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It’s too late for Prince Mashele, but disclaimers are vital in publishing if you value your reputation

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Glenda Daniels is associate professor of media studies, Wits University and is Sanef’s Gauteng convenor. These views are her own.

Prince Mashele was paid a breathtaking amount by ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba to write his biography. But Mashele misled the publisher by claiming it was an unauthorised biography, which means without the permission of the subject.

Prince Mashele, well-known media darling and political analyst, is trending on social media for all the right reasons. You tend to trend on the toxic platform Twitter if you have done something bad. “Right reasons” here mean that he deserves the censure he is getting.

Mashele wrote a paid-for, therefore authorised, biography, but passed it off as “unauthorised”, misleading the publishers, Jonathan Ball, too, not just the public.

The publishers this week withdrew the book on ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba, titled The Outsider.

The brouhaha was sparked by his once close friend and subcontracted researcher, Brutus Malada, who wasn’t acknowledged as a researcher and probably even co-author – he claims he wrote 80% of the book.

There are many layers to this story, but I’m keen to watch the media: what will it do now? Will they deploy the usual short memory and after a short respectful lapse (what exactly is this?) of time call him back on speed dial for his pithy and often strident criticisms of ruling party shenanigans, lack of accountability and service delivery to the people?

The ANC and government must be full of schadenfreude, chuckling with delight, rubbing their hands with glee that he’s in hot water.

This was one of the media’s darling analysts. I enjoyed Mashele’s analysis myself. I had no idea he was a supporter of Mashaba, though. He seemed always available; in the same way you wonder how some people do their day jobs, get paid for working eight hours a day yet seem to spend all day on Twitter. Mashele seemed to always be on TV, radio and writing for print too.

But here are the relevant layers in this story: he reportedly misled the publisher, claiming it was an unauthorised biography. Unauthorised biography means without the permission of the subject. Sometimes you can interview – in fact, it is good to get an interview with the subject – but the subject does not pay you, nor should the subject have any say in what you write.

Astounding fee

He got paid a breathtaking amount. I have never had the fortune to be asked to be a ghostwriter. However, from having many friends and colleagues in academia, journalism, and freelance writers and consultants, I have never heard of the astonishing fee of R12.5-million. I once heard of R100,000 for two years.

There is nothing wrong with getting paid to write, but you have to declare it, and there is nothing wrong with an authorised biography, but you have to declare. There is nothing wrong with sub-contracting research or having a draft writer for a payment (Madala said he got R3.2-million) but then you have to have his name on the cover as co-author, or at the very least credited inside the book.

In academia, by the way, we don’t get paid upfront to write books. If we have a book idea, we have to do a full proposal to the publisher (almost like any other PhD proposal with well-known headings: Intro, Aim, Rationale, Lit Review, Theory framework, Method). Sometimes, in a few cases, you are so good that the publisher just accepts. Often, they want you to tweak until they are happy.

Generally, it goes like this: if they are happy, you sign a contract with deadlines and money issues which often stipulates that they collect royalties, and, once the costs of publishing are covered, you get paid.

But the latest is that you have to run around looking for “subvention costs”. This is new, for the past few years. You ask the university faculty for funds, you dip into your own research funds and so forth. It’s expensive; it apparently costs about R500,000 to produce a book. Running around looking for funds is a bit of a disincentive, I must say.

Royalties

Thus far with my books, I have received not one cent of royalties. So, you write, your book is peer-reviewed several times before being published, then, if all’s good, you are published and you submit it to your university which submits it to the Department of Higher Education (DHE) for what is called research incentive subsidies.

I have to check my facts because this figure changes, but the last time I checked, you get paid R80,000 by the DHE for a book and this money goes into a university account with your name and staff number on it. If you go to a conference or want to buy some books, you can claim travel and accommodation costs from this research account. That’s how books and money work at the university. It’s a fair enough system.

In the media, you have to declare who you are and where you are coming from if you are writing opinion and comment. No person is a neutral agent, writing from nowhere – we all have biases and subjectivities. You can’t pass your opinionated stuff off as reportage.  

But when at the end of your piece you say to which organisations you belong, readers then can suspect that you may be biased towards those organisations, but you also declare that this piece is “independent”, meaning it wasn’t paid for by that organisation, nor was it vetted by anyone.  

Prince of Mashaba

Back to the Prince of Mashaba, before royalties. Mashaba has done himself a disfavour with this R12.5-million deal with Mashele. Mashele has done himself a huge disservice too. If he had acknowledged Madala as co-author, this wouldn’t have happened – the beans wouldn’t have been spilt.

Madala sounds happy with the R3.2-million; who wouldn’t be, given that the going rate seems to be in the region of R100,000, according to friend sources.

But if this hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have known. If you don’t want your reputation ruined, declare yourself beforehand.

Don’t be coy, be open. DM

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