By Carl Niehaus
In the dying days of her term as Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela was burning the midnight oil to bring out her ‘State of Capture’ report. Miraculously she managed to secure additional ‘emergency’ funding from Treasury to get the report out before her term expired. This was made possible by the former Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordahn, despite the strict austerity measures in increased government spending that he had previously announced with big fanfare.
When one reads the Report, one cannot but be amazed about how such a flimsy and poorly researched and unsubstantiated document can have such a disproportionately massive impact. Evidently it is not based, and cannot be based, on the substance of the document because it hardly has any substance.
Evidently the explanation for this phenomenon is to be found outside the worth of the document – because it hardly has any worth. Rather it is about how the mainstream media had been reporting about it, and how it used the Report to create an overbearing and dominant narrative frame to constantly intensify the perception that President Zuma and his government are corrupt and rotten to the core.
What we are actually experiencing is what Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman described in their seminal book, Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media, as propaganda for the manufacturing of public consent about a particular issue.
Chomsky and Herman argue that the dominant mainstream media outlets are large companies operated for profit, and therefore they must cater to the financial interests of the owners, who not surprisingly usually are big corporations. The size of a media company is a consequence of the investment capital required for the mass communications technology required to reach a mass audience of viewers, listeners and readers.
Since the majority of revenue of major outlets are derived from advertising (not from sales or subscriptions), advertisers in fact have a “de facto licensing authority”. The reality is that in order to survive financially the news media must cater to the political prejudices and economic desires of their advertisers. They make up a coalition of the financially powerful who subsidise the mass media, and gain special access to the news.
What we have seen with regards to advocate Madonsela’s ‘State of Capture’ report, is a real life example of what is described in more abstract terms by Chomsky and Herman. The White Monopoly Capitalists who are the owners and paymasters of the mainstream media in South Africa actively backed her so-called findings, and deliberately directed the media narrative about it in order to manufacture a general public consent in which President Zuma, and those who are considered to be associated with him, are portrayed as ‘captured’ and ‘corrupt’, while the likes of Pravin Gordahn and Mcebisi Jonas are painted as almost saintly good guys.
Interestingly enough efforts to highlight Gordahn’s links with, and conflict ridden shareholdings in White Monopoly Capital companies, as well as Jonas’ chequered history with regards to his tenure as CEO of the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, are ignored and hardly reported on. In as much as the so-called findings of Madonsela’s ‘State of Capture Report’ are highlighted and reported on at every possible opportunity, there is no less than a conspiracy of silence by the mainstream media to report news that reflects negatively on the ‘heroes’ of the dominant narrative that they are so actively manufacturing for the public to consume.
In South Africa we have in the mainstream print media a ‘text book case’ of what Chomsky and Herman described. News reporting in our country is dominated by four big companies that control over 80% of all newspapers and magazines. The four media houses are: Media 24/Naspers, Independent Newspapers, Caxton and the Times Media Group (with Media24/Naspers controlling 40% alone). When so few people, who share the same social and economic interests, have control over the media that we consume the ‘market place of ideas’ and ‘national debates’ become elite driven, and it makes a mockery of the so often punted idea of a ‘free media’ within our democracy.
The White Monopoly Capital owned and controlled mainstream media reinforce each other’s narratives and jealously guard their hegemony. Any attempt that they perceive as threatening their media monopoly is fiercely resisted. This was experienced by Dr. Iqbal Survé and his Sekunjalo Group when they made a bid for Independent Newspapers when it was up for sale.
The negative attacks on Survé and Sekunjalo by the rest of the mainstream media, who feared that a brick was being dislodged in the monolithic media wall that they have so carefully erected, immediately started. These attacks reached fever-pitch when the Sekunjalo Independent MediaConsortium, which includes the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and a Chinese consortium, succeeded to buy Independent Newspapers. Apparently Sekunjalo (and especially Dr. Survé) not being part of the old (white) boys club, together with their ownership of the African News Agency (ANA), which was launched after the demise of the arch-conservative SA Press Agency (Sapa), was just too much for White Monopoly Capital to stomach. An avalanche of negative publicity followed, and in quick succession no less than 386 negative articles were written, with Dr. Survé negatively written about 266 times, Sekunjalo 207 times and Independent Media 319 times. A considerable number of stories concentrated on unsubstantiated claims that Dr. Survé was ‘asset stripping’ Independent Newspapers through ANA, a claim that he rejected outright. The stories contained mainly conjecture and speculation, mostly written by white journalists who have built their journalistic careers by being virulently anti the democratically elected ANC government.
It is my belief that one of the main reasons for these attacks was that ANA was developed as Africa’s first content syndication service and that in a short time it reached more than one billion users. Those who at all costs wanted to continue to control the flow, and content, of the news that reaches the public feared that they were losing the iron grip that they had. Survé’s positive stance towards, and support for, independent newcomers in the market such as The African Times also raised their ire.
In the meantime the rest of the mainstream continued to punt the ‘State of Capture’ report, and they were literally handed three more narratives to assist them in their continued manufacturing of so-called consensual outrage against the President and calls for regime change. The first came in the form of a pseudo-academic tract called, “Betrayal of a promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen”, produced by the State Capacity Research Project, which is heavily funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. (Yes, the very same Soros and his Open Society Foundation that had been so active in the so-called colour revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Brazil and elsewhere).
Under the cloak of ‘academic respectability’ the (very unscientific) narrow focus of their work is set out in the Preface to the publication as to: “Release case study reports of the state owned enterprises that have been captured by the Zuma-centred power elite over the past decade”. Interestingly no attempt is made to study the decades-long capturing of the state (especially the Treasury) by the White Monopoly Controlled financial, manufacturing and commercial farming sectors of the South African economy. One cannot ignore that the State Capacity Research Project is convened by Professor Mark Swilling, Head of the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, which is based at Stellenbosch University – that well known bull-work of continued white Afrikaner pseudo-intellectual resistance to our democratic state. Guess who is the University of Stellenbosch’s Chancellor? The doyen of White Monopoly Capital – the one and only Johann Rupert.
The second came in the form of the South African Council of Churches’ so-called “Unburdening Panel” report. At first glance one may not see the link, but the manner in which the mainstream media reported on these two documents, and used them to strengthen Madonsela’s ‘State of Capture Report’, provide the undeniable link. Once again a report, which by its very nature consists of hearsay and entirely unsubstantiated and unscientific stories by people who for whatever reason (often probably to try and escape prosecution), felt it necessary to ‘unburden’ themselves about having been bribed or tried to bribe others, is used to manufacture an extremely narrow narrative of state capture that only concentrates on President Zuma and those associated with him.
The third came in an apparently ‘massive’ number of e-mails that – so the claim goes – have been ‘hacked’ from a server or servers linked to the Gupta family. It was revealing how amaBhungane together with the Mail & Guardian ganged up in a formal co-operation agreement with the usual mainstream media – Media 24, Caxton and the Times Media Group – to on a day-after-day basis release, in a closely coordinated and deliberately dragged out process, specifically hand-picked e-mails that confirm their particular narrative of state capture. One also cannot omit to note that – as with the State Capacity Research Project – the main funder of amaBungane is George Soros’s Open Society Foundation.
At this stage there is no way to know whether all the e-mails that have up to now been released, or some, or any of them, are authentic. The manner in which they have been obtained evidently does not make for obvious authentication, and one surely cannot expect from the hackers and their reporters – who obviously have a vested interest to claim that they are authentic – to police themselves.
It is particularly revealing that the same mainstream media and their White Monopoly Capital pay-masters who are apparently so deeply concerned about state capture have no appetite for a truly thorough and in-depth mandate for the forthcoming Commission on State Capture that President Zuma has agreed to. Even the already very narrow time frame for the Commission’s proposed mandate to date back to 1994 is resisted. Instead they want a mandate that will only concentrate on President Zuma, his political associates, and the role of the Gupta family. Not surprisingly this is exactly what Thuli Madonsela did, it is also what the State Capacity Research Project and the SACC did with their respective reports, and similarly what the selective drip-drip releases of the hacked e-mails now also do.
It is evident that a truthful and comprehensive investigation and substantial report about state capture is not what they are interested in – they are only interested in how they can use the emotive concept of state capture in order to continue to manufacture consent for regime change.
Ultimately the mainstream media do not want to free South Africa from state capture – they want to ensure that we continue to be captured by the very same Johann Ruperts, and other White Monopoly Capitalists, who are currently keeping our society (especially African society) captive.
It is my ardent hope that with the newly found independence of Independent Newspapers, we the people of South Africa have an ally to reveal the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
- Carl Niehaus is a former member of the NEC of the ANC and an NEC member of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA)
All Carl’s articles can also be found on his blog, Carl’s Corner: www.carlniehaus.co.za
This article was first published in the Sunday Independent.