The Times Media Group’s publication of the public protector’s provisional report is part of an attempt to ruin Sekunjalo, not a valiant desire for the truth, writes Iqbal Survé.
Johannesburg - The dirty tricks campaign against Sekunjalo and Independent Newspapers continues unabated, particularly in the publications of the Times Media Group.
The latest attack unsurprisingly came from the Sunday Times and its crummy attempt to paint me and the company I chair, Sekunjalo Group, as corrupt and involved in unethical business practices.
In last week’s edition, they do so by quoting selectively from the public protector’s provisional report into the awarding of an R800 million contract to Sekunjalo to manage South Africa’s fisheries research and patrol fleet.
The Sunday Times’s publication is unlawful. Thuli Madonsela herself made this crystal clear when her spokeswoman Kgalalelo Masibi said: “It (the public release of provisional reports) violates section 7(2) of the Public Protector Act 23, 1994.
“As a rule, we do not comment on whatever purports to be a provisional report of the public protector as those are not reports of the public protector.”
Section 7(2) of the act states: “No person shall disclose to any other person the contents of any document in the possession of a member of the office of the public protector or the record of any evidence given before the public protector, deputy public protector or a person… during an investigation, unless the public protector determines otherwise.”
A legal statute that is the foundation of one of our Chapter 9 institutions has thus clearly been violated by a newspaper that does not tire of proclaiming itself the supporter and defender of the institutions of democracy and the rule of law.
It is ironic that some in the media routinely flout the law and believe they are above it when they are supposedly in pursuit of the truth. This is the same crowd that calls for heads to roll when politicians violate the law. The very same people bemoan the state of our judiciary often giving extensive space to those who falsely claim our constitution is under threat.
It seems the media is keen for politicians to obey the law, but even keener to define themselves as above it.
There are clear and compelling reasons why the Public Protector Act does not permit the premature publication of reports and findings from that office, and goes so far as to make such disclosures an offence under the law. Publishing provisional reports, which may contain untested allegations and inferences, is grossly misleading. It is also prejudicial to all parties concerned and may actually undermine the work of the public protector.
It’s called a provisional report for a reason and, as Masibi clearly states above, may not yet be considered to be a report of the public protector, nor its pronouncements taken to be her findings. To condemn any person or institution on the basis of such a report is not only premature, it is prejudicial to the functioning of the public protector and potentially defamatory to those condemned.
So why publish an incomplete report that could well change substantially, as in fact one report did in a recent case involving the DA, for which the Sunday Times had to apologise in the end? Why would any newspaper concerned with its reputation make the same mistake twice in so short a space of time?
One cannot understand the rude haste with which the Sunday Times, which ought to know better given recent experience, has acted, until one understands that the story and indeed the paper’s reportage on the matter of Sekunjalo and myself is not driven by any neutral search for truth or desire to hold public figures to account.
No, it is, in my view, the result of a malicious, concerted effort by the executive management of the Times Media Group to “deal with” me and Sekunjalo, using a clearly identifiable cabal of journalists in the group to lead the public attack. First prize for this agenda was to prevent the takeover of Independent News Media SA by Sekunjalo (or, it seemed to me, any other black-led company for that matter). Their desperate actions after Sekunjalo emerged as the preferred bidder for Independent, still speak for themselves.
They attempted to hijack the SA National Editors’ Forum to block the deal; they lobbied openly and tried to cultivate allies inside Independent; they attempted to pressure the Public Investment Corporation; and through their newspapers and other allies in the media, they launched the most vitriolic public campaign against my integrity and standing as a person.
When that agenda was finally defeated earlier this year, the levels of desperation in the TMG corridors of power grew exponentially. They have lost the battle for control of Independent, but they have not given up on the war. I now have it on impeccable authority that the executives of TMG have crafted and funded an orchestrated campaign against me, whose ultimate aim is to undermine public and advertising confidence in the Independent group.
Among the key elements of this is to create a negative public narrative to convince our advertisers and customers that, among other things:
* I am a crooked businessman with no ability to run and grow a business except through state-dependent cronyism.
* I am a lackey or stooge of the ANC and/or Jacob Zuma.
* The sale of Independent to Sekunjalo is nothing but a front for an ANC takeover.
* I am part of a clique that wants to counter negative media portrayals of the ANC by launching or buying media outlets that will be friendlier to the ruling party.
* These publications will be sustained chiefly through state advertising, thus corruptly using taxpayers’ money to fund ANC crony projects.
* I will undermine the independence of journalists and titles in the group in pursuit of this pro-ANC/Zuma agenda.
There are a number of ironies in the TMG narrative, and in fact in the entire situation I find myself in with TMG.
First, it is fact that the monopoly on government advertising in this country is held by none other than TMG themselves, through their flagship, Sunday Times. In fact, that paper is all but dependent on government revenue, despite its relentless portrayal of the ruling party as venal and corrupt and South Africa as a failing state. Irony No 1: The Sunday Times gets 50 percent of all government advertising, Independent as a group (with 18 titles) gets less than 5 percent. Clearly, this being an ANC crony thing doesn’t pay!
As for the notion that Independent journalists are now imperilled and their professional integrity is on the line because they work for me, this is Irony No 2.
Some of the Sunday Times’s most senior journalists have availed themselves as the chief hatchet men in the group executive’s personalised campaign against me. Chris Barron and Peter Bruce, a man who holds the unique position of being South Africa’s only editor/publisher (so much for editorial integrity), are the standout character assassins.
Irony No 3: Being accused of being too close to Zuma or the ANC (whatever that means) by a media group whose titles increasingly read like a manifesto for the DA, and whose journalists are to be found in DA election candidates’ list. The Times group’s recent history of collaboration with the official opposition is just too rich and undeniable to be ignored.
Barron published a copy-and-paste job on me from a statement issued by DA MP and fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen, the man who wrote a cringingly desperate letter to Independent’s former Irish owners begging them not to sell to me.
The editor of the Sunday Times has been caught exchanging information with DA MP and police shadow minister Dianne Kohler Barnard.
The entire group hires DA researchers and other party hacks as a matter of course, passing them off as analysts and political writers on their pages. The less said about the recent ghastly spectacle of TMG journalists turning up on DA election lists, the better. I’m afraid the Times group’s political petticoat is showing, and it is branded in DA colours.
To be certain, I personally have no problem with that. They have every right to choose their party political allegiance, as they clearly have. But then don’t turn around and suggest that the rest of us have no right to have ours or that we should apologise or try to explain away our histories.
I am proud to have been a participant in the struggle for national liberation, a struggle which, for most South Africans, was fought chiefly through the ANC.
I retain friendships, alliances and loyalties with many who are in senior positions in the ANC today. I neither apologise for nor feel any need to explain or justify that fact to anyone. But the newspaper group I now lead will remain what it has always been, a place where all world views, ideas and political schools are welcome, which is more than can be said for the mono-ideological publications run by my detractors.
* Dr Iqbal Survé is executive chairman of the Sekunjalo Group which owns Independent Newspapers.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.