Viva la difference – vigorous debate proves SA media in rude health

By Alec Hogg

The late Tertius Myburgh, editor of the Sunday Times during its 1980s heyday, was a gifted leader and wonderful human being. But he also loved lecturing young ‘uns that the media was best served by restricting criticism to those outside the industry. While Myburgh’s approach was sensible when Apartheid was the enemy, it is clearly no longer fit for purpose.

Another of my former bosses, Allan Greenblo, yesterday brandished a figurative cat-o-nine-tails while flaying Sygnia’s CEO Magda Wierzycka. His assault comes after Wierzycka enjoyed acres of positive space and positive airtime by launching verbal missiles at competitor Allan Gray. In short, Greenblo says those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

His myth-busting retort followed an equally hostile attack on Politicsweb by another veteran editor, Jeremy Gordin, who targeted BDFM’s Peter Bruce over his recent “white hating” column. Bruce says his critic “overwrites and underthinks.” Ouch.

While those directly involved may be smarting, these vigorous interchanges of opinion reflect something good. Divergent views are the lifeblood of an independent media. And when insiders are called to account by peers, freedom of speech is the real winner.