Photo Illustration: ANA Pictures

IN THE dying days of her term as public protector advocate Thuli Madonsela was burning the midnight oil to bring out her State of Capture report. Miraculously, she managed to secure additional emergency funding from the Treasury to get the report out before her term expired.
This was made possible by the former minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, despite the strict austerity measures previously announced with big fanfare.

When one reads the report, one cannot but be amazed about how such a flimsy and poorly researched and unsubstantiated document can have such a disproportionately massive impact. Evidently it is not based, and cannot be based, on the substance of the document because it hardly has any substance.

Evidently the explanation for this phenomenon is to be found outside the worth of the document - because it hardly has any worth. Rather it is about how the mainstream media had been reporting about it, and how it used the report to create an overbearing and dominant narrative frame to constantly intensify the perception that President Jacob Zuma and his government are corrupt and rotten to the core.

What we are actually experiencing is what Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman described in their seminal book, Manufacturing Consent - The Political Economy of the Mass Media, as propaganda for the manufacturing of public consent about a particular issue.

Chomsky and Herman argue that the dominant mainstream media outlets are large companies operated for profit, and therefore they must cater to the financial interests of the owners, who not surprisingly usually are big corporations. The size of a media company is a consequence of the investment capital required for the mass communications technology required to reach a mass audience of viewers, listeners and readers.

Since the majority of revenue of major outlets are derived from advertising (not from sales or subscriptions), advertisers in fact have a “de facto licensing authority”. The reality is that in order to survive financially the news media must cater to the political prejudices and economic desires of their advertisers.

They make up a coalition of the financially powerful who subsidise the mass media and gain special access to the news.

What we have seen with regards to Madonsela’s State of Capture report is a real-life example of what is described in more abstract terms by Chomsky and Herman.

The white monopoly capitalists who are the owners and paymasters of the mainstream media actively backed her so-called findings and deliberately directed the media narrative about it in order to manufacture a general public consent in which Zuma and those who are considered to be associated with him are portrayed as “captured” and “corrupt”, while the likes of Gordhan and his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas are painted as almost saintly good guys.

Interestingly enough, efforts to highlight Gordhan’s links with conflict-ridden shareholdings in white monopoly capital companies, as well as Jonas’s chequered history with regards to his tenure as CEO of the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, are ignored and hardly reported on. In as much as the so-called findings of Madonsela’s State of Capture report are highlighted and reported on at every possible opportunity, there is no less than a conspiracy of silence by the mainstream media to report news that reflects negatively on the “heroes” of the dominant narrative that they are so actively manufacturing for the public to consume. We have in the mainstream print media a text-book case of what Chomsky and Herman described. News reporting in our country is dominated by four big companies that control over 80% of all newspapers and magazine.

The four media houses are: Media 24, Independent Media, Caxton and the Times Media Group (with Media24/Naspers controlling 40% alone). When so few people, who share the same social and economic interests, have control over the media that we consume the “market place of ideas” and “national debates” become elite driven, and it makes a mockery of the so-often punted idea of a free media within our democracy.

The white monopoly capital owned and controlled mainstream media reinforce each other’s narratives and jealously guard their hegemony. Any attempt that they perceive as threatening their media monopoly is fiercely resisted. This was experienced by Dr Iqbal Survé and his Sekunjalo Group when they made a bid for Independent Newspapers when it was up for sale.

The negative attacks on Survé and Sekunjalo by the rest of the mainstream media, who feared that a brick was being dislodged in the monopolistic media wall that they have so carefully erected, immediately started.

These attacks reached fever pitch when the Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium, which includes the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and a Chinese consortium, succeeded to buy Independent Newspapers. Apparently Sekunjalo (and especially Survé) not being part of the old (white) boys’ club, together with its ownership of the African News Agency (ANA), which was launched after the demise of the arch-conservative SA Press Association (Sapa), was just too much for white monopoly capital to stomach. An avalanche of negative publicity followed and in quick succession no less than 386 negative articles were written, with Survé negatively written about 266 times, Sekunjalo 207 times and Independent Media 319 times.

A considerable number of stories concentrated on unsubstantiated claims that Survé was “asset stripping” Independent Newspapers through ANA, a claim that Survé rejected outright. The stories contained mainly conjecture and speculation, mostly written by white journalists who have built their journalistic careers by being virulently anti the democratically elected ANC government.

It is my belief that one of the main reasons for these attacks was that ANA was developed as Africa’s first content syndication service and that in a short time it reached more than one billion users.

Those who at all costs wanted to continue to control the flow and content of the news that reaches the public feared that they were losing the iron grip that they had. Survé’s positive stance towards and support for independent newcomers in the market, such as The African Times, also raised their ire.

In the meantime, the rest of the mainstream media continued to punt the State of Capture report, and they were handed three more narratives to assist in their continued manufacturing of consensual outrage against Zuma and calls for regime change.

The first came in the form of a pseudo-academic tract called “Betrayal of a promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen”, produced by the State Capacity Research Project, which is heavily funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation.

Under the cloak of “academic respectability” the (very unscientific) narrow focus of its work is set out in the preface to the publication as to: “Release case study reports of the state-owned enterprises that have been captured by the Zuma-centred power elite over the past decade”.

One cannot ignore that the State Capacity Research Project is convened by Professor Mark Swilling, head of the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, which is based at Stellenbosch University, that well-known bulwark of continued white Afrikaner pseudo-intellectual resistance to our democratic state.

The second came in the form of the SA Council of Churches’ so-called “Unburdening Panel” report. At first glance one may not see the link, but the manner in which the mainstream media reported on these two documents, and used them to strengthen Madonsela’s State of Capture report, provide the undeniable link.

The third came in an apparently “massive” number of e-mails that - so the claim goes - have been “hacked” from a server or servers linked the Gupta family. It was revealing how amaBhungane together with the Mail & Guardian ganged up with the usual mainstream media - Media 24, Caxton and the Times Media Group - to on a day-after-day basis release, in a closely co-ordinated and deliberately dragged out process, hand-picked e-mails that confirm their particular narrative of state capture. One also cannot omit to note that - as with the State Capacity Research Project - the main funder of amaBungane is George Soros’s Open Society Foundation.

At this stage there is no way to know whether all the e-mails that have up to now been released, or some, or any of them, are authentic.

The manner in which they have been obtained evidently does not make for obvious authentication, and one surely cannot expect from the hackers and their reporters - who obviously have a vested interest to claim that they are authentic - to police themselves.

It is particularly revealing that the same mainstream media and their white monopoly capital paymasters who are apparently so deeply concerned about state capture have no appetite for a truly thorough and in-depth mandate for the forthcoming commission on state capture that Zuma has agreed to. Even the already very narrow time-frame for the commission’s proposed mandate to date back to 1994 is resisted. Instead they want a mandate that will only concentrate on Zuma, his political associates and the role of the Gupta family.

Not surprisingly, this is exactly what Madonsela did, it is also what the State Capacity Research Project and the SACC did with their respective reports, and similarly what the selective drip-drip releases of the hacked e-mails now also do.

It is evident they are only interested in how they can use the emotive concept of state capture in order to continue to manufacture consent for regime change.

Ultimately the mainstream media do not want to free South Africa from state capture - they want to ensure that we continue to be captured by the very same Johann Rupert and other white monopoly capitalists who are currently keeping our society (especially African society) captive.

It is my ardent hope that with the newly found independence of Independent Media, we the people of South Africa have an ally to reveal the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

* Niehaus is a former member of the national executive committee of the ANC and a member of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA). All his articles can also be found on his blog, Carl’s Corner:

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

The Sunday Independent