Cape Town - It is Human Rights Day today. And it is a time, especially now, to honour fearless and independent journalists because it is they — photographers, camera operators and writers — who have played such a crucial role in exposing the threats to, and abuses of, rights such as those contained in the Constitution.
They continue to do so in this era of fake news, “alternative facts” and where spin doctors and their outpourings tend to dominate sections of the popular media. And it was journalists, for example, along with human right groups such as the Black Sash, who played a central role in bringing the social grants debacle to pubic notice.
This is in the tradition of the origin of South Africa’s Human Rights Day that commemorates the massacre in the township of Sharpeville in 1960. Had it not been for reporter Humphrey Tyler and photographer Ian Berry, that slaughter might have been portrayed as the logical outcome of an attack on the police and it would probably never have become the trigger for global protests about apartheid.
But it should also not be forgotten that even the then professedly liberal Rand Daily Mail refused to publish Tyer’s report on the grounds that the newspaper already had a “factual report” from the police. That report stated that the police had been forced to fire on “an enraged mob” that had attacked them.
However, Berry had the pictures that proved that apparently panicky police had fired on a peaceful and unarmed crowd, killing 69 men and women, many of them shot in the back as they fled. And a tiny, independent publication did publish Tyler’s eyewitness account.
But, less that three months later, there was another massacre, one in which the police, apparently backed by elements from the air force and army drowned in blood an amaMpondo rebellion at Ngquza hill in the Transkei. There were no media present and the people had no means of public communication, so the details only emerged more than 40 years later.
These are lessons that that we need to learn from in order to ensure that the rights enshrined in the Constitution may become a reality for all and that abuses can be identified and countered.
For this, a free and unfettered media staffed by journalists committed to presenting unvarnished facts is essential.Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter: