Cape Town - The extraordinary attack this week on myself and Independent Media by Sanef Deputy Chairperson Adriaan Basson confirms a long-held view that some of the leaders of this organisation are hellbent on pursuing a factional agenda in the media sector.
In an opinion piece titled “Hlaudi, Iqbal and Johnny: Inside the horror show of SA’s media rogues” and published on his News24 website, Basson uses the report of a probe into media ethics commissioned by Sanef to justify this unwarranted attack on myself and Independent Media.
The irony of Basson’s attacks is that the probe, led by retired judge Kathy Satchwell, sought to address the deep and fundamental divisions related to transformation, ethics and diversity in the media sector.
At the time when Sanef announced its probe, there was much scepticism around the motives for this probe and was described as a knee-jerk reaction to the controversies related to the Sunday Times.
Basson’s attacks most certainly validate such scepticism.
It is indeed unfortunate that Basson chose to selectively use comments attributed to former disgruntled Independent Media employees in the Satchwell report to launch his malicious attack.
One of the basic principles of journalism is to obtain both sides to a story.
For the record, neither I nor Independent Media, were approached by the Satchwell panel to make any submission or to respond to the unfounded allegations advanced by these disgruntled former employees.
It is indeed disappointing that the Satchwell panel, for whatever reason, chose not to get the other side of the story prior to finalising its report. If they did, their outcomes related to me and Independent Media would have most certainly taken a different trajectory.
Notwithstanding Sanef’s public call for submissions, one would have expected a greater effort to formally engage with one of the country’s largest media organisations, rather than simply relying on untested allegations from former employees.
While Basson, who is also Editor-in-Chief of News24, will no doubt claim that his opinion piece was crafted in his capacity as a journalist, Sanef must make an unequivocal statement on whether his views are representative of the organisation or not. In the absence of such clarity, the scepticism over the motives of Sanef will continue to flourish.
For a while now, Sanef has been engaging Independent Media’s senior editorial leadership over their participation in the organisation’s activities. This latest attack raises fundamental questions over such participation. Ultimately, it will be the decision of Independent Media’s editorial leadership whether to continue with such an engagement or not.
Despite the attacks by Basson and others, I have full confidence that Independent Media’s editorial leadership and journalists will continue to report on critical issues in our democracy without fear or favour. They do not need any validation from Basson, former disgruntled employees or Sanef in this regard.
By labelling me a “media rogue” Basson speaks with a forked tongue. It is now well documented that the very organisation which employs him and affords him the platform to launch his vitriolic attacks is the same one that for decades actively colluded with the apartheid state to suppress media freedom and freedom of expression. When offered the opportunity to come clean, Basson’s bosses refused to participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s media hearings.
The role played by Basson’s own bosses in state capture is also well documented.
Why doesn’t Basson probe and question their lack of accountability at the Zondo Commission probe into state capture, or for that matter the role they played during apartheid?
Since the acquisition of Independent Media by the Sekunjalo Group, we have made media transformation, creating a voice for the voiceless and telling the truth – unbiased and impartial reporting - the centrepiece of our vision and mission.
I remain unapologetic for this.
Like everything else in our young democracy, the media landscape is highly contested, with the push back against the transformation agenda occupying centre stage.
For decades, the war for the ownership and control of the country’s media space has been a vicious one. It is against this background that Basson’s attacks must be viewed.
The battle waged by factions in the political space, former disgruntled employees and other interested parties for the heart and soul of Independent Media is an integral part of this skirmish. The attacks continue and until the war is won for Independent Media’s opponents, it appears, they will not cease.
Contrary to the assertion by Basson and other adversaries that I’m an enemy of media freedom and freedom of expression, my own actions since acquiring Independent Media paint a very different picture.
Earlier in this article, I outlined that media transformation, creating a voice for the voiceless and telling the truth are the non-negotiable principles of our organisation.
In this regard, we are walking the talk. Some recent examples come to mind.
In October last year, our editorial leadership launched a media freedom and freedom of expression campaign as part of our collective efforts to commemorate Black Wednesday, and to heighten public awareness and discourse around these critical issues in our democracy. Through this campaign, our editorial leadership went a step further and made personal undertakings of their own commitment to media freedom to their respective audiences.
As the Covid-19 pandemic took root in our country, it was the Sunday Independent which exposed the PPE corruption scandal within government. Shamelessly, our detractors in the media space led the charge to give credence to government claims that we were peddling fake news. Subsequent events vindicated our reportage on yet another woeful episode of corruption and malfeasance at the expense of the poor.
Earlier, I alluded to the ruthless contestation for the heart and soul of Independent Media. As we entrench our commitment to transformation in general and media freedom and freedom of expression in particular, it is not unexpected that these attacks will be heightened.
In anticipation of this scenario, I sent a New Year welcome note earlier this month (January) to the editorial leadership wherein I said: “This year will no doubt be even more daunting … and places even more pressure on you and your teams to produce world-class journalism.
“Navigating this impending storm demands heightened vigilance. It is therefore vital that you ensure your teams adhere to the basic principles of journalism…
“Notwithstanding the extremely difficult economic environment, you and your teams can be assured of my commitment to the ongoing commercial sustainability of our multiple platforms and to media freedom.
“In the same vein, while robust discussion on all aspects of our media business is important, decisions and accountability related to the execution of your respective editorial mandates remain yours alone.”
These examples can hardly be ascribed to the actions of a “media rogue”.
As the divisions within the media space widen, it is time for an honest conversation on media transformation, media freedom and freedom of expression.
Since my acquisition of Independent Media, we have made major strides in fundamental transformation at all levels, the brands within our group have been repositioned to reflect the real South African story and have entrenched media freedom.
As we move forward, I am quite certain that Independent Media will continue to grow and remain a bastion of truth and transformation, where everyone’s point of view is given the space to be heard.
We will not, therefore, be intimidated by the likes of Basson and those who believe that they have a monopoly on telling the truth, media freedom and freedom of expression.