DAYS OF ORWELL
DMRE issues ‘media monitoring’ tender, including a warning system for ‘media-launched attacks’
The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) has issued a questionable tender for a media monitoring service that seems oppressively Orwellian and uses the terminology of war. It will include an early-warning system to provide alerts of ‘incoming media-launched attacks on the department’ and monitoring of the ‘tone’ journalists take.
The tender calls for a “service provider to render effective media monitoring and analysis for a period of 24 months”. There is a briefing about it on 22 March and the tender’s closing date is 6 June, but there are signs that the fix is already in.
“With the current ‘information overload’ that departments are faced with on a daily basis, the department requires a service provider who will extract the information (product) we require and delivers it to the departmental desktop,” the DMRE says. “A service provider who will also provide most comprehensive media analysis service to the department and the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy.”
Drilling down, the tender contains some real gems.
“Smart Monitoring” is among the deliverables.
“This is an early warning system by which the provider alerts clients via SMS/ WhatsApp, of incoming media-launched attacks on the department. Such alerts should include, but not be limited to: negative commentary, sector-related issues, defined spokesperson comments etc,” it says.
This, folks, is the terminology of war: an early-warning system to raise the alarm about “incoming media-launched attacks”. Mantashe is not shy of such language, recently urging African countries and their leaders to be cautious of “encirclement” by developed countries who are allegedly trying to dictate the pace of the clean energy transition.
It seems the DMRE – and presumably its minister, Gwede Mantashe – has come to regard legitimate media reporting on, and criticism of the department’s many shortcomings as “media-launched attacks”.
Transparency hitting a nerve
Bringing the light of transparency – one of our roles in the media – to the department’s multiple governance failures has clearly hit a nerve.
This is not “attacking”. It’s called reporting.
And there are other nuggets in the tender.
Other desirables include that “the top 10 publications/stations/online/social media for the month should be indicated in a graph, which will include information on: frequency, tone , the publication/station names and Net Effect”.
The term “tone” is also used in reference to individual journalists.
“A breakdown of the top 10 journalists with Net Effect scores to be indicated to each journalist. The top 10 journalists for the month should be indicated in a graph, which will include information on: frequency, tone, the journalist’s name and Net Effect”.
So the “tone” publications and journalists use in their coverage of the department is to be monitored and measured. Nothing sinister or Orwellian about that.
Raising a number of questions
This all raises a number of questions, of course. One involves costs. This is clearly a questionable use of scarce state funds – the economy is likely in recession, S&P has just downgraded its outlook on South Africa’s credit rating, and the Treasury is not exactly flush with cash.
Google Alerts, for example, is a free service. Surely its in-house staff can use that to monitor media coverage of the department, which in and of itself is a perfectly legitimate activity.
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The wording of the tender in some places also raises red flags.
“It looks like they already have a preferred bidder – the wording in the section under objective, especially the second paragraph, reads too much like an ad blurb that one of the companies would have shared with them. And the general tone of much of it suggests they already have a preferred bidder.” William Bird, Director of Media Monitoring Africa, offered Daily Maverick that opinion on the document.
The paragraph reads as follows:
“This leading technology, combined with high-tech scanning and computing capabilities allows an increase in ‘read’ accuracy in excess of 20% over the traditional, manual-read methods – 20% of client-relevant print coverage is normally missed by monitoring companies employing traditional, manual read and evaluating methods, which is currently used by the Chief Directorate.”
That does read like an ad blurb. Another analyst who viewed the document voiced similar concerns.
The DMRE had not responded to Daily Maverick queries at the time of going to press.
Meanwhile, the mining industry, environmentalists and other stakeholders are waiting for the tender for a functional mining cadastre – which the DMRE has promised to issue by the middle of March, so in the next week or so. DM/BM