Media on the frontline: war on independent voices in SA

The campaign against Independent Media and IOL represents a clear attempt to consolidate power and manipulate the public narrative to serve vested interests, says the writer.

The campaign against Independent Media and IOL represents a clear attempt to consolidate power and manipulate the public narrative to serve vested interests, says the writer.

Published Jun 3, 2024


Gillian Schutte

The battle for media control in South Africa unveils a profound clash of ideologies.

This is manifested in organised efforts to weaken independent media platforms like Independent Online (IOL) and Independent Media.

Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony elucidates how dominant ideologies of the ruling class sustain power not by direct force, but by the consent of the populace. Media ownership, centralised in the hands of a select few powerful entities in South Africa, deliberately undermines the essential diversity required for democracy. Consequently, independent media outlets that challenge this control are perceived as adversaries to the status quo.

Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model further clarifies how dominant interests shape media narratives. By controlling media ownership, advertising, sourcing, flak, and ideology, powerful actors limit acceptable discourse. This explains the post-1994 co-ordinated attacks on ANN7, The New Age, and Independent Media as part of a broader strategy to erase opposition and maintain neoliberal dominance.

This recent history has seen independent and mainstream media turn into a battlefield, where ideological conflicts are fought with the intensity of geopolitical invasions. In this fraught landscape, the public is urged to conform to a disturbing trend of manufactured consent and targeted attacks designed to suppress dissent and erode egalitarian principles.

The recipients of this strategic offensive are platforms like Independent Online (IOL) and Independent Media, defending themselves against a coalition of powerful entities including Daily Maverick, News 24, and banking institutions. These well-resourced actors are systematically working to discredit voices critical of neoliberalism, thereby undermining the very foundations of free discourse.

This assault on independent media in South Africa is not a recent phenomenon but rather a culmination of long-standing efforts to suppress leftist and decolonial dissent and maintain liberal hegemonic control over the public narrative.

A pivotal moment in this ongoing struggle was the targeted attacks on ANN7 and New Age, both significant players in the post-1994 black-owned media landscape.

ANN7, launched in August, 2013, positioned itself as a voice for the marginalised and a platform for alternative viewpoints. However, its affiliation with the Gupta family, embroiled in allegations of state capture made it a lightning rod for liberal disdain, criticism, and condemnation.

The channel was accused of being a mouthpiece for the Guptas and their political allies, leading to sustained pressure from political opponents and corporate interests. Its closure in 2018, following Multichoice’s decision not to renew its contract, marked a significant blow to independent black-centric media in South Africa. The channel’s demise was framed as a victory for transparency and accountability, but in reality it represented a calculated effort to silence dissent and consolidate control over the media landscape.

Similarly, the demise of The New Age, a print publication aligned with ANN7, further underscored the vulnerability of independent media in the face of concerted attacks. Launched in 2010, The New Age sought to challenge the dominance of established newspapers and provide a platform for voices sidelined and maligned by mainstream discourse. However, its association with the Gupta family and allegations of political interference led to dwindling readership and financial instability, ultimately resulting in its closure in 2017.

The attacks on ANN7 and The New Age are part of a broader pattern of repression and censorship aimed at maintaining the status quo. By targeting independent media outlets that dared to challenge entrenched power structures, political and corporate interests sought to preserve their hegemonic control over the public narrative and suppress viewpoints that strayed from their neoliberal ideology.

In the wake of ANN7 and New Age’s demise, the assault on sovereign media has only intensified with outlets like IOL and Independent Media facing relentless attacks and smear campaigns. The involvement of mainstream players like Daily Maverick and News 24, alongside banking institutions underscores the extent to which powerful interests are willing to go to silence dissent and consolidate their control over the media landscape.

Independent media outlets such as IOL have served as bastions of free expression, offering rigorous investigative journalism in post-1994 South Africa. They have provided a refuge for diverse, marginalised voices and have challenged mainstream narratives. Yet, their openness to left-leaning, pro-black reporting poses a direct challenge to established interests, so much so that they have continued a relentless co-ordinated offensive to tarnish their reputation and dismantle their credibility.

Central to this assault is the weaponisation of misinformation and smear tactics. Falsehoods and baseless allegations are wielded like weapons of war to besmirch the integrity of independent journalists and media outlets, casting doubt on the accuracy of their reporting and sowing seeds of distrust among the populace. In portraying dissenting voices as purveyors of falsehoods and propaganda, these powerful entities seek to undermine their credibility and stifle their critical perspectives.

The complicity of banking institutions in this concerted attack adds another layer of complexity to the assault on independent media. The freezing of Dr Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo Investments accounts serves as a stark reminder of the extent to which economic power can be leveraged to silence dissent and punish those who dare to challenge the status quo.

By severing financial lifelines, banking institutions effectively cripple independent media outlets, depriving them of the resources necessary to sustain their operations and fulfil their crucial role of providing a free and balanced media in society.

This campaign against Independent Media and IOL represents a clear attempt to consolidate power and manipulate the public narrative to serve vested interests. By monopolising the flow of information and silencing dissenting voices, powerful actors aim to shape public opinion to align with their own agenda, creating a false sense of consensus and stifling genuine discourse. This undermines the fundamental principles of free speech and democratic governance and poses a threat to the fabric of society itself.

The co-ordinated assault on all independent media in South Africa, compounded by the attempted erasure of leftist, radical, African nationalist, and black consciousness voices by Daily Maverick, News 24 and other mainstream journalists serving neoliberal forces, contradicts their claim to the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The fact that these attacks continue unabated demonstrates that media control is not merely about censorship but about consolidating power and preserving the white monopoly capitalist status quo.

Moving forwards, it is imperative to safeguard media diversity and independence as vital components of a functioning democracy. Only through unwavering vigilance and collective action can we ensure that the voices of dissent continue to be heard.

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