Tue Sep 26 00:25:36 SAST 2017

A journo to be taken at his word

2012-05-07 15:00:35.0 | Madala Thepa |

On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, Press Council ombudsman Joe Thloloe celebrated the day with a cake with a dollop of raspberry jam on it, wearing a T-shirt - as an appropriate aesthetic for commemorating the day.

STRAIGHT ARROW: Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe says it like it is.Picture: BAFANA MAHLANGU
RECOGNISED: Joseph Thloloe receives the silver Order of Ikhamanga from President Jacob Zuma.Picture by Gallo Images

 But the remarks made by the ANC suggest that we might find some common ground 

He was at a workshop with the MDDA (Media Development and Diversity Agency).

Thloloe was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in silver last week by president Jacob Zuma - for excellence in arts, culture, literature, music, journalism or sport.

So I'm here to check out this man who is a cut above the rest.

A little nervous, because he's known not to suffer fools.

He is ever cordial, patient with rookies who stammer through their interviews, I am told, but impatient if they are comfortably smug and come unprepared.

I ask him if Ikhamanga is more worthy than the honorary doctorate he received from Rhodes University last year.

"The doctorate was for recognising my contribution to journalism, which I do appreciate, and the Order of Ikhamanga was recognising my work, which I also truly appreciate.

"I appreciate these awards equally," he says.

"This one was particularly important because of the tension between the media and the ANC."

Thloloe is too big a character for low pandering.

His anti-secrecy bill stance is unwavering.

"Ultimately it goes against the press freedom guaranteed in the constitution.

"It would be in fact a huge blow against freedom to have such a body," he says.

"The president giving me the this award was in a way looking at the bigger picture, beyond the petty squabbles that we had.

"It says to me that our democracy has matured ... our democracy has progressed.

"This doesn't mean the president or the ANC has moved from its position of going ahead with the Protection of Information Bill.

"But the remarks made by the ANC suggest that we might find some common ground."

Thloloe has seen it all, done the time and survived the turbulent apartheid days, won awards - and yet when you meet him he doesn't bleed self-promoted kudos.

When asked about his response to the people deeming his office toothless and useless, everything changes.

He leans forward.

"Who are those people? You have mentioned one and one does not make people. Who else?"


"We had 255 complaints last year from ordinary people, the presidency, provincial to political parties and youth leagues.

"In 2010 we had about 215 cases and the year before that we had about 150 complaints.

"These figures say to me that more people are using this system and we would not make this figure if we were not useful.

"The promise we make to the people is that our system is reliable and quick. This is where you can get help without paying a cent," he says.

"As I'm speaking to you tonight I'm looking at the ANC Youth League case that has come through."

Asked about the merit of the case, he doesn't reveal much.

On the fact that some website has listed him as a founding member of the Federation of Black Journalist (FBJ), he refutes this.

"I never have. I have friends who were there," he says.

Then the lecture.

"The Internet should be your tip-off. Always you must get it from the horse's mouth."

Asked about the trust fund babies in the newsrooms and the standard of journalism, he laughs and says he actually finds the standard good.

"I don't want to fall prey to the normal trend and say these youngsters don't know journalism.

"They are much more educated than we were," he says.

"They've been through the mill, have had access to many things, technology and many other resources, things that we didn't have in our time.

"The only resource of information we had was the library.

"Now the story has become much more complex.

"Unlike us in the past, it was about fighting against apartheid.

"So the South African story is much more complex."

Asked to elaborate, he repeats himself: "The story has become much more complex."

He asks how much time we still have.

"Thirty minutes is too long. I've been standing in the workshops for long and I need to go home," he says.

One last one then. I ask him how he discovered the "word".

"It was when I came out of jail in 1960 on Christmas eve. While I was in jail I learnt journalism from Matthew Nkoane.

"But before I could do anything about it I had to write my matric and that was in 1961," he says.

"I was invited to join The World. The people who came to fetch me were Doc Bikitsha and Boy Gumede.

"We took a train to Industria. The offices were opposite Industria station.

"I was interviewed by the news editor and given the job.

"Then I took my papers to the pass office.

"You couldn't work anywhere until you were registered as an employee.

"You couldn't work anywhere until you were registered as a work seeker.

"Your pass had to be stamped. Every month your employer had to sign at the pass office that you are still under his employ," he says.

"So our lives revolved around the pass office.

"Anything you wanted to do, from health issues to seeking employment, funerals, everything, had to go through the pass office."

The last, last one. The myth that young journalists don't drink enough that is why the standards are so low.

He laughs.

"That one is a joke. The journalist at the Golden Post, Drum and The World for example used to numb themselves with alcohol because they couldn't face the horrors of apartheid sober and pretend that life is one big party.

"That is the reason they drank. So what you are telling me is just a myth.

"There are still brilliant journalists working today, very good journalists."

Your Subscription

The Sunday World Network