Therefore, thorough media training cannot be over-emphasised. People with short fuses should try by all means to remain cool, calm and collected.

Hats off to President Jacob Zuma; he emerged unsated in all the interviews especially on CNN, BBC and Sky News where foreign reporters would bravely ask him about his rape and corruption charges. Depite his shortcomings, he answered those well.

I hope there are lessons learnt in the Malema and Visagie sagas, of how not to deal with the media.

Indeed dealing with the media can offer rich rewards, but it can also be very risky so make sure you are prepared. Communication defines reputation - both personal and corporate, of which Malemas’ and Visagie’s is now damaged and in need of repair. It is important to communicate to the best of your ability and give the right impression.

Now that Malema was 'booed' again by ANC Youth League members in his home turf Limpopo is a clear indication that people are gatvol of the Malema factor. Even President Jacob Zuma has finally rebuked and berated Malema publicly. However, Malema should be made to apologise publicly. Like Zuma said, it is important to think before talking.

I hope the two (un)gentlemen who disgraced themselves and brought their respective organisations into disrepute can take leaf from philosopher Walter Lippmann who once observed that;

“A man has honour if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.”

The writer is a former journalist, now a government communicator and a media trainer attached to Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Ledership; School of Journalism and Media Studies in Grahamstown. He writes in his own capacity.


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