Quote of the week

Although judicial proceedings will generally be bound by the requirements of natural justice to a greater degree than will hearings before administrative tribunals, judicial decision-makers, by virtue of their positions, have nonetheless been granted considerable deference by appellate courts inquiring into the apprehension of bias. This is because judges ‘are assumed to be [people] of conscience and intellectual discipline, capable of judging a particular controversy fairly on the basis of its own circumstances’: The presumption of impartiality carries considerable weight, for as Blackstone opined at p. 361 in Commentaries on the Laws of England III . . . ‘[t]he law will not suppose possibility of bias in a judge, who is already sworn to administer impartial justice, and whose authority greatly depends upon that presumption and idea’. Thus, reviewing courts have been hesitant to make a finding of bias or to perceive a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of a judge, in the absence of convincing evidence to that effect.

L'Heureux-Dube and McLachlin JJ
Livesey v The New South Wales Bar Association [1983] HCA 17; (1983) 151 CLR 288
9 July 2007

ANC paranoia is troubling and childish

Maybe there is something in the water at Luthuli House that makes people paranoid and stupid. The vehement response of the ANC to the report in last weeks Sunday Times that President Mbeki was defying the ANC is a case in point.

The report argued that because the policy conference had said it would be preferable for the leader of the ANC also to be the leader of the country, Mbeki`s announcement on the SABC that he was available for a third term amounted to defiance of the rank and file.

At first glance this seems at least like a credible assumption or interpretation of the available facts. But no, the ANC declaration argues that because the conference did not say in so many words that Mbeki should not stand, the conclusion arrived at by the Sunday Times was a ¨blatant lie¨.

This response is interesting for at least two reasons. First, it completely misconstrues the nature of what newspapers do when they report the news. The statement seems to be based on a sort of Stalinist understanding of news in which scientific facts (i.e. facts that correspond to the views of the party) are or should be reported by the media.

But the media cannot report such facts because the facts appear in a context and must be interpreted. Some times the interpretation of the facts by the media will differ from the interpretation by the political party. For that party to then assert that the media is peddling blatant lies, is to reveal a party with a messianic view of itself. If the party says something is so, it is a fact but if the media says something else it is a lie. Only the Party has direct access to the ¨truth¨.

This view of the all-knowing party is reflected in the following passage in the ANC response:

We trust that, in time, Mr Makhanya [the editor of the Sunday Times] will learn the important lesson about his own people, our people, that these masses know that lies have short legs, and therefore cannot travel far. As he learns this lesson, he might also come to understand why the ANC, a product of generations of African and black hope, which is deeply embedded in the psychology of these masses, is accurately described as a parliament of the people.

Maybe I am needlessly worried, but is it not potentially troubling that some members of the ANC sees the Party as the parliament of the people. Could this perhaps mean that what the ANC decides is more important than what Parliament decide? If so, what happens when Parliament stops being dominated by the ANC? This is the worst kind of exceptionalism and it can easily create the impression that the ANC is not as democratic as Mr. Suresh Roberts claims.

But there is a second troubling aspect to the statement. Why on earth is the ANC so paranoid when it has an almost 70% majority in Parliament and is in every way the dominant political force in South Africa? The statement reads in part:

It is perfectly clear that what Mr Makhanya, and presumably the newspaper he edits, seeks most fervently is to weaken the ANC. For this reason, he argues that our principled cohesion and unity, which he falsely characterises as ‘enormous power and trust (given) to one individual’ — the president — is inimical to the interests both of the ANC and the country.

The thought never occur to the mandarins at Luthuli House that the Sunday Times report was not a plot to weaken the ANC but part of the rough and tumble of politics. It is born out of the same messianic impulse described above because it is based on the notion that because the ANC is the parliament of the people only evil enemies could ever do or say anything that might not carry approval from the ANC. It is troubling and childish.

Strange how the ANC sees a plot around every corner – it is almost as if it has to conjure up enemies to keep the much vaunted unity in tact. The ANC has every right to criticize the media, but by doing it in such an over the top way, the organization really is not doing itself any favours.

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