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The ANC giveth, the ANC taketh it away


I woke up with an uneasy feeling in my stomach this morning. On November 22 1995, South Africa was celebrating the first draft of South Africa’s new constitution. A constitution incorporating rights like media freedom. Sixteen years later, it is Black Tuesday. This afternoon the South African Parliament will cast their votes for the Protection of Information Bill (POIB).

An “all thumbs up verdict” would mean a first step towards the dismantling of the precious democracy so many people fought and died for.

What a way to celebrate such memorable occasion.

The more I think about it, the more angry I get. In the process, a couple of tears have bitten the dust since my alarm clock went off at voetsek o’clock (I tend to do that when angry).

I have not done any work today. I just can’t put my head to it. The thought that these so-called freedom fighters of the ANC intend to bulldozer one of the four pillars of democracy – media freedom and access to information – makes me sick to my stomach.

What did not help, was a story in Beeld. The report stated that MPs will be forced to vote along party lines and that their votes will be checked. In other words, it is not only media freedom that will be given a firm kick in the groin.

The freedom to choose is facing a similar destiny. May I note that this practice is very common in dictatorships like Zimbabwe and ex-dictatorships such as Libya?

“Why should I bother, as I am not a journalist?” you ask. If you by now do not know how the Protection of Information Bill will affect you as a member of society, you must have been hibernating for the past two years.

Read this while you are at it. Steven Friedman sums it up rather well.

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The crisis from a freelancer’s point of view


I spy, I spy with my little eye that I haven’t blogged in quite a while. I blame this silly slip-up on the ginormous list of deadlines that is staring me in the eye while I type this. Well, at least I have got work, for now that is. With the 2008/2009 economic crisis in the back of my mind, I must admit that the current situation in Europe / Greece is making me nervous. I’m not sure whether I can handle another “2009” to tell you the truth.

Normally, we media freelancers – as opposed to big banks and politicians suffering from Tenderitis – never make the headlines when the going gets tough. And that is fine. Most of us rather want to report on stuff, than being reported on.

Fact of the matter is that not too many people realize that many of their news providers were hit by the economic crisis of 2008/2009.

1) As the global economy twitched and shivered, and South Africa entered its first recession in 17 years, newspapers and magazines and other publications around the world (well, those in the countries affected) saw their advertising revenue streams shrink like a silk scarf washed at 150 degrees. This impacted freelance budgets. As a result, freelance rates remained unchanged and often dropped (BTW: after the crisis, these rates were often NOT increased to pre-2008 levels). Or equally bad: there was less room (or no room at all) for freelance contributions.

2) To cut costs as a result of falling revenue, scores of fulltime media people were faced with retrenchment. Others did not have their contracts renewed. Forced by a persistent lack of vacancies, many of them joined the mighty army of freelance media professionals – who were already fighting over a shrinking pool of work. You get the idea.

All of the above was applicable to me. Well, everything apart from being retrenched.

As my editors kept their hands tightly on their purse, I was forced to take on what ever I could get, at what ever rate. And so I filled my days with brainless and severely underpaid online copy writing work for printer dealers, an online second-hand car portal, insurance companies and even an arms manufacturer. Yes, we are talking guns and war equipment, not prosthetic limbs. Yes. Me, the Pacifist. Look, I am not proud of that particular work, but I had to do something to prevent the boat from going under like a Big Ass Titanic. There were bills to pay, including the one for the extension of my Temporary Residency Permit (R12.000).

All in all, 2009 was my personal iceberg, but I managed to sail around it. In the process, I had to give up my office space as I could not cope with the monthly cost of R2000 + internet + phone calls. Having to look thrice at every rand before spending it, turned into one big frustration. But in the end I was lucky. I know of a couple of freelancers who had to revert to drastic decisions, including selling their cars / house and canceling on their life insurance and medical aid, simply because work had dried up.

As the year 2009 (aka as The Bitch) progressed, the news journalist in me got more and more frustrated: there was plenty of news in South Africa, but my editors did not have /did not want to spend money to take my contributions. I think I might have written about ten news stories in the whole of 2009.

The only positive thing about 2009 was that at some stage the rand stood 14 to the euro (some of my work is paid out in euros).

Then 2010 came, bringing the 2010 FIFA World Cup. That event in many aspects was my saving grace. In the first weeks of 2010, the first pre World Cup Assignments sailed into my mailbox: the whole world seemed to be interested in what was happening in South Africa. I also started a world cup blog, which drew people to my website and lead to more work.

I am not sure what my point is of this blog post, apart from the fact that I am feeling uneasy about 2012. While South Africa’s financial system remained intact in 208/2009, we too were a victim of the global financial crisis. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an ignorant dumb ass: the crisis which affected all sorts of industries, including tourism and the manufacturing industry, cost 1.17 million jobs. That was mainly as a result of declining export. Yes, from Europe and the US, our two main destinations for our export products.

According to my calculations this means that South Africa will be hit at some point if Europe goes tits up. So let’s send that part of the world some good vibes (or send it prayers, if that is your cup of tea).

 

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My World 1 Year Ago: Right2Know Demo


Every so often, I will write a blog about what happened exactly – or almost exactly – one year ago. Let’s start with the press freedom situation in our country.

In barely two months from now, the South African parliament is expected to vote for (well, hopefully against) the Protection of Information Bill, also known as the Secrecy Bill. The voting process was supposed to happen early September this year but South Africa’s ruling party – The African National Congress (ANC) –  decided to postpone to allow for further consultation.

South Africa is not out of the woods yet – the ANC said the legislation would be finalized by the end of the year. It is the end of October now and I find it very difficult to believe that the nature of my beloved profession might be something of the past very soon. And it is not only thing that worries me: South Africa’s future as a democratic country would then be on the line. really, can you call a country where journalists are not allowed to report freely a democracy?

Anyway – enough about that. This is not a blog about why the Protection of Information Bill is bad, bad, BAD news for South Africa. Not just for the media but for society as a whole (minus politicians, of course). I simply want to share some pictures I took almost one year ago during a Right2Know march in Cape Town. I found them a while back, and to my surprise this series contains a couple of images of the formidable and late Kader Asmal too.

 

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Life of a freelancer: When it rains, it pours!


The life of most freelance journalists, writers, and photographers (or any freelancer, really) is dominated by a couple of tricky issues. First and foremost there is the challenge of getting paid when you want to get paid, not when the client thinks it is time to come to the table.

While we humble freelance service providers are expected to meet deadlines at all time in order not to be shown the finger, many clients seem to be far more relaxed when it comes to their part of the deal – namely ‘paying out’. A Portuguese newspaper (Publico) took over ONE YEAR to pay me, despite the hundreds of emails I sent!  (Last year, I dedicated a blog post to Freelancers’ pet hates).

I have solved this bloody annoying issue without mercy: I simply refuse to work for greedy bastards who take weeks, months and sometimes years to make their promised money transfer. I have indeed culled some clients who clearly do not give a rat’s testicle about whether I am able to pay my rent, electricity bill and groceries. I fired them. Water under the bridge. Weakest link. Blah.

Then there is the issue of managing the number assignments. I am the type of person who starts stressing when there is nothing to do. As a result, I begin to pitch stories like there is no tomorrow. Yes, to ALL my clients. There is however one problem: my story pitches are usually very solid and as a result, my steady clients seldom reject them. I tend to forget that sometimes.

Two weeks ago, after filing all my stories for Business Live (One of my preferred clients, by the way) I found myself staring at the ceiling. Instead of relaxing and taking a breather – I had just done four 14-hour days of reporting on the 2011 Mining Indaba in Cape Town (which was quite hectic) – I allowed the  stress  to hit me with the impact of a jack hammer on steroids.

You have to understand that a freelancer’s main worry is whether we have enough cash at the end of the month to pay our rent, bills, glass of wine, petrol, and other necessities. In addition, we have been preprogrammed to harvest while we can. Why? When you run your own show, you never know when another good month or assignment comes around.

So two weeks ago I started pitching stories like a headless chicken – forgetting that 90% of my clients would probably say ‘yes’. And so they did. Over the past ten days I wrote:

* A 12-page UNICEF report on the situation Haiti

* A 1200-word story for Leadership Magazine on the necessity of stimulating entrepreneurship in South Africa to fight unemployment

* 700-word story for Radio Netherlands Worldwide on South Africa’s economy (linked to the 2011 Budget speech)

* A 800-word story on South Africa’s budget and a 900-word story on sustainable tourism in South Africa for Het Financieele Dagblad

* A 1700-word story on drinking and driving / road safety for Mobility Magazine.

Currently I am still working on a 1000-word story on Acid Mine Drainage and water management for Energy Forecast. That story needs to be finished today (another 500 words to go) because tomorrow I have to write a report on the Transformation Audit by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation for Business Live. This particular client also wants a story  on the Design Indaba.

Raining? RAINING? Pouring? It is more like a bloody monsoon!

I know I should not be complaining, and actually I am not. I love being a freelance writer and love being busy. I just wish I could manage the flow of work a bit better in order not to be grossly overworked like I am at this very moment. Yawn!

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Tales of a Freelance Journo

 

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Charging journos to cover events = GREEDY!


For the first time since I published my first newspaper article somewhere in 2002 a conference organizer is demanding money from me to cover one of their events. Not just money, no no NO! We are talking US dollars, not South African Rands. And we are talking 1555 of them.

That is right: the South African Coal Exports Conference 2011, scheduled to take place in Cape Town in February, is seriously wanting to charge me about month’s income so that I can generate free publicity for a) the conference b) the conference delegates c) the conference sponsors.

Now that is what I call über greedy to the core!

In addition: news should be freely available so that we, journalists can inform you, the public, about what is going on. The news comes in various shapes and sizes, and conferences like these are usually a great source of news. With the media (in South Africa and elsewhere) feeling the pinch and still struggling with the aftermath of the crisis, there is no way they can pay for journalists to attend conferences.

Anyway.

I asked the woman, who replied to my media accreditation request, if I had indeed understood her correctly about the charges. “Yes, all press are paying”, she replied curtly. “I doubt that,” was my reply. “The press is usually not paying to cover events like these. Please let me know if you have a change of heart.”

As a friend and fellow freelancer commented: “I reckon they’ll find that no press pitch, and then wonder why not.”

Exactly. The problem however is that I am now missing out as one of my clients was very interested in various stories on the conference.

It does make me wonder … The most efficient way to keep nosy journalists at bay without telling them they are not welcome (which will see you end up in deep kaka) is to charge them a ridiculous fees.

Hm. Is this a new form of censorship? I certainly hope not.
 

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