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Don't attack the journalist if you don't like message

Kevin Ritchie is a media consultant. He is a former journalist and newspaper editor. Picture: Cara Viereckl/African News Agency (ANA)

Kevin Ritchie is a media consultant. He is a former journalist and newspaper editor. Picture: Cara Viereckl/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 24, 2019


A couple of weeks ago, my former colleague Piet Rampedi wrote what would be the first of a series of quite devastating exposés about the CR17 campaign coffers. It unleashed a furious response from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s allies in civil society, some of them journalists.

Much was written of Rampedi himself; his background was raked over, his ostensible loyalties held up to scrutiny and, in an act of brazen arrogance, demands made for him to reveal his sources - even though no journalist; investigative or otherwise, should ever give up their sources, or be asked to.

People have been speaking to Rampedi that’s for sure, and the information he and his team has been receiving and in turn publishing has not been rebutted.

Instead, because people have been unable to rebut anything that he’s written on this issue thus far, they’ve gone in time honoured South African fashion for the man and not the ball. When that doesn’t work, they engage in that other beloved South African pastime of ethical relativism, whataboutism?

Two wrongs though don’t make a right. We dare not conflate one set of wrongdoing with another, if it’s wrong it needs to be investigated and handled accordingly - on its own merits.

Secondly, it doesn’t matter what you think about Rampedi or his team; the elephant in the room is that no one has been able to find a crack in the litany of copy they’ve produced that is starting to show that the CR17 campaign to win the presidency of the ANC was not just dirty, but indeed wrought some fascinating collateral damage this week.

Whether Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign was dirty or not is irrelevant, (there’s nothing stopping an investigative journalist checking her campaign money trails). What we are faced with is the fact that a person who was elected on a ticket to clean up the ANC - and by extension, a post-state capture South Africa - ran it deeply unethically, even if he didn’t break any laws.

Those are issues that have to be addressed if the promise of the new dawn is not to ring hollow.

It is precisely the sidestepping of this that is bedevilling not just our journalism, but our country as a whole. We’ve stopped engaging with the facts because we don’t like them; whether as new dawnists or fight backers, so we take on the messengers and we look to their alleged agendas.

If we are serious about truth, agenda becomes irrelevant; something either happened or it did not.

The only intention that should matter is the intention of the people in the original act, not those who tell of it.

The fact that we’ve lost sight of this, the fact that we choose to spin narratives when confronted with apparently incontrovertible facts only plays into the post-truth alternative reality world where ultimately you can’t trust anyone - and when that happens all bets are off.

A fortnight ago, Ferial Haffajee and Redi Tlhabi were the most visible targets in the race to shoot the messenger, this week it’s Rampedi.

Who will it be next?

* Kevin Ritchie is a media consultant. He is a former journalist and newspaper editor.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Saturday Star

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