Attacks on Independent Media blatant move against transformation

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By: Independent Media (Ayanda Mdluli)

The relationship between the media houses, and among journalists, the world over, is an interesting and complex one. On paper, they are colleagues who individually and collectively serve the public’s right to know and hold the powerful to account, as self-confessed members of the fourth estate.

But, in reality, media houses and their journalists are bitter competitors and rivals who fight for scoops, adverts and the coveted prize of being the most trusted and reliable source of information.

It’s in this context that the sustained and public attacks on Independent Media (Indy) and its owner, Dr Iqbal Survé, should be understood – in particular, the posture and tone of some commentators and journalists, mainly former employees and those from rival media companies. They include Ferial Haffajee, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya, Alide Dasnois, Chris Whitfield, Dougie Oakes, Peter Bruce, Sam Sole and many others.

They mainly work for Indy’s rivals; Media24, Arena Holdings (formerly Tiso Blackstar), Daily Maverick, Mail & Guardian and Amabhungane.

Their egregious claims and wilful snipes have ranged from blatant mistruths, deliberate falsehoods and co-ordinated smear campaigns to selective amnesia.

In this five-part series, senior journalist Ayanda Mdluli sets the record straight and unpacks the lies (fake news) and the motive behind these self-righteousness and self-styled paragons of virtue. Their collective goal, which they have tried to hide, is the desire to reverse or at least frustrate transformation of the media industry and the economy in particular.

PART ONE: Moral Leadership

Ferial Haffajee, the former editor of City Press and current associate editor at donor-funded news portal, the Daily Maverick, is known for her anti-Indy bandwagon. For years, the confessed media torch-bearer and guardian of journalistic ethics in South Africa has never missed an opportunity to lecture the country about how horrible Independent Media has been since Dr Survé bought it from the Irish in 2013.

Ironically, this is the same woman who, during her tenure at City Press, allowed herself to be unduly influenced and manipulated by Jacques Pauw not to publish South African Revenue Service (Sars) rogue unit stories for the benefit of the revenue agency’s former officials facing criminal charges for establishing an operating an illegal intelligence unit.

Interestingly, Haffajee has never really bothered to base her diatribe on facts, or at least do an objective comparison between Indy and the other three print media houses (collectively known as the Big Four) on editorial independence, control, culture, remuneration, journalistic investment and so forth.

And it was not an innocent mistake; it was a calculated strategy.

Haffajee knew very well that, had she been an honest carrier of the truth, the facts would have painted a different picture to the one she is so hell-bent on projecting.

Her latest bile on Dr Survé, passed off as an opinion piece, and titled “How Not To Lead”, was published on one of the online platforms of her former employers, Media24.

Like the rest of her fellow travellers, Haffajee’s choice of platforms to smear Indy is quite interesting for various but related reasons.

She chose or has been preferring to use platforms belonging to Media24, Arena Holdings and, of course, the Daily Maverick. A cursory look at these platforms reveals interesting facts about their establishment, ownership and funding.

It’s an open secret that Media24’s parent company, the De Nasionale Pers Beperk (Naspers) was established in 1915 by the party of apartheid, the National Party. It followed a resolution of a group of prominent Afrikaners who decided, at a meeting in Stellenbosch in December 1914, to set up a publishing and printing company that would support Afrikaner nationalism. It has grown into a multi-trillion rand media empire under the control of Koos Bekker.

Even though Daily Maverick founder and editor-in-chief Branko Brkic has flatly refused to say who funds his news portal, reliable sources say he received millions from organisations linked to wealthy families. These “donors” are said to dictate the Daily Maverick’s content and editorial narrative – including who must be investigated and who must be defended.

Some have suggested that this could include the likes of the Oppenheimers – who are said to have invested R20 million in the Daily Maverick, which purports to offer a public service by publishing “news” on various investigations it undertakes.

When asked to comment on the R20m funding, Brkic did not confirm nor deny the allegation.

Instead, he stuck to his script that the Daily Maverick does not discuss its finances.

“We never received any donations that impacted on our editorial independence or direction of our publication. We have two directors, me and Styli Charalambous, and we are the only decision makers in all matters at Daily Maverick,” he says.

In what is disguised as a “review” of the book Paper Tiger, written by former Indy employees Alida Dasnois and Chris Whitfield, Haffajee takes a swipe at Dr Survé and his leadership of the largest black-owned media house.

For the record, Independent Media has a large grouping of indigenous people of South Africa, as shareholders. By attacking Indy, Haffajee is, albeit indirectly, launching an assault on them.

It’s also interesting to note that under Dasnois as editor, the Cape Times had no indigenous Africans in junior and senior newsroom management positions. In 2015, Dasnois was accused of being racist and a lackey of the DA by former ANC Western Cape chairperson Marius Fransman.

At the time, Fransman said the editors of the Cape Times were generally racist and at the “beck and call” of then premier Helen Zille. Whitfield was the editor-in-chief of Independent Media Western Cape at the time.

If Haffajee took the time to read Unathi Kondile’s review of the “human resources grievance report” that is Paper Tiger, she would have, perhaps, a different view.

Kondile’s review describes Dasnois and Whitfield as part of a grouping of bitter former Independent Media journalists.

I may have not been at Indy for a long time, but perhaps Haffajee should have asked current employees like myself about our experience in the group for a more rounded and, indeed, honest account. She would then know that, as journalists in South Africa, we operate in a highly volatile industry that is in competition with itself for very scarce resources.

The industry is highly competitive, it is a dog-eat-dog world and almost every journalist that I know has come under fire once or twice, or has resigned under frustration or unceremoniously in their careers. The reasons are many, but they do most certainly include the narrow views of editors – many of them white – who are often in place to service a certain political narrative, and one that stifles black progress and voices.

Sadly, had Dasnois and Whitfield been black employees and written this book, nobody would have given them the time of day. There is a duality among the media in South Africa, which is also forced onto this country’s citizens.

Was Dasnois pushed or did she jump? And is Whitfield a man with two faces? It seems Haffajee did not even bother to contact Dr Survé to check whether the facts in Dasnois and Whitfield’s book were, or are, correct or not (the foundational tenet of all journalism, which is to get both sides of the story).

This is the same Haffajee who recently gave Tony Leon the benefit of the doubt when Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba said the former DA leader had asked him to give his friends a R300 million tender.

While journalists have the right to opine, they equally have an obligation to do so on the basis of facts. The resultant piece was sadly devoid of much fact. It reads more like a piece of propaganda defending privilege, and supporting those trying to control the public narrative.

Haffajee refers to the African Leadership Initiative (ALI), of which she and Survé are apparently members, and the moral leadership that is required to be nominated and be part of such. I would have thought that one of the values and principles of moral leadership would be to defend your values, to be critical of privilege and to help redress the disparity of apartheid, especially in the media sector – something Dr Survé has certainly done.

I can speak for what has happened at Indy under the tenure of Sekunjalo and Survé, where white privilege no longer exists, black advancement is promoted, and gender progression and a diverse media narrative are the cardinal framework around which the group operates. This is all done within a solid non-racial framework.

Moral leadership must address all of these issues – failure to do so ensures that it becomes immoral.

In the course of writing this article, I have read a number of pieces and spoken to a variety of people who were at Independent Media when Sekunjalo acquired the company.

They confirmed that it was mostly white people who left after the Sekunjalo Consortium took over.

Tomorrow: Part Two – White journalists earned more and had more privileges at the old Independent Media.