ANN7 does not deserve our activism

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Atul Gupta
Atul Gupta

I believe that with my record in journalism over three decades I’m entitled to express my views on media freedom and the need for a diversity of voices in the media.

Count me out if you want to fight for the reinstatement of ANN7’s contract to be carried on the national satellite network.

In my book, this television channel doesn’t qualify as legitimate media. Rather, it is a commercial tool of corrupt interests. Its main aims are disinformation and propaganda – and it’s becoming clearer by the day that it is at least partially funded with stolen taxpayer money.

With others, I had fought for free speech and a diverse media when it wasn’t fashionable. It was dangerous, actually. I accumulated a criminal record as long as my arm trying to, with my colleagues, unearth uncomfortable truths, let suppressed voices be heard and voice opinions the apartheid state saw as a threat to its security.

Two decades into our democratic dispensation free speech is ensconced as a fundamental right in law and in the hearts of the citizens.

The last few years the media has shown in dramatic fashion that it is a central part of our freedom and democracy.

And then something happened that South Africans were not used to. The president of the country gave many of the powers the voters had given him to an immigrant family in exchange for gifts and favours.

The Gupta family then created a shadow state where they could even appoint Cabinet members, senior civil servants and members of the boards of state-owned enterprises.

Aided by President Jacob Zuma and the state security services, they embarked on a project to get rid of virtually everyone in the state who could investigate or prosecute corruption and state capture.

When citizens started grumbling about this, the Gupta/Zuma cabal launched a massive propaganda onslaught to camouflage state capture and to discredit and harass its critics.

ANN7 was a central pillar of this project.

Bell Pottinger, a British PR company, was hired at great expense to refine this strategy. In a manner unforgiveable in any democracy, they started to disrupt, manipulate and undermine the national discourse and the way South Africans relate to each other.

Simplistic, cheap populist concepts like radical economic empowerment and white monopoly capital were brought back into the discourse to cover up the grand theft of state money that would otherwise have gone to development and to alleviate the plight of the poor.

Again ANN7 was instrumental in executing this strategy.

The Guptas and their media mouthpieces never had any ideology. ANN7 was never an effort to let suppressed voices be heard or opinions outside the mainstream be heard.

From Day 1 ANN7 was purely and simply tools to glorify the Guptas and the Zuma faction of the ANC, to cover up these elements’ criminal tracks, camouflage state capture and harass those who stood up to corruption.

As Bell Pottinger – hired and paid by the Guptas – trained Zuma faction structures like the Youth and Women’s Leagues and the MK Veterans’ Association and wrote their speeches and statements for them, so ANN7 made sure that these elements got maximum publicity.

The massive Gupta onslaught on social media involving fake news websites and hundreds of thousands of bots was part of the same project.

There are serious questions about the ethics of Multichoice that gave ANN7 a national platform and paid them many millions, but these do not belong in the same debate as the merits or demerits of ANN7.

I hope the technical and administrative staff of ANN7 will find other jobs, but I don’t have the same sympathy for journalists and presenters who took part in the disinformation so enthusiastically. Perhaps they can find employment in the advertising or PR industries.

The "sale" of ANN7 to Mzwanele Manyi was nothing but a smokescreen. Nothing had changed. It is still a tool of state capturers and Zuma loyalists and would have closed down anyway once the Guptas fled the country for good.

I don’t want to see ANN7 banned, but I’m glad it will soon lose its privileged position on a national platform.

ANN7 does not deserve journalists' activism.

The South African media landscape will be better off without ANN7.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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