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Opinionista

The lamestream media is lying to you…and itself

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Chris Roper is deputy director of Code for Africa, a director of the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting, and most recently held the position of editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian. He was founding portal manager of Tiscali World Online, portal manager for MWEB, and Editor-in-Chief at 24.com. He was a Knight Fellow for the ICFJ from 2015 - 2019.

Some news outlets have bought into this easy trope of the “media war”. Seriously, media people, get a grip. There is no media war! It’s a straw man made up by Mandela’s Dr Survé.

Shocking stuff out of Independent Media on Thursday, with the news that Mandela’s Dr Iqbal Survé has pledged to build a wall around the Indy head office to keep out Tiso Blackstar’s Andrew Bonamour. Given that Indy is, to quote a guy I’ve just made up, “on the bones of its ass”, questions have been asked about how the wall will be funded. “The Sunday Times is going to pay for the wall,”, said Mandela’s Dr Survé.

Is anyone reading this going to believe the drivel in the paragraph above? Well, yes, apparently. Because you’re lapping up the crap about Independent Media and Tiso Blackstar being involved in a “media war”. And it’s not just you, the casual drive-by reader. The Public Investment Corporation is either also falling for it, or they’re complicit in trying to divert attention from their investment of millions of rands of public money into a compromised company.

Sadly, many media houses are also falling for it, and using headlines like Fin24’s recent “Bull fight between Tiso Blackstar and Independent’s Survé heats up” . Worst of all, even the suckers over at Tiso Blackstar seem to have fallen for it! They too now seem to believe that they’re involved in a media war, and they’re reacting to Mandela’s Dr Survè’s provocations like CNN to a Trump gibe.

This is how Mandela’s Dr Survé’s misinformation works.

  1. Investigative media ask serious questions about Independent Media, its status as a government mouthpiece funded with public money, and the fact that the owner has no regard for the ethics of journalism.
  1. Instead of answering the questions, Mandela’s Dr Survé deflects attention by claiming that he is the target of a racially motivated media war.
  2. He identifies Tiso Blackstar as the enemy, although is happy to include other news organisations in the war when they ask the same questions.
  3. Now that he’s got people to recognise the term “media war”, he just keeps on saying it, and eventually, as with Donald Trump and “fake news”, people start to unthinkingly throw the term around. Column inches that could better be spent analysing the real issue, are instead spent debating whether terms like “fake news” and “media war” mean anything. With this column being a case in point.
  4. Now, instead of Mandela’s Dr Survé being the legitimate target of investigative journalism, he can claim to be the victim of an unprovoked media war.

Mandela’s Dr Survé’s chief attack poodle, the editor of the Business Report, articulates this strategy (I might be misusing the word “articulate” here) in one of her random-sentences-strung-together thingies: “NOW is indeed the time to reflect and dig deep, and ask myself one simple question: Why on earth are we, as media owners, fighting each other? Indy never attacked Tiso, but we had to react to false (or fake) and untrue nonsense that Tiso used and continues to use, to try to bring Indy down.” (Just a note to Indy: although your brand statement, “the media group that never saw a comma it didn’t like”, is of course an inspiration to us all, your lack of sub editors means that this particular sentence construction can be read as you being the people trying to bring Indy down.)

Because this narrative is so important to his deflection strategy, Mandela’s Dr Survé has to include everyone in it. For example, one of his toothless trolls pens a smear piece about me. (The writer has a suspiciously detailed knowledge, for a self-proclaimed “ordained and licensed member of the SA and USA clergy with over 25 years of service as a practising con artist”, of the stages of drunkenness. He accuses me 10 or more times in the column of being “drunk”, a cliched tactic that he apparently believes will invalidate the actual questions asked in my column.)

It’s a slur that is way too crude to convince anyone (unlike my witty substitution of the word “theologian” with ‘con artist’ in the paragraph above, he said hopefully). But it’s there to shore up the even more ridiculous lie of the “media war”, with the writer accusing me of being part of “a crusade to be a front man for a vicious media sector (including) Tiso Blackstar”.

In another column on IOL, (or, as I’ve taken to calling them on Twitter, the website that put the “I” into LOL), another of Mandela’s Dr Survé’s attack poodles claims that I’m an attack dog in the employ of Tiso Blackstar, and also, confusingly, that as a “failed blogger”, I’m not paid very much by Daily Maverick. A few minutes “research”, as real journalists call the process whereby they actually ask questions rather than just make stuff up, would have established that I have never worked for Tiso or Daily Maverick, that I’m not a practising columnist, and that I wasn’t paid for my column. It’s citizen journalism: I wrote it precisely because I have no affiliation to anything but truth in journalism. But this wouldn’t suit Mandela’s Dr Survé at all. Any criticism has to be subsumed into the “media war” narrative.

Irritatingly, some news outlets have bought into this easy trope of the “media war”. Seriously, media people, get a grip. There is no media war! It’s a straw man made up by Mandela’s Dr Survé. Of all the lies he’s told – and there have been many, from the fake award he claimed to receive from the Newseum in Washington, to having incontrovertible proof that the Mail & Guardian was funded by the CIA, to claiming to be Mandela’s Dr Iqbal Survé – this is looking like being the most successful.

This is a man who, when he phoned up the M&G CEO and demanded that he march down to the newsroom floor and pull a story, literally couldn’t understand that the CEO and owner of the Mail & Guardian only get to see the newspaper after it’s printed. This is a man who commissions his own puff pieces in titles he owns, complete with photoshopped photo of Madiba staring soulfully at the back of his noble head, and includes lines like “media houses generally use their own mediums in print and digital formats to spin their versions of stories/agendas and hope they stick. It is, and always will be, the nature of that beast”.

No, that is NOT the nature of the beast, it’s the nature of corrupt, unethical media owners.

So let’s stop helping the misinfo merchants peddle the fake “media war” trope, and get back to asking the hard questions about how we can fix the important bits of South African journalism that Mandela’s Dr Survé has broken. DM

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