Navigating Nuances: A Response to Ismail Lagardien's “Reflections on Journalism”

Aziz Hartley is the Editor-in-Chief of Independent Media. Picture: Ian Landsberg / Independent Newspapers

Aziz Hartley is the Editor-in-Chief of Independent Media. Picture: Ian Landsberg / Independent Newspapers

Published Nov 29, 2023


In a recent opinion on Daily Maverick, Ismail Lagardien reflects on journalism and missed truths. In his heavy prose designed to impress for its supposed academic prowess, Lagardien is light on fact and heavy on the very thing he attempts to create diversion for – bias, as the tone is overly critical and implies a predisposition towards a particular viewpoint.

Buried deeply, but nevertheless there, is a direct dig at Independent Media and its non-executive Chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé. To make his point about Independent Media (although still not sure what that is, and we have intellectual horizons equal to, if not better than the writer), Lagardien has relied heavily on Anton Harber's 2021 piece of fiction about Independent Media. While drawing on previous work is common in journalism, it's crucial to assess whether Lagardien's use of Harber's piece provides a balanced and nuanced understanding, or if it serves as a foundation for a one-sided argument, which I believe it does.

Negating Harber’s diatribe and proving Lagardien to miss his target, Independent Media is still standing two years later. This is despite facing extraordinary external threats beyond those already experienced by the print media industry. Our editors have put their money where their mouth is regarding media freedom and unlike some of our detractors, remain resolute in being a voice for the people of South Africa. Lagardien should perhaps update his fact-finding skills.

Most importantly, despite the decades between when some of us started and today, and Lagardien’s advocacy for the media to get with the times, the basic tenets of journalism remain sacrosanct - balanced reporting of the facts and the right to reply. I hope these tenets will remain for another 40 years and more.

Lagardien’s statements that Independent Media is being used by Dr Iqbal Survé to fuel “a popular cynicism towards the media, creating a situation — as we have seen elsewhere — ripe for malicious misinformation and dangerous populism”, is unfounded and quite frankly, outrageously defamatory.

It would suggest that we, as editors, have no editorial freedom, which is not fact. For anyone to suggest our editors are incapable of thinking for themselves is ludicrous.

The popular cynicism towards media, rather speaks to the lack of room for the alternative opinion that Independent Media can and does provide for huge swathes of South Africa’s population. Simply put, Independent Media is a threat to the establishment.

Cynicism and distrust of the media in general, is also governed by the rise of fast news, and the push for page impressions rather than leaving audiences with an impression of the facts. This Lagardien ignores completely in a poorly constructed attempt to understand how media works in the modern world.

It is apparent too, that Lagardien, is in danger of becoming a praise singer for the Daily Maverick.

One aspect of his jargon filled and overly referenced piece that stands out, is the absence of counterarguments or alternative perspectives. If Lagardien was serious about delving into the depths of journalism, then a comprehensive analysis would involve acknowledging differing viewpoints and addressing potential criticisms to present a more balanced narrative. This was not done and one can but wonder why.

In an article addressing journalistic perspective, consideration of potential personal biases or affiliations is important. Readers should bear this in mind if they find the time to consume Lagardien's lengthy work.

* Aziz Hartley is the Editor-in-Chief of Independent Media.