By Edmond Phiri
Apartheid government newsletter, News24, has thrown the role of journalism as a force for truth and accountability out of the window.
The recent coverage by Jan “Geobbels” Cronje and News24 of businesses under the umbrella of Iqbal Survé, notably Sagarmatha, AYO Technology Solutions and the broader Sekunjalo Group raises questions about bias, fairness, and the underlying motivations of their media platform.
Cronje’s articles reveal a pattern that goes beyond mere journalism, venturing into what can only be described as a campaign of economic sabotage and reputational damage, particularly against a backdrop of media competition and racial undercurrents.
For a long period, News24 has engaged in what appears to be a deliberate strategy to weaponise its media platform against Survé’s entities. Their coverage of Survé and his entities is not just about rigorous journalism or holding power to account; it is about using the power of the press to undermine and destabilise a competitor. Independent Media and IOL, both part of Survé’s portfolio, are direct competitors to News24, providing a motive that extends beyond the realm of public interest into the arena of economic rivalry.
The coverage spearheaded by Cronje against Sagarmatha, AYO, and by extension, Survé, has been relentlessly negative, focusing disproportionately on negative reports that can cause harm to the companies. Their unidimensional portrayal not only skews public perception but also impacts these companies’ operational stability and growth prospects. The underlying implication is that these media attacks are not random acts of journalism but part of a concerted effort to economically sabotage Survé’s business interests.
The claim about biased and agenda-driven coverage gains further credence when juxtaposed with News24’s treatment of other companies, especially JSE-listed white-owned companies. For instance, Naspers, the mother company of News24, last year reported operating losses of $1.4 billion, as highlighted by the Daily Investor. Yet, this significant financial loss did not receive the same zealous coverage or sensationalist treatment by News24 or other outlets within the “white media” domain. This disparity in coverage suggests a selective application of journalistic zeal, where certain entities are attacked through propaganda smear, while others are downplayed or ignored altogether.
The targeting of Survé and his business ventures is not a recent phenomenon but part of a pattern that dates back to 2013. News24’s persistent focus on his companies exposes the motive driving this coverage, which is propaganda and smear campaign against their competitor. Ironically, none of the Independent Media papers jumped into the wagon to launch a smear campaign against Naspers or its subsidiaries whenever it is time for their financial reports.
Moreover, the emphasis on AYO, Sagarmatha and Sekunjalo's legal and financial battles, was strategically done to overshadow any positive developments or achievements of the companies. Cronje’s selective representation was intended to contribute to a skewed public perception, potentially impacting the company’s reputation, investor confidence, and their future prospects. In short, economic sabotage. The goal was not to inform and enlighten the public, but to influence and sway the public into having a negative perception about the listed companies.
Like an expert student of Nazi Propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, Cronje’s coverage placed its reliance on information peddling, misinformation and reliance on sensationalism. His reportage of the justified Sagarmatha R50 billion lawsuit against the government and various entities, is sensational.
Cronje skilfully sensationalised the figure using dramatic rhetoric of being on a “super-galactic highway” to success. He was clearly playing more to the gallery of public spectacle than to the nuanced exploration of the issues at hand. Cronje’s behaviour is not that of a journalist, but a paid propaganda shill, and an economic hitman.
While the role of the media in a democratic society cannot be overstated, it is imperative that journalism upholds the principles of fairness, impartiality, and accountability. However, when media platforms, such as News24, engage in practices that appear to weaponise journalism for economic sabotage against competitors, it is a betrayal of these principles.
For Cronje and News24, the fourth estate is a weapon of economic warfare, not a pillar of democracy. To hell with apartheid-era “journalism”!
* Edmond Phiri is an independent commentator and analyst.
** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.