2019: Collusion and lies in SA's highly contested media space
Opinion / 13 December 2019, 12:38pm / Ayanda Mdluli
The year 2019 has undoubtedly been an eye opener on a number of fronts: from starting to unravel the web of intricacies around state capture to challenged economics, commissions of inquiry and then lights out.
There is one more revelation though that deserves mention, and that is how the gloves came off in the media space this year to expose the weak underbelly of a collusive media bent on destroying one man, but in the process annihilating itself.
Towards the end of 2018, I re-joined Independent Media, having spent time rounding out my skills at other media houses and across a number of different industries. It was not long after being back that I came to the startling realisation that there are forces at play in this space with agendas that have little to do with reporting on the news, but rather creating it to suit their own agendas.
There are many agendas, although the underlying objective is control: control of the narrative, the public perspective,and ultimately, the public purse. With literally billions at stake, when something or someone stands in the way, it is time to erase it.
One tactic is to create diversion and fabrication. The following highlights a few of these instances.
In October last year, the then Tiso Blackstar, under the leadership of Andrew Bonamour, released an article titled: Tiso Blackstar calls on Iqbal Survé to stop misrepresentations, blatant lies and inflammatory accusations.
In the article, Tiso claimed that they were instructed by the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) to institute a merger between themselves and Independent Media.
Tiso was on the brink of collapse and the only way out for Bonamour and his cohort was to sell their controlling stake in the media assets of the group or try to force through a merger with Independent Media. The deal with Independent Media would have seen a complete restructuring of the company and potentially the stripping of assets and laying off of 40 percent of the staff complement to “bring the company back to profitability”.
Astonishingly, a day after the publication of the Tiso Blackstar article - on the donor funded Daily Maverick website - the PIC itself refuted the claims made by Tiso in a statement, saying that they had given no instruction for the two companies to merge.
In his testimony at the PIC Commission of inquiry into alleged impropriety at the state asset manager, Dr Survé , the chairman of the Sekunjalo Group, reiterated that he had resisted overtures from the rival media group as it would have led to the loss of hundreds of jobs.
He further stated: “There were fundamental differences in both companies in terms of a merger. The first issue was diversification in the economy. Our company is predominantly black, with women in leadership positions.
“When Bonamour initially approached me to merge the two companies, he said we should merge the entities, retrench half of the combined staff and we would have a profitability of R250 million in media assets.
“I thought that retrenching 1 500 black people who have bought into (a) vision, philosophy and aspiration could not be the way to deal with this. I put in money from Sekunjalo into Independent Media every month. Philosophically, Tiso and Independent Media have a different outlook. If you were a pure capitalist you would merge the brands, retrench people and profitability would improve.”
Another example happened while I was covering the PIC Commission as a journalist for Independent Media, this time a shocking headline from Business Day.
While Survé was providing testimony at the commission, he explained that he bought into the media space because the predominantly white- owned South African media had presented blacks as “savages” and barbarians to the rest of the world, and this narrative needed to change because private sector corruption was mostly overlooked.
Business Day subsequently published a false article claiming that Survé had labelled whites as barbarians. Proof of this shocking discrepancy is available for all to see in transcripts of the PIC Commissions website.
However, the biggest piece of disinformation that stood out for me this year was how Ayo Technology Solutions (AYO) was reported to be shipping PIC funds abroad. This false report was correlated to syndication news service Africa News Agency (ANA) entering a restructuring phase.
Detractors of Sekunjalo claimed that ANA was being used to channel funds and assets out of the country, which was and still is completely false. It was also claimed that the restructuring meant ANA would wholesale retrench its workforce. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
ANA re-positioned itself, found homes for all its staff – even the seven people who elected to take voluntary redundancy and has, in fact, expanded its operations, having looked outside a saturated domestic market.
ANA is currently present in 26 countries across Africa and most clients are not asking for South African content, which is a decreasing customer base. On the other side, African content has increased, so a decision was taken to reposition the business to meet the needs of the customers, which is for greater African content that is exclusive.
One can only hope that 2020 will bring with it a fresh perspective, one based on real reporting, and objective, balanced reporting, where the lights will be on and shine on the stories that deserve to be told. However, I am not holding my breath, especially as a known peddler of disinformation, who has close ties to the current Minister of Public Enterprises, is now employed at the PIC and is alleged to be one of the drivers of the campaign to silence Independent Media – if a thoroughly flawed liquidation application and a misuse of public funds is anything to go by.
* Ayanda Mdluli is a senior journalist at Independent Media.