Defend Truth


In response to Chris Vick

Respected former journalist, journalism tutor and government spindoctor, Chris Vick, is evidently spoiling for a fight. Lately he has been on a crusade attacking his former colleagues in the media and in government communications.

In his heads of argument in the South Gauteng high court, former Jackie Selebi  prosecutor Gerrie Nel presented what he called “The Big Five Lies”, and the presiding judge added what he called the “Sixth Big Lie”.

Vick, who is desperately trying to upstage the infamous  Shrien Dewani spindoctor, Max Clifford, wrote a piece in Daily Maverick headlined “First session of Media Appeals Tribunal – a what-if situation”, which is peppered with “Three Big Lies”.

His main target was the deputy editor of The Star, Jovial Rantao, but he decided to drag me along. As a former journalism tutor he conveniently forgot to do an elementary journalism practice: check the facts. Needless to mention, I do not work for the department of agriculture, but I work for the ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Vick has nurtured  and mentored  fine young black journalists, some of whom are good editors today. But they will certainly be disappointed with his behaviour, especially his flagrant disregard for the truth. Here are the Three Big Lies:

  • You claimed that Mulangi Mphego, former acting divisional commissioner of crime intelligence, “admitted” in an affidavit to leaking the Glenn Agliotti videotape to Rantao. That’s a lie. Mphego agreed that he met with Rantao and responded to his questions. He never admitted to leaking the videotape which Rantao had in his possession.
  • You “selectively” quoted an extract from the Mail&Guardian of 4 December 2009 which said that I “engineered” a meeting between Rantao and Mphego. I took trouble to go to the Randburg magistrate’s court to check Mphego’s affidavit and in it Mphego says that I “arranged” a meeting, and not engineered. Why didn’t you mention that the Mail&Guardian published a correction in its next edition? “Engineered” is too loaded a word.
  • Lastly, you mentioned that I was Selebi’s spokesman at the time when Rantao was writing favourable articles about Selebi. I ceased being Selebi’s spokesman at the end of November 2004 when I resigned from the SAPS to join the office of the Public Protector. I returned to the SAPS on 1 March 2006 as a communications officer for the SAPS’ human resource management and legal services.  Selebi’s spokespersons were Colonel Vish Naidoo and Brigadier Sally de Beer.

In my current job, Chris, I still “arrange” meetings between journalists and my bosses. That’s part of my job. You know it very well yourself having been the spokesman for a (previous) premier of Gauteng. Yet you want to make arrangement of meetings between principals and journalists to look odd. You should know better that I have a relationship with many black editors, because of the nature of my job. Rantao is not the only editor I have a relationship with. And what is wrong if Rantao and I had a relationship? You used to spin a lot of  journalists when you were the spokesman for the premier of Gauteng, and subsequent to that. And in the main you spun the journalists you used to work with and those you had a relationship with. Perhaps “spin” is a misnomer. But you get the drift!

I take offence at your insinuation that I am a source of Rantao simply because I used to work with him and under him back then on The Star.

Just to remind you, Chris, of something that you seem to have forgotten so quickly after leaving government. There are media enquiries that I can answer without consulting a principal, but there are some questions that are serious and have serious implications. Those kinds of questions warrant me to “arrange” and not engineer, a meeting between the journalist and the principal. I do not wish to speak for Rantao, he surely can speak for himself, but I have been observing a disturbing trend these days where, instead of quoting the name of the publication, authors are singled out for attack. M&G’s Sam Sole did it recently when he attacked Rantao instead of attacking The Star, as is the norm. Chris did the same thing.

I checked all the Gauteng dailies on Monday following an excellent piece of journalism by City Press’ Adriaan Basson and Piet Rampedi and I thought the two authors would be quoted by the dailies, but instead, and correctly so, the dailies quoted the publication, City Press.

Vick, for whom I have the greatest respect disappointed me. He behaved like a certain Irish immigrant who has a scant regard for the truth. Play the ball, Chris, and not the man, as it were, and play by the rules – written or unwritten.

Lastly, I have learnt not to burn bridges – you never know when you would need to cross them in the future… DM

Chris Vick responds to Selby Bokaba:

Selby and I chatted after publication of my column (I’m not sure whether we spoke as former colleagues, friends, sources or spokesmen) during which he pointed out that the Mail & Guardian “engineering” quote I referred to was subsequently retracted by the newspaper. I appreciate the clarification, and agree that it may make some difference to perceptions of his working relationship with the deputy editor of The Star.

However, as I pointed out to Selby, the original article still stands as public record – which I guess is one of the constraints of Internet-based research. And if there were a media tribunal hearing along the lines suggested in my column, it would probably have fallen into the same trap and based some of its arguments on that original report.

My apologies for misrepresenting Selby as an SAPS spindoctor when he was in fact a member of the SAPS communications team. And congratulations to him on now also being responsible for fishes and trees.

I’m not sure about Selby’s own attempts to play the man not the ball – Max Clifford, Irish immigrants etc. – or his comments on different approaches to spinning, but I’m sure he has his reasons.

Lastly, as I pointed out to Selby, I’m not spoiling for a fight, pointing fingers or burning bridges, I’m trying to contribute to some frank talk about the state of the South African media. And the feedback I get from a range of people – editors, journalists, spindoctors and decision-makers – is that the debate is not only necessary, but vital. DM


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