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Media Freedom & Right to Know news

His Master's Voice wins "Nkandla Fire Pool" Media Statement of the Year Award

Isn't it about time we created an annual journalism award - with apologies to Gareth van Onselen who thinks we have too many as it is - that will recognise, praise and honour in perpetuity the year's most outrageous Comical Ali statement in a media context?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
"We must hold Thulas Nxesi, Siyabonga Cwele, Jeff Radebe and all the members of the so-called security cluster responsible for the Nkandla report in their individual capacities.

"They must be reminded that we will always remember how they sat and, with straight faces, vomited "fire pool", "retaining wall" (with amphitheatre features), tuck shop, chicken run and all sorts of things reserved only for people capable of seeing angels at Madiba's memorial. We will always remember". - Bloke Monnafela, by e-mail, Sunday Times letter page 29/12/2013

One word, "Nkandla", has so come to dominate our political and public discourse that I suggested it form part of a new verb, "Nkandla'd" meaning 'to subvert the course of justice by using the Zuma faction's "Stalingrad" approach (and huge amounts of public money) to cover up corruption and to prevent the consequences of such exposure.'

Despite the best efforts of Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jimi Matthews and Nyana Molete to censor the news of President Jacob Zuma being booed on the world stage, public outrage about the pervasive, systemic and institutionalised corruption by the Zuma faction of the ANC is growing - as is manifest in Bloke Monnafela's quote, which anchors this column, the open letter by Dr Barney Pityana urging President Jacob Zuma to resign, the Numsa breakaway, e-toll defiance, the Sunday Times poll which showed that the majority of people interviewed wanted Zuma to step down, daily service delivery protests and the depreciating rand as an indicator of investor confidence.

I therefore thought that this was the appropriate time to create an annual journalism award - with apologies to Gareth van Onselen who thinks we have too many as it is - that will recognise, praise and honour in perpetuity the year's most outrageous Comical Ali statement in a media context.

Searching for an award title

To qualify, the statement must seethe with contempt for the intelligence of all South Africans and I was looking for a name for the competition, something emblematic, something that all South Africans would instantly equate with a brazen lie. As Bloke Monnafela's letter to the Sunday Times suggests, the surreal Nkandla "fire pool" with its integral, re-invented "bucket system" is thus completely deserving of becoming the leitmotif, the symbol and the title of this prestigious award.

Such a competition must, obviously, have a prize and an award ceremony but I am not suggesting that there should be another example of the nefarious 2013 Sports Awards ceremony on which the ANC squandered R65m while our sports stars battle to get sponsorships, travel cattle class to international competitions and our youth are denied the facilities which will nurture their talent.

I accordingly recommend, for reasons that will become obvious, that Jonathan Ball Publishers simply posts an autographed copy of Adriaan Basson's book, Zuma Exposed, to the victorious candidate.

The Fire Pool Awards

But, enough of the preamble - let's cut to the chase - the outcome of the 2013 Nkandla Fire Pool Media Statement of the Year competition.

And the winner is - going away and by multiple lengths - tara tara - Jimi Matthews for his risible 'checks and balances' statement published in the Mail & Guardian on 1 August 2013 ("SABC launches 24-hour news channel on DStv").

"I am not quite sure where it comes from that the channel could be used as a propaganda tool," said acting group executive of news Jimi Matthews, a veteran broadcaster and former anti-apartheid activist.

"I am not sure how it would be any different to the operation I oversee at present.
. It is not like a 24-hour channel is a beast on its own. It still resides in the newsroom, with all the same management team, and all checks and balances. How it would somehow become a tool for some political entity confounds me a bit."

Just 12 days after this claim by Matthews was published, Rod Baker, Content Director on this website, posted links to five articles asserting that the SABC was, in fact, a Luthuli House-controlled propaganda medium for the ANC - something that Julius Malema later unequivocally confirmed.

And, four and a half months later, with the world's leading media houses in the country for the Mandela funeral, the SABC shamelessly did not feature the Zuma booing on its news bulletins and pointedly did not interview Thamsanqa Jantjie for what was, by any measure, an even bigger story.

Millions of people all over the world were able to hear Jantjie put his side of the story because the world's leading news agencies hastened to interview him. We South Africans, however, were denied that constitutional right because the ANC's Auckland Park puppets decided we should be denied that right.

If you want proof of that go to the SABC's news website. Type Jantjie's name into the search bar and you will search in vain for a visual or audio news clip featuring an interview with him - prima facie evidence that no interview was done. Jantjie was willing to be interviewed and lives in Soweto, an hour's drive from Auckland Park but he was silenced just as the SABC denied us the right to hear Thabo Mbeki's address at Fort Hare last year - his most important speech since being ousted in Polokwane.

Is Matthews, in making his ludicrous Mail & Guardian claim, disturbingly out of touch with the way things are done at Auckland Park or is he simply a stranger to the truth? With the BBC, Sky News, CNN, Al Jazeera et al picking up on the City Press story of 11 December on how Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jimi Matthews and Nyana Molete worked frantically to prevent the tens of millions of people who rely on the SABC from becoming aware of the booing of Jacob Zuma, the whole world now knows what South Africans have known for 20 years - that the ANC has the SABC by the throat and the only sounds that are allowed to be emitted are those which show the ruling party in a good light.

But let me say as the only judge in this new competition, that the result was not a foregone conclusion and that the competition for this Media Mampara of the Year award was savage.

'Side story' - a radically innovative concept

Choosing a winner was emotionally and physically costly and placed me in psychic peril. It involved endless soul searching, and massive sleep deprivation because, clawing his way to the surface of this journalistic cesspit was SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago. His enduring legacy in world journalism will be that he has introduced not merely a new phrase but a new concept, a concept so radically innovative that, dating from 1450 when Johannes Gutenberg introduced his wooden printing press, no editor, reporter, PR agency or company or government spokesperson has ever thought of it.

His explanation of why the SABC, alone of all the involved local and international news agencies, deliberately did not interview Thamsanqa Jantjie, was astounding in its simple wisdom. In a letter to City Press he explained that he and the SABC news manipulators regarded having a person without security clearance and with a history of mental instability and violence standing on the same stage and within a few metres of Barack Obama and other world leaders as a trivial 'side story' and this justified the SABC's decision not to send TV and radio news crews to Jantjie's home in Soweto for an interview.

"It is the prerogative of the SABC to decide to use its discretion in line with its editorial codes and what it deems as the top story of the day. As a public broadcaster and the official broadcaster for the Madiba funeral and all related events, we will not be derailed from doing so by the side stories that emerge." - Kaizer Kganyago in his 11 December letter to City Press.

This will, from now on, be called the 'Kganyago Principle'. It made him a significant but ultimately a silver medal contestant for this much sought-after Media Mampara of the Year accolade. As a consolation, I can assure him that his formidably intellectual articulation of the 'Kganyago Principle' and its underlying concept of the insignificant 'side story' will undoubtedly make him world famous and be the subject of many doctoral theses in future.

Also putting in a late charge for the award was Dr Iqbal Survé, the ANC's answer to the late Louis Luyt (if you will forgive the alliteration). He had a double-whammy claim to the award. First there was the jaw-dropping absurdity of his claim that he dismissed Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois, for her front page eulogy of Nelson Mandela which was rated by Time magazine as one of the best in the world. Then there was his threat to sue Melanie Gosling, the outstanding environment reporter at the Cape Times, if the newspaper did not print an apology for accurately reflecting the findings of the Public Protector on the somewhat suspect awarding of an R800m tender to manage the state's fishery vessels to his Sekunjalo consortium. Both actions were the antithesis of ethical employer/employee relations and so grotesquely out of sync with one's understanding of decency, and sound and sensible business practice that he had to be a leading challenger.

There will of course be a strident clamour from the more misguided among the chattering classes who champion the cause of Wesley Douglas, an opportunistic, party hopping, Johnny come lately, political wannabe. His brief claim to fame was organising a truly wacky protest with a cast which included bussed-in pensioners hoping for a free meal, a boy band and a media Mata Hari tottering around on "10 inch red stilettos".

All this as part of his call to "Fire all racist reporters." However, thanks to Cape Times Deputy Editor Tony Weaver's fairly easy demolition of him and Minister Trevor Manuel's principled support of Weaver in particular and the newspaper in general, Douglas is now a has been who never was. But, with the racially-divisive Marius Fransman as his mentor, he undoubtedly has the potential to be a future winner. So, better luck next year Wesley.

Worse than the Zikalala era

But Jimi Matthews, by a narrow margin, was a deserving winner and endorsing his victory in the competition is the justifiable perception that the SABC is now even more corrupt as a news-gathering organisation under Hlaudi Motsoeneng and himself than it was under their Mbeki-era counterparts, Snuki Zikalala and Amrit Manga. So much so that rivals eNCA and Carte Blanche actually use this perception in their advertising campaigns. eNCA talks of "Zero percent propaganda" and Carte Blanche "You have the right to see it all." The fact that eNCA, with no government funding, has twice as many viewers for its 7pm TV news bulletin as the Motsoeneng/Matthews equivalent on the SABC news channel, shows that people are not fooled by their routine censorship by omission.

And that perception is thoroughly justified. Granted, Zikalala blacklisted a handful of commentators, but he did have a DPhl degree and he never used bodyguards. In contrast, the "famously matric-less" (to quote Thinus Ferreira) Motsoeneng, is surrounded - if Ferial Haffajee is correct - by a phalanx of bodyguards and he has gone far beyond the comparatively puny censorship efforts of Zikalala while presiding over catastrophic decay and incompetence in every facet of the state broadcaster's news coverage.

Motsoeneng has effectively vetoed any broadcast discussion about the ANC by insisting that a Luthuli House representative always be present; the booing of Zuma at the Mandela memorial service was censored, and it is clear that reporters were instructed not to interview Thamsanqa Jantjie because no interview was broadcast on radio or TV and no such interview can be found on the SABC news website. Later, as SABC news room staff who are members of the trade union BEMAWU confirmed, Motsoeneng banned the broadcasting of any news that could embarrass the Zuma faction.

More censorship by omission

More recently, the SABC has censored by omission President Zuma's astonishingly patriarchal statement that Venda women make ideal marriage partners because they show their reverential and unquestioning obeisance to men by crawling towards them on their hands and knees. This sort of cover up is, of course, now standard practice at Auckland Park. As I showed in an article on the Grubstreet website, the Corporation also refused to broadcast President Zuma's statements about it being un-African for black people to care for their pets or straighten their hair. The SABC did not try to refute my facts because they could not.

Such is the current climate of fear in the SABC newsrooms that former colleagues tell me reporters are scared of covering Democratic Alliance events because they are convinced that this will harm their career prospects. As an example they cite the 2010 occasion when, without explanation, an SABC TV news team was instructed to leave a Helen Zille news conference on how the Democratic Alliance planned to counter the ANC/Sadtu - created education crisis - what Max du Preez in his new book, A Rumour of Spring - South Africa after 20 Years of Democracy (Zebra Press, 2013) calls "An Undeclared War on our Own Children". It is obvious why this happened but, at the time, the DA was unable to get an explanation. Perhaps Kaizer Kganyago can provide one now.

And in all of this utterly corrupt, unconstitutional and illegal news censorship, the extraordinarily divisive Hlaudi '70% good news' Motsoeneng has had the unwavering support of his faithful deputy, Jimi 'His Master's Voice' Matthews and Kaizer 'Side Story' Kganyago.

While it is clear that the ANC is trying to keep the SIU report on SABC corruption under wraps we will hopefully soon get the Public Protector's full report on Motsoeneng and the dubiously-appointed group chief executive officer Lulama Mokhobo. The report is a response to a complaint by BEMAWU but, if the contents of her provisional report, revealed by City Press, are anything to go by, we have to ask to what extent Kganyago and Matthews have been complicit in their silence.

Insults the Struggle

Jimi Matthews and Kaizer Kganyago would have us believe that, on their watch and at the behest of Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Luthuli House, the SABC is not putting up an information firewall around anything that discredits the ruling party. This arrogant contempt for the intelligence of the people who pay their salaries is infuriating.

The censorship of the Zuma booing and their failure to interview Thamsanqa Jantjie denied the more than 25 million people who rely on the SABC for news coverage their right to freedom of expression and access to information which is guaranteed in Section 16 of the Constitution.

In his speech at the International Press Institute Congress in Cape Town in 1994, Nelson Mandela presciently - in the light of subsequent events at Nkandla - warned of such abuses: "It is only such a free press that can temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen."

The SABC is not free and in a poignant article, "SABC insults memory of Struggle", written just a year ago, Makhudu Sefara manifests the increasing distress of black journalists who feel that the Motsoeneng cabal betrays the Mandela legacy, discredits their profession and their calling and spits in the face of the Struggle.

His justifiable concern must be even greater now.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu so succinctly put it:

"Is this the kind of freedom people were tortured and people were maimed for? Why the heck? Why the heck did we have this Struggle? What the heck was it for"?

About Ed Herbst

Ed Herbst is an author and a prize-winning reporter. He worked for SABC television news for 28 years but left in 2005 without other employment in prospect because of the pervasive news and other corruption at all levels of the corporation. He is also a fly fishing enthusiast.
Ingrid Jacobson
Brilliant Ed! LOVED this article - delightfully scathing! One of many many great lines : "the competition for this Media Mampara of the Year award was savage" LOL!
Thanks a million, your article made my day!
Posted on 8 Jan 2014 14:25
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