Perjury the least of Survé’s misfortunes – Ed Herbst

It surely cannot be that Dr Iqbal Survé believes his oft-repeated claim that a secret cabal of privileged media people and those aligned to them in business and politics are conspiring to try and destroy his ANC-enabled empire? Nor can the reason he proffers be that it’s because he’s ‘transforming’ the media. He’s a rational man, a quality needed to secure an MBChB, and certainly one needed to become a billionaire (on his books anyway). The only other reason for these bizarre claims is that he’s manipulated, omitted and subverted the truth to create a narrative that suits his agenda. Read this article by a dogged, veteran journalist who’s assembled the evidence and you’ll see that his much touted ‘media freedom’ and ‘non-interference’ in his newspapers are pure fantasy. I find myself shaking my head in disbelief as paragraph after paragraph illustrates that he’s doing exactly what he accuses his detractors of doing. For crying in a bucket, when the Cape Times leads with a headline reading, “I don’t do the news, says Survé” and you read the data supporting Ed Herbst’s claim that INMSA is merely a vehicle for his financial and ideological ambitions, that says it all. I urge you to read Chris Whitfield and Alide Dasnois’ ‘Paper Tiger,’ about their experience under Survé’s rule. Nobody’s ever seen the likes of this in SA before. – Chris Bateman

Has Iqbal Survé perjured himself at the Mpati commission? Part III

By Ed Herbst*

The JSE and others were bullied into killing its listing with ‘Stratcom’ and ‘Gestapo’ tactics, Sagarmatha says – across all Independent newspaper front pages simultaneously. In a statement issued late on Friday morning the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said it was “not only defamatory, but disgusting” journalists investigating private-sector irregularities had been equated to Stratcom. “The orchestrated way in which all the [Independent] group’s newspapers published this defamatory piece today shows something else at play, which purpose cannot be to serve the public,” the body said. – Phillip de Wet Business Insider SA 20/4/2018

There is little left in Survé’s Sekunjalo Independent Media by way of content. Day after day, both the front pages of his titles and the business title Business Report are weaponised to fight his battles. – Iqbal Survé’s campaign of lies Ferial Haffajee  25/11/2019

By the end of this week the Mpati commission must hand its report on malfeasance at the Public Investment Corporation to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

This is a matter of profound public interest because it impacts on the quality of life of almost two million civil servants in the twilight of their being. It also relates to the reputation of South Africa as a Rechtsstaat which respects human rights, adheres to codes of honest corporate governance and encourages the ethical functioning of the Fourth Estate.

In the spirit of the transparency and accountability which he promised when he took office President Ramaphosa will, I have no doubt, make its findings public in the very near future.

Ed Herbst

In the first article in this series, written in April, I asked whether Iqbal Survé had perjured himself when, testifying under oath, he solemnly told the Mpati commission that his editors had complete autonomy and that he never interfered in order to dictate  the content of his newspapers.

That article summarised the belief of former Cape Times political editor, Dougie Oakes that Survé does pressure his editors to favour his causes. It cited further examples such as the dismissal of Sunday Independent  Wally Mbhele after the ANC complained about a Brian Molefe article published in that newspaper and the termination of a weekly column by Azad Essa after he wrote about the horrifying human rights abuses occurring in China.

It also referred to Ferial Haffajee’s investigation which revealed that Survé passed on his demands for coverage through AYO Group CEO, Howard Plaatjes. Plaatjes has not denied this assertion.

Taking control of the narrative

I would argue that, contrary to his claim of non-interference at the Mpati commission, Survé moved quickly to take control of the narrative and to shape newsroom output when he dismissed Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois and this is how it was perceived abroad. This dismissal was condemned by the Index of Censorship. His lawyers then wrote a threatening letter to Chris Whitfield and Melanie Gosling, a second example of what was perceived as newsroom intimidation.

My second article about his editorial interference in contradiction to his Mpati commission testimony covered the evidence of former AYO executives, Kevin Hardy and Siphiwe Nodwele.  Nodwele’s televised testimony, in which he revealed how Survé dictated what articles should be published and who should be quoted in them, was particularly compelling.

There can be no ambiguity here – either Survé was telling the truth when he testified under oath that he plays no role whatsoever in what appears in his newspapers or on his IOL online news portal or Hardy and Nodwele were. Given  previous research in this regard, readers can draw their own conclusions.

This third article references the interviews which former editors Moshoeshoe Monare and Philani Mgwaba gave to the Paper Tiger authors. Their personal experiences and accounts belie Survé’s evidence at the Mpati commission. In a subsequent Daily Maverick article, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya makes the same point about Survé’s decrees on news coverage to his employees, saying he was instructed to put his name to an article purportedly written by an investigative unit ‘that did not exist’

I can relate to that, given my own research into an ‘international competition’ that also did not exist.

China Cables

Just as the dismissal of Alide Dasnois and Wally Mbhele would have had a chilling effect on the editorial staff of Iqbal Survé’s newspapers so, too, would the termination of Azad Essa’s column about the Chinese persecution of Uighur Moslems sent a very clear message to his staff.

Censorship by omission runs counter to any concept of ethical journalism and Sekunjalo journalists would have been aware of the article by Zimbabwean journalist Tatenda Gwaambuka condemning what Essa experienced.

They would also be aware that press freedom does not exist in China, that a Chinese consortium has a 20% stake in Sekunjalo Independent Media and that the China-Africa Development Fund invested R357 million in Survé’s African News Agency.

They would also be aware that Survé considers this relationship to be so important that, as he informed the Mpati commission, he was paying interest on the loan by his Chinese investors but not on the loan from the Public Investment Corporation.

Which brings me to the ‘China Cables’ in the context of censorship by omission.

‘China Cables’

At a time when terabytes of data are routine, most news organisations do not have enough reporters to analyse and package such volumes of digital information in a format which is acceptable to consumers in a sound bite era.

Thus died the concept of the exclusive story, the scoop, and the local collaboration of amaBhungane the Daily Maverick’s Scorpio team and News 24 on the Gupta Leaks – a collaboration from which Sekunjalo Independent Media was excluded for obvious reasons –  is a local example of the inter-company media teamwork which has become both necessary and routine.

Internationally, the Panama Papers were an early example of the collaborative investigation done by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which works with 17 media partners across all continents.

In moral import, the current China Cables investigation dwarves the previous work by the ICIJ and justifiably so because the jailing and brainwashing by the Chinese government of more than a million Uighur Muslims has been described as ‘the largest internment of a minority since the Holocaust’.

What has been termed ‘arrest by algorithm’, the theft of children  and other horrors are beyond the worst of George Orwell’s dystopian imaginings.

Satellite photographs exposed the exponential growth across the province of Xinjiang of such concentration camps and global condemnation saw the matter raised at the United Nations.

What stripped the Chinese government of any credible defence was the leaking to the ICIJ of official documents detailing such abuses and the role of Chinese president for life, Xi Jinping, in what has been described as ethnic cleansing.

Once the ICIJ places information on its website, any and every news organisation in the world is free to use it and at 18:58 on 25 November the Naspers digital news portal, News 24, broke the news to its readers.

A day later I typed the word ‘Uighur’ into the search bar on Iqbal Survé’s IOL digital news portal.

There was no mention of the internment camps, only pro-China, anti-Uighur propaganda which is three years old.

As the walls close in, Iqbal Survé has abandoned any semblance of restraint in the defamatory attacks by his reporters on individual journalists and executives at other newspaper companies. These attacks obviously carry his imprimatur and his approval. 

Stratcom attacks

The latest attacks echo the previous ‘Stratcom’ attacks on esteemed South African reporters which SANEF previously described as ‘disgusting’ and ‘a sad day for South African journalism’.

Nothing like this happened in our newspapers during the apartheid era and it raises an obvious question – is this how our civil servants want their pension money spent?

Yet more proof of Survé’s attempts to mislead the Mpati commission when he stated under oath that he does not dictate the content of his newspapers is contained in the article by Phillip de Wet referenced in the first anchor quote to this article. The article shows how on 20 April 2018, Iqbal Survé’s newspapers all simultaneously carried the ‘Stratcom’ allegation as the front page lead and each and every article carried the generic by-line ‘Staff writers’.

The suggestion that his editors, countrywide, were obeying an instruction in the publication and placing of these articles would be hard to refute.

Another contradiction of Survé’s claim that he does not influence what his newspapers report on was the vendetta by the Cape Times against UCT in general and its former Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price in particular.

You can read the transcript of a speech Survé gave at UCT here. At the end of that meeting he openly declared that he would use his media influence to advance the cause of the Fallists and issued a warning to those who opposed them.

That vendetta was made a matter of record by Price in his interview with Professor Jonathan Jansen for the latter’s book, As by Fire. It also formed the basis of an honours thesis by UCT student Ricky Stoch.  

While Survé has denied this, no other university Vice Chancellor in the country was exposed to what Price experienced and the FMF students interviewed by Stoch firmly believed that Survé played a role in the relentless publication of anti-UCT articles in the Cape Times.

Here is a verbatim interview conducted with Ramabina Mahapa, president of the SRC at the university by Stoch for her 2016 honours thesis Framing Transformation: An Exploration into the Cape Times’ Coverage of the University of Cape Town During the Formation of Rhodes Must Fall

“…We noticed there was some kind of a scuffle between Iqbal and the University and from then on… [there]  was the negative representation [of the university] in the Cape Times… that was… looked at as an opportunity for us. Whenever something happened we got some sort of coverage. There was certainly communication between the movement and Carlo Peterson… we would allow to some extent unrestricted access of the Cape Times into what the movement was doing and we would inform them regularly as to what was happening with #RMF. It would work toward both party’s parties’ benefits, we wanted… to ensure that the movement issues were circulated within the media and they wanted to know what happened at UCT so that they could report on it. Yes, l would say that there was an element of wanting stories that would humiliate the University, again one of the movements tactics was to create as much negative publicity for the university so that they would act… it certainly might have been the case that Iqbal was issuing directives to people in the Cape Times… because there was a widely known scandal around him and UCT at the time” (Mahapa, 2016a).  

Carlo Petersen, the author of the Cape Times articles attacking UCT and supporting Chumani Maxwele has, like more than a hundred other Independent Media staff members, left the employ of Iqbal Survé and he has told former Cape Times colleagues that he regrets the role he played in the newspaper’s proxy war against the university. 

Sycophantic coverage

Furthermore, research by the Paper Tiger authors reveals that, since the Sekunjalo takeover in late 2013, Survé and his family have been featured in his own newspapers at least once a week.

Such sycophantic coverage has become routine and such coverage is unique to Sekunjalo Independent Media titles.

In 2015, as one of the ‘top minds shaping global policies’, Dr Iqbal Survé outlined his vision of creating a media legacy and taking Sekunjalo Independent Media into the realms of the ‘global best’.

We were edified at length about the noble vision of the man who wants to ‘change the world’ and to ‘reposition Africa in the eyes of the financial world’.

Did Survé’s newsroom staff churn out these hagiographic puff pieces of their own volition or were they pressured by him and his minions to do so?

If they were pressured, then this also belies his sworn testimony at the Mpati commission that he plays no role in what is reflected in his newspapers.

This continuing saturation and adulatory coverage of a newspaper owner in his own newspapers is without precedent in the history of the printed press in this country.

In summary then – I would argue that the following events belie Iqbal Survé’s claim at the Mpati commission that he does nothing whatsoever to determine or influence the editorial content of his newspapers and his IOL website:

  • The dismissal of Alide Dasnois;
  • The threatening lawyer’s letter received by Chris Whitfield and Melanie Gosling;
  • The evidence provided by Dr Max Price and Ricky Stoch of the Cape Times-driven proxy war against himself and UCT;
  • The dismissal of Wally Mbhele;
  • The termination of the Azad Essa column;
  • The accounts by Dougie Oakes;
  • The testimony at the Mpati commission of former AYO executives, Kevin Hardy and Siphiwe Nodwele;
  • The accounts given by former editors Moshoeshoe Monare and Philani Mgwaba in their Paper Tiger interviews;
  • The evidence provided by Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya in his Daily Maverick article;
  • The simultaneous front page publication in all major titles of the Stratcom allegations;
  • The investigative report by Ferial Haffajee which revealed that Survé’s demands are communicated to editors by Howard Plaatjes;
  • The censorship by omission of all information about the persecution by the Chinese government of Uighur Moslems;
  • The weekly promotion of Survé and his family in all his newspapers;
  • The constant, defamatory and clearly orchestrated attacks in his newspapers on journalists and news executives of other companies.

Taken together, these accounts make it clear that Survé’s under-oath claim that his editors are independent and that he plays no role in determining news content is devoid of truth

If the Mpati commission is looking for a single case study to test the veracity of Iqbal Survé’s sworn testimony before it that he does not interfere in or seek to determine news room decisions, then it need look no further than the following sentence in a noseweek article about the imminent demise of the African News Agency:

Survé ordered ANA to stop covering the (Mpati) commission’s public hearings soon after they began in January because the editorial team refused to let his loyalists at Independent vet their copy.

Newsroom personnel do not want to work under such strictures and the extent to which Sekunjalo Independent Media has haemorrhaged senior staff is extraordinary and unprecedented in South African newspaper history.

While claiming to be a ‘brave transformation force’,  Survé has seen an unprecedented number – twelve and counting – of editors who are not white leave his employ; Moshoeshoe Monare, Philani Mgwaba, Makhudu Sefara, Karima Brown, Vukani Mde, Wally Mbhele, Steve Motale, Lebogang Seale, Gasant Abarder, Yunus Kemp, Lindiz van Zilla and Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

Like them, his auditors, BDO South Africa, have also left the building.

The findings of the Mpati commission will provide valuable guidelines which, hopefully, will help us avoid the mistakes which were made in what President Cyril Ramaphosa has called “nine wasted years”.

  • Ed Herbst is a veteran journalist who these days writes in his own capacity.
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