Max du Preez

Media should be wary of ANC propaganda war

2017-01-17 08:23
Sars building in Krugersdorp. (Website)

Sars building in Krugersdorp. (Website)

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South Africans have to add two Russian words to their political lexicon: kompromat and dezinformatsiya.

If there were ever a time since 1994 when it was crucial for the South African media to do their job properly, professionally and ethically, it would be now.

In the “post-truth” and “fake news” era every news outlet ought to do on an almost daily basis what an organisation such as AfricaCheck focuses on: investigate statements, allegations and utterances and tell the public what is truth and what is lie.

The eleven months leading up to the ANC’s elective conference are going to see a vicious propaganda war.

The media should obviously inform us about this and explain what it means, but they dare not take part in it or serve as useful idiots to any of the sides.

That means they would sometimes have to decline an offered scoop and/or expose those who had offered it and their motives and connections.

Journalists have to do careful research before they publish material that can benefit the one or the other side. They have to question the content as well as the timing.

There are a few examples of what the media should not do.

From August 2014 onwards the Sunday Times published a series of damning articles on a specialist investigations unit at SARS.

This information was planted in the newspaper by agents of the state intelligence services.

The paper reported that the unit, which they dubbed a “rogue” unit, had illegally tapped the phones of top officials and politicians, burgled the president’s office, operated a brothel, paid big amounts in bribes, etcetera.

This was classic dezinformatsiya. Here and there a fact, but mostly lies – the paper later admitted to this and humbly apologised.

The target of the dezinformatsiya campaign was present Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and senior SARS and Treasury officials.

It was part of an effort by the cabal loyal to President Jacob Zuma to stop investigations into senior figures’ financial affairs and that of their friends and beneficiaries and to capture SARS and the Treasury.

It was a very successful campaign; only Treasury eluded them. The falsehoods are still repeated and used to intimidate Gordhan and others.

Other media also became useful idiots to this cabal. A dossier with wild allegations against Gordhan, stating among other things that he was corrupt and owned large chunks of shares in many white-dominated businesses, was leaked and found its way into the media, while it was actively promoted on social media.

This was classic kompromat, the Russian term for material, fictitious or half-true, compiled to blackmail or discredit a senior politician.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to remember here that Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB colonel, is Zuma’s best foreign friend and that Zuma learnt his intelligence skills in the old Soviet Bloc.

Putin is an expert in kompromat and dezinformatsiya in his own country, and now apparenty also practices these skills in other countries.

There is good reason to believe that Russia had collected and/or falsified compromising material on the president-elect of the US, Donald Trump.

The popular news website Buzzfeed then published a report on these activities, a report that could even be completely false, and damaged the fragile relationship between the media and Trump even more.

The Russian state is apparently also behind a campaign to plant stories that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is about to stand for re-election, was a member of the hated East German secret police, even Hitler’s daughter.

Last year the respected Mail & Guardian published a front page story that DA leader Mmusi Maimane was being “politically schooled” by former president FW de Klerk. It created a huge storm.

The truth was that Maimane had indeed met with De Klerk, but for not much more than a meet-and-greet, and that he had done the same with other political veterans, like former president Kgalema Motlanthe.

The paper apologised, but the damage was done.

I have little doubt that many pieces of gossip and fake news are going to be planted in the media in the run-up to the ANC’s leadership election in December.

A predictable theme is going to be around “white monopoly capital”.

As the frontrunner in the succession race with AU Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa can expect to be targeted more than anyone else because he is seen as a threat by the Zuma cabal and its attack dogs in the state security machinery. The latest is that he is a pawn of the “Jewish money powers”.

The mainstream media – and I exclude the blatantly propagandistic Gupta mouthpieces ANN7 and The New Age because they don’t belong in this company – should take on the special task to clearly distinguish between facts and lies, including what is published on social media.

This is not only our core job as journalists. If we do this right, we will at the same time regain some of the credibility and prestige that the mainstream media has lost in recent times.

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