Jean-Jacques Cornish

Refusing to speak to the media makes one look silly

A disturbing piece of television during national women’s month. A female student talking-to a television reporter is bearded by a male colleague. 

“We are protesting,” he says. “No interviews” and with that he pushes her in the small of her back into the throng of toy toying youth.

She doesn’t protest. Neither does the reporter.

This blatant violence against a woman is explained away as part of the students’ reluctance to talk to the media.

Now I don’t expect students to behave in a way I would approve of. Their job, as students, is to break the boundaries. To get up my nose. But I cannot be expected to accept thuggish behaviour.

I have mixture of amusement and foreboding at their refusing to speak to the media.

People who refuse to talk to reporters are behaving like people who run away when police ask them a question: they look guilty.

Consider a couple of those who have displayed such misgivings?

Pol Pot Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and 

Algeria’s deadly Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.

I remember complaining to an activist in Algiers that I could not do my job reporting on the disturbances if I could not speak to dissidents.

“Yes,” she said. “A young man from Le Monde was making a similar point to me a fortnight ago. They found him in the souk a week ago with his throat slit.”

That was the year when Islamists who regarded the media as the enemy killed 52 journalists in Algeria, so I thought better of violating their do not disturb instruction to journalists.

Of course some of the really bad guys believe it is vitally important to get their message out.

Think of the nazis, the apartheid regime and the Myanmar junta.

Goebbels popularized the Big Lie.

So keen was the regime of John Vorster to perpetuate this that they secretly founded a newspaper to make sure they did it in both official white languages. 

Buying the messenger turns out to be as unadvisable as shooting him or her.

Surely, the best answer has to be to use that medium.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.