SHORTLY after Independent Media exposed Daily Maverick owners Branislav “Branko” Brkic’s and Stylianos Charalambous’s connections to the criminal underworld, the pair penned a piece titled “The Bad Guys Are Winning?”
They were not specific about which “bad guys” they were referring to but the article goes on to talk about “the bad guys” attacking them mercilessly because they know that they, with their readers behind them, are the greatest threat to the looting of South Africa. “You can help us by joining our army of Maverick Insiders, so we can get on with the work that needs to be done. South Africa’s future depends on it.”
But who’s looting who here?
Are Maverick Insiders not part of South Africa?
We recently sent a question to Brkic asking: “Considering that you are largely using funds from the public or Maverick Insiders, don’t you think it would be proper to regularly share your company’s financial status as a form of accountability?”
We never got a response. The Daily Maverick clearly consider themselves above such mundane issues as answerability.
Of course, there is no law forcing the media to publicly declare their funders, however, if one is using public funds, it naturally follows that one should open their books as a form of accountability, especially those who loftily proclaim themselves as “defenders of the truth”. Nothing to hide? Then show and tell … .
“Secret funding of political parties is the chink in our Constitution’s armour,” reads a headline by Brkic’s Daily Maverick in their call for political parties to publicly declare their funders. “But our near-perfect Constitution had one serious shortcoming: it did not regulate the funding of political parties. In particular, it did not explicitly prohibit the practice of political parties keeping their sources of funding secret. It also placed no limitation on who a party may accept money from or in what amounts.”
A chink in South Africa’s media laws could well be the omission of a declaration by publishers as to who their funders are – which would then show how their articles are angled -- and why.
I am reminded of an article by Marius Dragomir, Central European University, Hungary – Control the money, control the media: How the government uses funding to keep media in line.
The article is an analysis of how some governments use financial backing, directly and indirectly, to capture the media. It describes trends in how governments control the media by not financing independent journalism but rather by choosing to fund media outlets that advance the government agenda and the interests of its allies and supporters – either political groups or businesses allied to government sympathies and causes.
This, however, is not to suggest that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is involved in such practices. It is to underline how Brkic’s constant refusal to publicly declare the Daily Maverick’s funders suggests that there is more to the funding than meets the eye.
All the while, Brkic and Charalambous are nursing acquaintances with direct and indirect criminal elements.
Brkic’s partner Charalambous’ business links, for example, include infamous names such as Gavin Varejes and Paulus Stemmet, both of whom are closely linked to underworld characters Glenn Agliotti and corrupt (now deceased) ex-chief of police, Jackie Selebi.
While Stemmet has admitted planting bombs to extort his customers into paying for his security services, Varejes also admitted paying for holidays for a corrupt chief of police and Varejes’s business associate, Pamensky, is also an infamously close business associate of the Gupta family, Duduzane Zuma and Nazeem Howa.
Stemmet was to have been a Section 204 State witness in the Selebi corruption trial. In 2009, he signed a series of detailed sworn statements where he admitted his role in several serious crimes. In one statement he confessed to planting a bomb at Microsoft’s South African headquarters so that they would increase, instead of decrease, their spending on the security services he was providing.
Apart from his admitted links to serious crimes involving Selebi, Stemmet was also a close associate of convicted drug trafficker, Agliotti. Stemmet confessed to planting 40g of cocaine at Tigon director Gary Porritt’s Pietermaritzburg home in 2000 or 2001.
I know I repeat myself, but South Africans are owed, particularly the Maverick Insiders, the status of the Daily Maverick’s financial standing, as well as who their key funders are. For the sake of transparency and the truth, the Daily Maverick purport to champion.
Omission of the truth, is tantamount to lying and is aptly summed up by the idiom that says: “why do you look at the speck in another’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Hypocrite! First, remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5 N.T.)
The Centre for Media, Data and Society reported in May 2018 that an Open Society Foundation’s study found that 31 out of 55 global governments, used state funding to manipulate media. In nine of them, there was no hard evidence showing that this was happening but that did not rule out government manipulation.
Media outlets in countries from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East are the most affected by discriminatory disbursement of public funds. According to the report, it happens on other continents too and examples range from Argentina, Colombia and Peru in South America, Guatemala and Nicaragua in Central America, Indonesia and Malaysia in Asia, and South Africa. Just something to think about.
Sizwe Dlamini is Investigations Editor.