Last week I attended the publicised Daily Maverick “Gupta leaks” presentation. As in the case of the preceding event that failed to take off in Braamfontein last week I had gone representing the Inkuleleko Foundation whom I consciously associate with for its core values and its principled publicised mandate. I went to understand, engage and make sense of what we are pummelled with daily in snippets of salacious news advantage tit bits. I wanted to ask some questions and engage this section of the media that considers itself the anointed non-propaganda based pristine Fourth Estate.
Well we arrived and at the entrance to the actual venue room security guards were deployed. Clearly this event was not going to be derailed by the BLF or anyone the organisers identified as a threat – real or fake. At the security check-in some BLF members led by its leader Andile Mngxitama were present and although they, like all of us, paid to attend this R1800.00 per delegate event were refused entry.
The BLF was not the only denied entrance. We can confirm the vice chairperson of the Inkuleleko Foundation, Lulamile Jack, despite paying for flights, renting of a car and registration, was also refused entry. I suspect his Inkuleleko Foundation baseball cap was the reason he was denied entry. The event had as one of the sponsors Nando’s. It is clear after the embarrassment Gordhan and Jonas suffered at the UJ event; the organisers realized the event could be derailed only by those who would be inside the venue. Hence, they took much more precaution.
Inside it became quickly evident as with the Braamfontein event that these events are weighted in favour, by as high as 70-75%, of what South Africa defines as whites. We are still not sure what the overarching aims of these events are beyond a gathering some may rightly consider a talk-shop where the public is yet to be afforded the opportunity to speak or engage the panellists.
The programme was made up of an assortment of panels with a 60/40 distribution of white and black identities. The venue was jam-packed. First to kick off was the panel moderated by Bruce Whitfield where he had Sipho Pityana, the face and mouthpiece of the Save SA, Mike Abel, business matriarch Wendy Applebaum and Styli Charalambous, the Nando’s king.
This panel essentially attempted to look at what the role of capital is and should be in support of the media. Let me qualify media. Media in this sense means those present at “the gathering” and excludes what they colloquially define as Gupta Media, meaning ANN7 and New Age. Needless to say, the latter – after being denied entry – became the soft target and laughing stock of this gathering. We also were entertained to comment on the Independent Media of Iqbal Surve, whom it was claimed were invited but did not come. Not missing a chance and opportunity to poke fun at what is generally in this group accepted as propaganda media, Pityana wasted no time to promote the upcoming week’s key events, the August 8 vote of no-confidence marches.
This session was followed by a presentation of the press ombudsman Joe Tloloe. The truth is an aging Bra Joe, besides starting a nice story on his previous arrest, said nothing more than to defend his personal job. He took his aim at the ANC government which he identifies as the problem. The press ombudsman said nothing in challenge to this crowd, but came to uncritically endorse them. He attempted no counsel, neither solicited or attempted any intruding questions on the challenges of self-regulation, thus he failed to make the case for a self-critical media.
I thought the Ombudsman would ask the gathering ‘how can you claim to be independent when you have denied others of your sector access to this gathering?’ I figured the press ombudsman would throw a stone into the bush of a self-righteous media present to ask how independent they are from capital’s true influence? Well none of that surfaced or was remotely on the radar of Ombudsman Tloloe. He gave them a true endorsed free pass, therefore robbing our discourse from what it perhaps need as honest input from his venerated office.
Next up was Mark Heywood and Jay Naidoo, moderated by Xolani Gwala. This combination of former trade unionists didn’t help the debate at all. Their own glaring contradictions stand paramount and if I am correct Naidoo was not well received, not sure if he had the wrong mind or presentation for the day. In some circles, the man dubbed super wealthy ‘Dalai Lama’ of democracy spares no opportunity to tell all-and-sunder about his work on some farms in the Northern Cape. Thus, Naidoo was not going to be critical of the gathering in attempt of objectivity. He failed to engage even what they brought him for. Mark Heywood is Mark Heywood. He was not the bodyguard and doorkeeper he was at the Braamfontein event. On this day he was a panellist where his opinions fitted perfectly into this space because the media present here made up a section of the politics of Heywood.
In between breaks and standing in groups of those one may know, we had occasion to briefly chat with among others Mcebisi Jonas, also on the programme with his former boss Pravin Gordhan, and many others like Ferial Haffajee, also a panellist on the fake news and media sustainability slot.
I took time to engage some new acquaintances from the media space and found a number of Cape-based young black journalists just as lost on the motives and programme of this gathering. Another panellist was Sam Mkokeli. He reiterated the general mood of the gathering, when he labelled ANN7 and New Age as fake news outlets that must be stopped and suggested independent media the appropriate way forward. The challenge with Mkokeli’s conclusion is that he, like so many at this gathering, is yet to explain this independence which they in convenience and almost arrogance parade.
Beyond lunch it became clear that questioning the panels was not part of this gathering, it was neatly crafted to ensure that the agenda of the day was attained and not what is considered true public participation.
We came to hear the Fourth Estate of SA in self-righteousness lamenting the threats of an intruding ANC that wants to regulate them. The gathered engaged an ANC that it sees as useless in all its facets of governance, yet a government that must consider sponsoring the Fourth Estate. The next panel was made up of Jackson Mthembu (Chief whip of the ANC), Phumzile Van Damme (Communications Member for the DA) and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of the EFF. I enjoyed Ndlozi he in his gifted sense of articulation registered sensible and salient points.
Yet, Jackson Mthembu was driven into an unnecessary corner to admit (which we all know is a sophism) that he does not watch ANN7 of read the The New Age. I fail to understand why Mthembu, as communications specialist, could not easily deflect this subject by saying as a South African I read and watch all news because I don’t have to agree with it but must hear them for they have a following. Mthembu was made to look lethargic by the younger and more agile Van Damme and sensible Ndlozi. Ndlozi had the presence of mind and courage of conviction to tell the gathering they warrant self-introspection, something not a single other panellist had the presence of mind or the honesty of heart to attempt. Ndlozi told them it is white monopoly capital, even venturing to say Thabo Mbeki would agree. So, for the day Ndlozi for me was the one that made my trip perhaps worthwhile.
The real reasons for the gathering as per the programme was going to start between16h30 – 18h30pm, with the last two slots dubbed respectively ‘#GuptaLeaks’ and ‘Joining the dots: Media and Dirty Tricks campaigns.’
The #GuptaLeaks panel was completely white: Sam Sole Stefaans Brummer, Adrian Basson and Richard Poplack. Let us not be overtly race conscious a counter argument could easily be made that they broke the story, hence them leading it.
Before the last two panels sat, I had a chance to engage John Vlismas, somewhere at the back of the venue. Vlismas was also tasked to entertain us to some comedy. I enquired as to when there would be a chance to ask questions. Vlismas politely thanked me for the question and informed me the event was not organised to entertain any questions but really to come and listen to the panellists and those on the programme. I retorted, “how public in participation is the event if we are not afforded a chance to engage panellists but essentially are here to listen?” To that there was no real reply.
After this we as Inkuleleko Foundation delegates decided to leave the event, because we had already heard Gordhan and Jonas and thought it merely a political campaign unfolding. In the end, I concluded as I anticipated before going, the event was a political gathering hosted by the media. It is certainly part of the campaign that leads us into Tuesday August 8, 2017.
It was hardly an attempt at true self-introspection of the self-righteous media; it denied ANN7 and The New Age legitimate and active members with undeniable following in the SA citizenry an equal opportunity that they afforded themselves. Somewhere during one of the breaks I remarked to Stephen Groottes from 702 and Primedia, this gathering is toxic for its self-righteous attitude, and there was no humility present or any appreciation for the ambiguity of those gathered. Particularly for denying their opposition access, the gathering confirmed its own compromised state. I asked him how different a 403 ENCA is to a 405 ANN7, which he clearly had a different view on. I enquired as to how 403 is accepted as objective and devoid of propaganda, when ANN7 is naturally accepted as bias. Groottes indicated he had to go.
I left the gathering with my few questions, key of those:
What an independent media presents?
As to what independence means, independent from what and in relation to what?
Is it independent from Government (the natural demon as led by the ANC)?
How independent can media be when capital owns media in some instances in stark confirmation of white monopoly capital?
How critical can media be when it is depending on capital for its livelihood-advertising and sponsoring of these events?
How independent can media houses be about their owners in honest reporting?
Sam Sole said on 702, the day after the Braamfontein event, that the so-called Gupta emails were obtained when two whistle-blowers approached them. Collecting a trove of emails is no small feat:
Who then qualifies to be hacked?
Will we for example also have access to emails delivered by whistle-blowers, of every president, minister, deputy minister or politician’ s emails since they assumed public office?
What will amaBhungane and Scorpio do when files stolen from the offices of the CJ of the CC and Hawks respectively surface at its doorstep? What would be the applied ethics to engage that information, which it can be accepted will eventually be publicised?
May we ask Jonas as panellist why we have to believe his version, since he like so many stood accused not just once on corruption?
Why is he silent on some nagging questions on the PIC, which he chaired?
Why no one in this section of self-righteous media find it odd not to engage Gordhan on the Treasury Internal Audit report that is public for more than sixty days?
Yes, you may assume I have too many questions. You are right, I have a ton more, but these events will not allow some of us to raise them despite our willingness to hear them, they just do not want hear some of us.