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As Angus Begg wrote yesterday, the abuse of journalists extends to the private sector. A thought that may have skipped minds given the amount of focus on the state broadcaster around censorship, clean outs etc. And former SABC journalist Ed Herbst, in the piece below, compares Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s antics with those of Independent boss Iqbal Survé. And the numbers may surprise as Survé’s axe has covered a much larger area, and is more targeted. – Stuart Lowman
By Ed Herbst*
On 28 June Terry Bell, veteran labour reporter and co-author with Amin Cajee of the recently-published book “Fordsburg Fighter – The Journey Of An MK Volunteer”, published a devastating exposé about the way in which the “Struggle Doctor” and confidante of Brett Kebble, Dr Iqbal Survé, has misled the South African public for years.
A few days later, possibly to distract attention from this, two of Survé’s senior news executives, Karima Brown and Gasant Abader, duly joined the pickets outside the SABC to protest against the staff purges and censorship policies of Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
It was an act of astonishing hypocrisy if one compares the number of people driven out of the SABC by Motsoeneng and the number of people who have been dismissed or who have left the Sekunjalo newspaper titles because of an even-greater purge on the watch of Brown and Abarder.
Let’s compare the two lists:
On pages 17 – 19 of her report, When Governance and Ethics Fail, the Public Protector lists 14 people who Hlaudi Motsoeneng attempted to drive out of the SABC. In some cases they won CCMA hearings and were reinstated but in the majority of cases they were paid out for the remainder of their contracts.
Dr Saul Pelle
More recently there have been the SABC 8 and, if you add the recent resignation of Ivor Price, that total is nine.
The combined total of staffers affected by the machinations of Hlaudi Motsoeneng is thus 23.
Here is an alphabetical list, by first name, of three dozen former staff members or columnists whose work was once appreciated by readers of the Independent News Media newspapers – this defenestration taking little more than two years:
A’eysha Kassiem; Alide Dasnois; Allister Sparks; Ann Crotty; Babalo Ndenze; Chris Whitfield; Cobus Coetzee; Dan Simon; Dave Chambers; Donwald Pressly; Ethne Zinn; Glenn Bownes; Graham Shaw; Henri du Plessis; Janet Heard; Jillian Green; John Scott; Jonathan Ancer; Judith February; Lizeka Mda; Makhudu Sefara; Marianne Merten; Martine Barker; Max du Preez; Melanie Gosling; Michelle Jones; Moshoeshoe Monare; Peter de Ionno; Philani Mgwaba; Philip Weideman; Pierre Joubert; Shaun Smilie; Sybrand Mostert; Tanya Farber; Terry Bell; Tony Weaver; Wendy Knowler; Zara Nicholson.
So that is Hlaudi Motsoeneng with 23 SABC staffers who have been targeted or have left because their employment situation became untenable and Iqbal Survé with 38 disillusioned souls – a “victory” margin for the “Struggle Doctor” of 15.
Motsoeneng’s “Operation Clean-Up” seems somewhat pallid in comparison.
On what moral and ethical basis, then, did Karima Brown and Gasant Abarder join pickets outside the SABC and shout the odds about staff purges?
They would argue that they were also protesting against censorship, the catalyst in Hlaudi’s current troubles. On 27 May Motsoeneng made it known that the SABC would no longer show visuals of property destruction during protests against the ANC governments failure’s in service delivery.
This was essentially censorship-by-omission and if Brown and Abarder are looking for a perfect case study in this regard they need look no further than the Cape Times and its coverage of the Cape High Court ruling by Judge Rosheni Allie in which she granted an interdict against the Rhodes Must Fall leader Chuman Maxwele and 15 respondents – an interdict which forbade them from entering the University of Cape Town campus without permission.
Misogyny and hatred
The RMF campaign was unashamedly driven by misogyny and hatred of the white minority. It was as Business Day columnist Simon Lincoln Reader indicated, executed by “vile personalities”. From the start, with the clear endorsement and support of Dr Iqbal Survé and his senior news executives, Karima Brown and Vukani Mde, the Cape Times through editor Aneez Salie and cub reporter Carlo Petersen has, through SABC-type censorship- by-omission, resolutely withheld from the newspaper’s readers the gravamen of the Rosheni Allie judgment – that the “Shackville” protest was simply a cover for a deliberate attempt to burn the campus to the ground. Tyres and petrol were brought onto the campus, the petrol was stored in the “shack” and security cameras caught the faeces-flinging Chumani Maxwele participating in the torching of the Jammie Shuttle bus. Later, a window was broken in the office of the vice chancellor Dr Max Price and an incendiary device was thrown into it, which led to the office being gutted. Sticking to its censorship-by- omission policy, the Cape Times did not photograph Price’s burnt-out office and did not interview him about the attack – or anything else for that matter. It did however blazon on the front page a call for Max Price to be arrested – even though he had committed no crime.
And, clearly assuming that the dwindling number of Cape Times readers is stupid, Petersen quickly tried to suggest that a “third force” had set alight the bus, which is used to transport students to and from campus.
Decline in FDI
The RMF hatred against whites, which the Cape Times has never condemned, reached a nadir with the incineration of paintings, the RMF’s so-called “Burning Whiteness” campaign which was highlighted in an Economist article that did immense reputational damage to our country and will have contributed to the frightening 74% decline in Foreign Direct Investment recently.
Judge Allie, clearly disturbed by the ethnic hatred that has driven the RMF, included a very pointed reference to Nelson Mandela’s dream of nation building through reconciliation in the closing remarks of her ruling and, for obvious reasons, Carlo Petersen did not bring this salient fact to the attention of Cape Times readers:
’96. It is apposite to remind the respondents of the sentiments expressed by the late State President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela on 20 April 1964 in his opening address in the dock:
‘…I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities …’”
The censorship-by-omission by Carlo “Mighty Pen” Petersen (a nickname given to him by Aneez Salie) continued unabated thereafter.
Showing clear contempt for the Allie judgment in particular and for the rule of law in general, Chumani Maxwele has repeatedly trespassed on the UCT campus since then. After he allegedly roughed up and verbally abused a white, female maths lecturer, the UCT administration, fearing another attack on her, installed a security door on the building where her office is situated. It also laid charges of contempt of court and trespass against him. On 25 June he appeared in court on these charges and the case was postponed until 29 July. This was communicated to readers of Die Burger the next day under the headline: “Ikeys wat hofbevel minag later in die hof” (Ikeys who are in contempt of court to appear later in court”.
Unsurprisingly, this information was not communicated to the readers of the Cape Times. Instead, on that day the newspaper carried an article by Carlo Petersen suggesting that black academics at UCT supported a call for those who had attempted to raze the university to be allowed back on campus …
Karima Brown and Gasant Abarder will no doubt be elated by the fleeting media reference to their joining the anti-Motsoeneng purge/censorship-by -omission pickets.
They might even have hoped that this would deflect attention from a contention by Peter Flack in a Daily Maverick article that the Fearless Leader might possibly have been guilty of insider trading.
There is documented evidence that contradicts this routine and typical playing of the race card.
Furthermore, in a recent Politicsweb article about what the deputy CEO of AfriForum Ernst Roets calls “race merchants”, he refers to a study by the South African Institute of Race Relations:
“Almost 60% of black South Africans believe that race relations have improved since 1994, whereas 77% believe that sport teams should be selected based on merit and that quotas should not play any role. The study’s most astonishing finding is that 79.4% of black (i.e. black African) South Africans indicated that they do not experience any racism!”
To sum up, more people have chosen to leave or have been driven out of Independent News Media Pty Ltd because of pervasive censorship-by-omission and the purge of journalists than has been the case at the SABC.
And the biggest irony of all?
The pickets outside the SABC which Karima Brown and Gasant Abarder joined were preceded by a picket by the Right2Know Campaign on 17 December 2013 outside Newspaper House in Cape Town’s CBD, the home of the Cape Times and the Cape Argus.
The picket was called by people concerned about the purging of editors like Alide Dasnois and columnists like Terry Bell, the growing culture of censorship- by-omission and the persecution – unprecedented in South Africa’s media history – of journalists like specialist environmental reporter Melanie Gosling who has, since then, left the employ of Dr Iqbal Survé.
Two people who played a significant role in this openly anti-white picket, Wesley Douglas and Chelsea Amor Lotz had a meeting with Survé. This followed the posting of an article written by Douglas which was headlined The fight against white media begins today.
Thereafter, Lotz posted an article condemning whites who expressed concern about the governance style of President Jacob Zuma.
When Dr Iqbal Survé took control of the Independent News Media company he inherited an exceptional Cape Times news team. Working to an incredibly tight deadline and with antiquated equipment and few staff they nevertheless put together an obituary tribute to Nelson Mandela which Time magazine rated one of the best in the world.
Survé has purged them all. In fact, so thorough has the purge been, that I am told that the Cape Times newsroom no longer as any white reporters or news editors.
Institutional memory lost
In the process a huge amount of corporate knowledge and institutional memory was lost which is ironic. On 9 December 2013, Survé announced that he was appointing Gasant Abarder as editor to replace Alide Dasnois and Aneez Salie as deputy:
“The appointment of Anees as Gasant’s deputy is a testimony to my belief that institutional memory which the former embodies is an important variable in a dynamic and fast paced newsroom.”
The white Cape Times staffers with decades of loyal service whose institutional memory is not valued – because they are white – can’t say they were not warned about the way in which the Cape Times newsroom was about to be “transformed” in true Jimmy Manyi style.
On 27 January 2014 Karima Brown and Vukani Mde published an opinion piece in which the following is said:
‘In the final analysis, no one is shackled to Independent or any of its titles. Anyone who cannot bring themselves to accept its new owner or its direction under him, must as a matter of principle leave, and give the rest of us space to build the company we want to work for.’
They then play the race card suggesting that those who are concerned are whites opposed to transformation:
‘A small but very privileged and racially definable minority still controls the tools of public discourse, including the bulk of private commercial media and virtually all the mainstream newspaper groups.
‘This group has resisted and fought against transformation of the media, be it in ownership, management, or in newsrooms. They’ve grown adept at paying lip service to the goals of transformation and media diversity, but in truth remain against them, as their joint and individual actions demonstrate.’
Hlaudi – whites are needed
Hlaudi Motsoeneng has never accused those opposed to his censorship-by-omission of racism – indeed, he has gone out of his way to assure whites that they are not only welcome but needed at the SABC.
There has been no such assurance from Dr Iqbal Survé and the “new”, “transformed” Indy newspapers have been criticised by one of the most influential magazines in the world – The Economist. The headline on the article? “Happy, patriotic news”.
“Since the takeover, readers of the Independent’s once-feisty titles, which include the Cape Times and the Star, have seen a distinct change in coverage. Besides displaying an odd predilection for puff pieces about Dr Surve it has become markedly less critical of the government. Dozens of senior journalists and editors have left or been sacked. The group’s executive editor, Karima Brown, was recently pictured at an ANC anniversary rally dressed in an ANC hat. With editors and owners like these, who needs censorship?
The biodiversity of the Western Cape fynbos biome, a World Heritage Site, is threatened by a wide range of adverse impacts and it was in this area that the articles by Melanie Gosling played a significant and beneficial role. The sort of reporting at which she excelled is no longer found in the Cape Times.
This is what has been achieved in creating what Karima Brown referred to in the above-mentioned letter as “… the company we want to work for.”
- Ed Herbst is a pensioner and former reporter who writes in his own capacity.
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