By Carl Niehaus
A day after a front-page story on Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s “entourage” Business Day confessed to have lied about the numbers.
I have spent most of my political life working in the ANC’s Department of Information and Publicity as Spokesperson for the ANC. So I can, with some justification, say that I know the media, and the world of political reporting. It is not a world for sissies, and as the old saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.
In this rough-and-tumble world there have been instances where I crossed swords with journalists and publications when I felt that their reporting was biased and unfair, and gave my criticism to them as strait-forward as I could. In some instances I managed to administer that most bitter pill for an editor – a retraction and apology. In turn they have not spared me, and I have been on the receiving end of some of the harshest reporting that probably any politician had been subjected to. Where it was fair I took the blows on the chin, in the instances when it was unfair I complained and fought back to set the record strait.
However, until recently there was still some degree of mutual respect and decorum, but the manner in which the media in general – and some journalists in particular are increasingly conducting themselves in this period of heightened political tension and turmoil – is fast eroding any of that.
As I have said, I am no innocent babe in the media woods, so I know that the idea of so-called ‘objective reporting’ is a mirage that disappears like mist in front of the sun when the political heat increases. Having said that I must, however, admit I have never in my life seen anything like the blatant media activism and embedded journalism that we experience today! Any pretence of fair – not even to speak of objective – reporting, is ditched in an unseemly orgy bought by money and interest driven journalism. In the war that had been declared by White Monopoly Capital here in South Africa, and monopoly capital overall in the world, against the proponents of Radical Economic Transformation, the first casualty (as the old, but very true cliché about wars goes) is the truth.
I have honestly never experienced the levels of vilification, and sheer vile unbridled hatred, that are now being puked out over the President by the main stream media in South Africa, and I doubt if one will be able to find a worse example anywhere in the world. This is personified by the political cartoonist Jonathan Schapiro (Zapiro), who openly speaks about his hatred for President Zuma, and does not balk at using the most appalling rape analogies in his cartoons. Zapiro does not care that in the process he is not only trashing the President’s most basic human rights, but also insults (no, actually assaults!) and abuses every women in South Africa. As one of my woman comrades recently wrote to me in utter exasperation: “When is this man going to stop raping us with his drawing pencil??”.
These journalists are no longer reporting on political fracture lines and battles, but they have joined the battle primarily as the frontline foot soldiers on the side of the White Monopoly Capital to protect the interests of those who own the media houses they work for, and who pay their salaries.
Just follow the money, and one knows the angle with which any particular story will be reported, or not even reported at all. When newly appointed Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, held his first press conference – surely an event of great news-worthiness – eNCA did not broadcast the event live. Instead there was this tweet indicating the biased shockingly biased approach by many editors against Gigaba (https://twitter.com/MTshwete/status/848590041886711811), from an anonymous journalist saying: “It can’t be correct that we keep quiet when we are told to make Minister Malusi Gigaba our project as from tomorrow. To find any dirt about him or anything against him. To dig dip [sic] and to write whatever it can tarnish him. Even if is false we will apologise later. Journalists must be free to do their work. We must report objectively influenced by nothing else but facts.”
Not long after that tweet Business Day published in blazing front page headlines: “Gigaba moves in with huge entourage in tow”, reporting that the Minister brought 28 staff members with him from Home Affairs, only to be forced to swallow their biased reporting with a retraction that he actually only brought 16 staffers.
The manner in which unsubstantiated and untested allegations against Mr. Brian Molefe in Thuli Madonsela’s ‘State Capture Report’, have been reported by the very same media one couldn’t blame the general public to believe that he had already been tried and found guilty of corruption. This is nothing less than kangaroo trials by the media, and character assassinations of the worst kind. Once again the media (in this instance the Sunday Times) had to retract and apologise a scurrilous front-page article on January 29, 2017 headlined “From Saxonwold shebeen to MP – shamed by public protector, Molefe is set for comeback”. The Sunday Times was forced to do so by Mr. Johan Retief, the Press Ombud, who found that they have reported inaccurately, and committed a “Tier 2 offence”, which constitutes a serious breach of the media Code of Ethics and Conduct.
There can be no doubt that the media dice is heavily loaded against anyone who wants to bring about a fundamental shift in the economic power dynamics of South Africa. Monopoly Capital (especially local White Monopoly Capital) are doing pretty well, thank you, out of their continued (almost unbridled) control of the South African economy and anyone who wants to stand in their way, or even just looks like a potential threat, has to be destroyed.
In this situation the incredibly corrosive persuasive power of money is brutally on display: Journalists, who in the earlier parts of their careers showed some integrity in the manner that they stood up against the repressive Apartheid Regime for press freedom, now openly associate themselves with the pro White Monopoly Capital forces and their organisations. To coin a new word: this is not journalism, it is prestitution!
In the midst of this sad situation, and on this entirely uneven playing field, fairness and press freedom have become a mockery – anyone who truly wants to change the economic power dynamics in South Africa is fair game.
Those South Africans who do not want to become force-fed sheep to be led to the slaughter house, and who want to be aware of their own best interests and think for themselves, better brace themselves for the no holds barred propaganda onslaught that is being unleashed. Character assassinations will, even more than now, become the order of the day.
Those who care for the sovereignty of this beloved country of ours, and who care about economic empowerment and justice for the majority of black (primarily African) people will have to fight back and protect ourselves.
Fasten your seat belts, this is going to be a bare-knuckle fight, but there is no option. If we do not oppose what is now being done in the name of so-called ‘journalistic reporting’, we will live to regret it in the form of our own subjugation and slavery, and that is truly a fate too ghastly to contemplate.
*Carl Niehaus is a former member of the NEC of the AN and MK veteran.