"Independent" Newspapers? The Big Lie

2016-03-14 15:15

Reflecting on the integrity of the once proud “Cape Times” newspaper is interesting.

I used to subscribe to this publication and ferret through the headlines every morning – sometimes reading articles in full; sometimes just scanning the sports page; but invariably consulting the editorials and public comments. From time to time I felt moved to write a letter to the editor and - to my delight – many such contributions were published. I perceived it as a marketplace for ideas, rational debate and exchanging points of view. I had the impression of it being reasonable and impartial - until my editorial submissions simply stopped getting published altogether.

At first I gave the paper the benefit of the doubt and continued making contributions, thinking that maybe I had just gotten unlucky for a while. At one point I even challenged the sub editor – to be fobbed off with a “we get lots of letters; we cannot publish them all - so just keep trying” type response.

But my further submissions were no more successful.

Eventually I simply had to accept that the publication had a new agenda – and did not have to look far. It had changed hands and been taken over by the Sekunjalo Group of companies - bankrolled in large measure by government employee and trade union pension funds with strong ANC backing and a clear agenda; to influence the opposition's loyal readership.

Aha!

The quality of the publication’s journalism took a dive and sometime later was exposed as verging on gutter quality – with a false “exposé” of a foetal alcohol syndrome child called “Baby Thomas” that could not be verified and was - from all the evidence available - published to discredit the DA led Western Cape government. Baby Thomas did not exist.

Since then most publications in the Sekunjalo stable have shown steadily declining circulations – not surprising in an age of growing digital media.

Notwithstanding this trend, the Cape Times claims to be “bucking the trend” of declining circulation. I am bemused by this - given that three quarters of the people I know have ditched their subscriptions to the paper.

Anecdotal evidence aside - and far more significant - fudging circulation figures is notoriously easy to do. Print runs cannot be accurately verified and circulation can be inflated with voucher copies (freebies) – dumped at the offices of tens of thousands of unsuspecting civil servants. Cooking the books is a cinch.

And because they are financed through sympathetic channels, such shenanigans could remain undetected for years, maybe even forever.

Sekunjalo (Independent Newspapers) murky dealings were further confirmed in the context of ANC internecine politics when none other than our finance minister pointed to its role in the Hawks versus finance minister tax department (rogue unit) scandal. Under a headline reading “The Hawks must stop this harassment – Pravin Gordhan” - the following was reported:

“On 13 March 2016 Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan ... lashed out at the Independent Media group for "portraying me as a villain".

Complicity in the ongoing Zuma versus Gordhan feud is clearly implied!

Adding grist to the mill, there are any number of rumours doing the rounds that the so called Independent Media group has also been key to and complicit in fuelling campus violence. From my observations, they certainly must have thrived on the publicity; small wonder the jury is out on whether they represent the chicken, the egg - or maybe both?

Any way you look at it, the group does add new meaning to the notion of an empowerment initiative – which it claims to be. So keep an eye on the Sekunjalo Group, “Independent” Newspapers, the Cape Times and others in the stable.

Should you be moved to read any of their news copy, circumspection and vigilance is strongly advised. And above all - trust your instincts!

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