THE ROLE of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) is to protect its members – and uphold freedom of the press. But what happens when these two objectives are opposing?
Dr Kate Skinner, an executive director of SANEF, may have misled listeners during her radio interview with Power 987 FM on Monday. During said interview, she claimed that she asked the Information and Communication Technology Union (ICTU) for the contact details of the contributor turned whistleblower, Modibe Modiba.
Modiba recently claimed that the Daily Maverick news portal was purposely paying for negative stories about senior black executives, businessmen and political leaders in South Africa over a period of time during 2019.
The International Relations student at UNISA, who took to Twitter to air his concerns over the alleged practices, also made other claims during an interview with Independent Media. Modiba said he was also approached by the Daily Maverick to recruit more students who would be paid a stipend to write negative stories and negative tweets about certain individuals. These individuals, he said, included Sekunjalo chairman Dr Iqbal Survé, former Public Investment Corporation CEO Dr Dan Matjila, EFF leader Julius Malema and senior ANC leaders.
According to Thabang Mothelo, the media officer of ICTU, in her bid to defend the Daily Maverick, SANEF's Skinner dragged them into the mix by alleging that "the union confirmed that it didn't do any investigations before it released its statement".
Skinner, in the interview, further made claims that she asked the union for the contact details of Modiba. Mothelo has stated that this is false.
“ICTU strongly rebuts that such a question and request was raised in the conversation,” he said.
“For some strange reason, SANEF found that Daily Maverick had made 'an interesting point’ when it said the story carried in Independent undermines media houses in general, and the story is dangerous for our democracy. Noting that SANEF didn't contact Mr Modiba and did not give the story the benefit of the doubt but instead immediately accepted the Daily Maverick's word as opposed to investigating the story for itself, shows that it is DM that is dangerous for our democracy, not Independent Media," Mothelo said.
According to Mothelo, Skinner’s attempts to weaken Modiba’s revelations on social media that he was approached by the Daily Maverick to write negative stories, shows that there is an unhealthily close relationship between them and SANEF.
Mothelo suggested that it was ludicrous to assume and claim that the story is not evidence-based, especially when there was an exclusive interview between the sources and a right of reply given to the Daily Maverick to answer to the allegations.
Mothelo also said it was clear from the Power FM interview that SANEF took a position to defend the Daily Maverick on this matter no matter what.
“It starts the defence by dismissing the story as 'a crazy covert story' simply because there is neither a trace of communication (WhatsApp) nor number plates of vehicles that were dropping money to Mr Modiba. It further asks for evidence on the statement, already acknowledged by Mr Modiba, that he didn't recruit anyone, therefore he has no knowledge of other people. SANEF has used this acknowledgement as bait to argue that this is a one-sided, one-character story,” he said.
He was of the conviction that SANEF should be exposed for being nothing other than an elitist structure aimed at defending the very same oppressive, racist and toxic power-dominated media industry, where editors play significant roles in undermining the rights of journalists reporting to them.
Mothelo continued: “SANEF since its existence has negated to deal with issues of the media industry, which include agitating and promoting the ideas of collective bargaining for salary benchmarking and suitable working conditions for journalists.
“SANEF, by deliberately ignoring the raising of genuine issues affecting workers, are found to be turning a blind eye to the long struggle of many black journalists in particular. SANEF has never waged a spirited fight against eNCA when it was grossly violating journalists as workers for their right to join unions and calling for an end of harassment by editors and improvements of slavery salaries,” he said.
He further argued that SANEF has also not given a solid defence as to why it didn't help Samkele Maseko, who recently joined the SABC, even though his plight was known in the media fraternity at the time.
“To further illustrate our dim view about SANEF, it never issued a single statement on the two-week long strike by journalists working at the former Tiso Blackstar Group.
If we are living in a transparent world in South Africa where as media we purport to be equal and uphold freedom of speech, Mothelo suggests: “The biggest problem with SANEF is that it's like a dog that hunts with the hare in its mouth. The question is, where does SANEF get its funding to conduct its business? Is it in fact an independent body that represents the needs and interests of the media who are its members?"
Mothelo has now challenged SANEF to declare its income sources.
He says: “This is to clear up the allegations of possible conflict of interests. On the allegations that ICTU has not investigated the claims by Mr Modiba, our response is that ICTU has no legal authority to investigate a media house, a point SANEF used as part of its defence and blame game. ICTU confirms that it had received five questions from a DM reporter, with the name of Rebecca, asking a similar line of questions that was used by SANEF as the defence of the story during the interview. ICTU decided not to respond to the DM questions, which are framed in such a manner as to deliberately cast aspersions on its ability to issue its own statement."
Mothelo also conveyed that ICTU takes a dim view of DM’s role in society, considering it as a media house which stands diametrically opposed to the principles of reporting without fear, favour and prejudice.
“DM is nothing less than a mouthpiece of political opponents within the ANC and a neo-liberal policies defender. Therefore, it reports a narrative that suits anti-transformation mindsets. A quick analysis of their content contributors’ actual contributions shows DM are the new thieves under the banner of a 'fighting back state capture' fixed narrative. Basically, there is no difference between ANN7, the (former) Gupta media house and DM,” he said.
He commented further: “ICTU wants to reiterate its position on this matter. That we are a genuine and registered trade union which has workers interest at its core. By this we mean that any action by the employer or third party (be it good or bad) which has the potential to affect the lives of workers, we are an interested party.
“In the context of the DM exposé, it brings relevance, since it has excessively covered specific (and non-proven in a court of law) allegations that negatively cast aspersions on media entities such as Independent Media.
“We strongly believe that this is anti-competitive behaviour and designed to champion the assault on the reputation of Independent Media through its owners. This has had a negative effect on the business of Independent Media, which had the potential to retrench workers as a result of reckless and excessive unrelated negative reporting.
"In conclusion, we reiterate our position that we are considering reporting DM to the appropriate authorities. In the event we do, we will appeal to the Press Ombudsman to consider the harshest deterrent outcome for those who use media for their own and personal gain,” he said.
Independent Media has also condemned Skinner’s interview on Power FM. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the media group stated that "people in glass houses should not throw stones".
Skinner and SANEF have criticised Independent Media for running a "one source" story on its channels. "Skinner (SANEF) only approached the Daily Maverick for comment and a response. DM is only one source in this matter,” said the newspaper publishing group.
"Had SANEF contacted Independent or Mr Modiba (the contributor), they would have confirmed that Mr Mdluli (the Independent Media journalist) had conducted his research appropriately and had been in direct contact with Mr Modiba, who also shared other information with him, all of which led Mr Mdluli to write the story.
"Mr Mdluli also sent a series of questions to the Daily Maverick's editor-in-chief, with enough time for a response, which was included in the article. That both parties in the story were approached and represented in the article clearly shows that there was more than one source. SANEF’s claims to the contrary are therefore misleading."
Skinner had not responded to questions at the time of publication.