Malevolence of the supposed Maverick

My short R&R break in KZN was interrupted today by an old friend. This afternoon the man who chaired the board of Scouts SA during most of the six years I served on it, dropped a WhatsApp referring to an article published last night on Daily Maverick.

It is the second time ambitious Branko Brkic’s latest creation has republished an attack on BizNews by the small NGO called GroundUp, a spin-off from UCT’s social science department. Once again, we were not given the courtesy of commenting beforehand.

The first came in June after we published cartoonist Jeremy Nell’s work on The Fauci emails, linking to documents he had downloaded that had been forced into the public domain by the US court. As we had already republished the GroundUp rant on BizNews to offer “the other side,” the matter was left there.

Offering countering arguments, even when they attack us, is policy for BizNews. Journalism, as the name implies, should be a never ending quest for balance by offering a platform to all. This trade, in its purest form, is premised on reflecting both sides of the “journal”.

On the other side, NGOs like GroundUp are, by definition, agenda driven. So rational minds will expect them to rant against those who question narratives they champion. An NGO’s very survival depends on the whim of philanthropic individuals or organisations they ultimately serve.

But yesterday’s attack on BizNews by GroundUp was made with such malevolence, and is so politically charged, it cannot be unchallenged. Ditto for Daily Maverick whose republication of such dross should give pause to the wealthy SA and UK families whose gifts keep the project alive.

At first we were bemused at the reference upon which GroundUp (and its distributor Daily Maverick) based an allegation that BizNews “has become notorious for promoting misinformation about Covid”.

Despite a thorough search of the site our team were unable to find the apparent “BizNews article (which) explicitly states that immediately after being vaccinated with the first dose people are placed at greater risk of contracting Covid.”

Unusually, the article itself carried no link back to the offending BizNews piece.

So I WhatsApped GroundUp’s Nathan Geffen to ask what article his organisation was referring to.

Geffen’s short response included the link to the PANDA right of reply to a GroundUp “hit piece” on the Organisation and its chairman Nick Hudson and a reference to point 4.

We published the PANDA right of reply as it was well argued and referenced, and because the publications attacking it refused to do so.

In other words, GroundUp’s headline-grabbing claim that BizNews is a purveyor of fake Covid news is based on point 4 of a lengthy and clearly marked PANDA “right of reply”. Seriously.

When I asked Hudson if he knew what was behind the attack he noted: “I had a quick look at the piece. On the face if it the data they cite is off logic. It’s rather odd that they don’t cite me or PANDA in this piece, making the attack against BizNews.”

GroundUp lays on the sauce by stating that as BizNews is not a member of the SA Press Council, it “is not subject to press ombudsman complaints or rulings.”

In the trade, this is a despised tactic by bottom-feeders to not allow the facts to get in the way of the story they want to tell.

BizNews’s focus is and always will be on serving its community by providing information that helps them make up their own minds. On all  matters of relevance, including Covid. Period.

We fail to see how paying to be a member of an industry association supports this endeavour. Especially not of an association representing an industry we are disrupting.

(UPDATE: The single positive result of this is that I have now belatedly read the SA Press Council’s Code of Ethics and Conduct. It is an excellent document whose principles align with BizNews’s existing policies, culture and value. Not publicly supporting this has been an oversight and we have now applied for membership of the SA Press Council. I apologise for the needless swipe above  – and encourage BizNews community members to let us know should we unwittingly stray from any aspect of the Code).

However, in the few matters brought to us by the Press ombudsman, we have always engaged courteously and willingly, a fact respected former ombud Joe Thlole will attest to.

Sorry for interrupting your holiday weekend. But given the clear intention by these parties to harm BizNews, we were left with little choice.

To paraphrase Warren Buffett “lose the company money and I’ll be generous in my understanding. But hurt the company’s reputation and I’ll be ruthless.”

Through this hit-piece, GroundUp and Daily Maverick are malevolently attempting to besmirch BizNews’s reputation for balance and fairness. And if they are prepared to attack our integrity on such flimsy grounds, one wonders where else these bully boy tactics are applied.

Their well-intentioned philanthropic funders, the bulk of whom are BizNews community members, should be paying attention.

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