Defend Truth


Sad world when media moguls like Iqbal Survé become profound enemies of press freedom


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 He was a Knight Fellow for the ICFJ from 2015 - 2019.

Attacks on women journalists like News24’s Karyn Maughan by the likes of Iqbal Survé’s Independent Media take a terrible toll on the women being vilified. They also have a chilling effect on the ability of news organisations to do their job as democracy watchdogs.

It’s a sad world when a once-reputable media company publishes a story with the title, “Is Karyn Maughan South Africa’s Leni Riefenstahl – the Nazi Film Propagandist?

The piece appeared on IOL, the former news site that now functions as a propaganda arm for whoever has a few pennies to throw the way of its owner, and is a terrible example of the level of violence that has intruded into our national discourse.

I say intruded, but it would be more correct to say obtruded. In this particular example, the person forcing this violence onto a woman journalist, and encouraging his followers to pile on with hate speech, vicious threats and, ultimately, actual physical violence, is the old villain of the piece, Mandela’s Doctor Iqbal Survé™, as he likes to be called.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Iqbal Survé’s AYO and AEEI narrowly avoid JSE delisting

I’m not going to waste my precious column space in rehashing the crimes, lies, and insane gibberings of Survé, a man who apparently models himself on the DC comic supervillain the Penguin, both in deplorable dress sense and stature. But I have to mention him, rather than Edmond Phiri, the name bylined in the article attacking Karyn Maughan, because there is a very strong likelihood that Edmond Phiri is not a real person.

As with the series of pro-Survé articles that appeared under the name Jamie Roz, this attack on Maughan is probably written by one of Survé’s (untrained) attack poodles, dutifully excreting lies onto the pages of the litterbox formerly known as Independent Media.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Fake news, fake publication, next level: Iqbal Survé’s IOL makes up a ‘journalist’ to further attack truth

Yes, the cowardly shills over at Independent don’t even have the courage to use their real names.

Ferial Haffajee wrote about the evidence that Jamie Roz isn’t a real person, and you can expect a similar piece soon about “Edmond Phiri”. Hell, Phiri might even be a real person, although why a real person would write in the style of an AI bought on a remainder sale and trained on the diary of a petulant teenager is a mystery.

No, kidding. This is going to be the work of Mandela’s Doctor Iqbal Survé™’s semi-literate PR poodle again. At least they’ve shown a little progress, and are now imagining fully grown adults rather than imaginary babies.

Typical attack

In “his” attack piece on Karyn Maughan, “Phiri” likens her to Nazi propagandist [Leni] Riefenstahl, writing that “one used film to manipulate public opinion, whilst the other used journalism as a cover for her vile anti-black sophisticated propaganda” and that “Maughan uses the News24 platform to propagate predetermined narratives, employing a style that would impress Goebbels even in his grave”. [Excuse the mixed tenses — Survé had to fire the subbing department so that he can channel the funds to his Davos suckup cocktail budget.]

Phiri, it turns out, is somewhat of a one-trick donkey. He wrote of me: “Dedicating long, incoherent ramblings laced with subtle racist insults, Roper tried excessively to mimic the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. But even Goebbels would be disappointed with the B-grade propaganda produced by Roper.”

Hurtfully, it seems that Karyn is better at being a Nazi propagandist than I am. I mean, not that it’s a competition.

Proliferation of violence against women

On some levels, it’s a laughably childish attack, as are all the amateurish attempts by Survé’s sadly incompetent hacks. But it stops being funny when the armies of evil disinformation actors on social media use the piece as a launching pad for yet another despicable attack on a woman journalist.

And as Ferial Haffajee tweeted to Adri Senekal de Wet, who has ended up as the useless editor-in-chief of Survé’s crumbling media sandcastle because he’s run out of useful idiots, “This cannot continue! The attacks on Karyn Maughan by Iqbal Survé have now turned to hate speech. It will get her killed. This is despicable — as ‘editor-in-chief’ how can you justify attacks like this on a woman journalist?!”

These attacks take a terrible toll on the women being vilified, and they also have a chilling effect on the ability of news organisations to do their job as democracy watchdogs.

I was on a panel at a Sanef conference this week, and a young journalism student in the audience asked for advice on how, when she started working as a journalist, she could deal with threats of sexual violence and other attacks on social media. The panel was busy giving advice and tips when it suddenly struck me afresh. The abuse of women journalists on social media is so ubiquitous now, that it’s become normalised. For the young journalism student, being harassed and threatened for doing her job was an inevitability, not a possibility.

I know, I know. I’m stating the obvious. But that’s kind of the point. It’s become so obvious, we don’t react with horror anymore, but with grim resignation.

Digging through the dirt

Digital forensic investigators are currently busy analysing social media properties that cluster around Iqbal Survé’s X account, and the accounts that amplify the disinformation he shares in an effort to derail and deflect the investigations into his business dealings.

The dataset consists of: all mentions of Jamie Roz, Edmond Phiri and Adri Senekal de Wet on X in the last two years, including the recent Karyn Maughan attack tweets, and the analysis is in the context of these attacks.

I don’t want to steal the thunder of their upcoming report, but it’s worth sharing one of the takeaways as it relates to attacks on Karyn Maughan. Think of it as a case study of how evil actors set in motion attacks on women journalists, attacks that can lead to physical as well as mental violence, just to avoid accountability for their crimes.

The study looks into the community that clusters around Survé on X, and looks at the topics that are reposted and amplified by the accounts that follow him. You’ll be unsurprised to note that, for the man who has become a laughing stock because of how many times he forces his editors to run stories about him on the front pages of his newspapers, the main topic of discussion is, uh, Iqbal Survé.

But it’s when you look at the main hashtags used by him and his community, that you can see how Karyn Maughan is being used as a target for those invested in driving disinformation to further the aims of a post-truth world.

When you look at the main accounts clustered around @IqbalSurve, it’s the same pattern. Karyn Maughan is in the top 10 hashtags for the communities of Edmond Phiri; SuperiorZulu; Modibe Modiba (Insight Factor); the RET faction; a community critical of news that includes influencers like @tshweumoleme,@constitution_94 and @thespeaker; and for a pro-Independent Media community.

The popular posts retweeted by the latter community feature IOL stories headlined, variously, “Unravelling the parallels between Karyn Maughan and Leni Riefenstahl — how propaganda disguises as journalism,” “Karen Maughan’s recent article on Sekunjalo reads like a page from Nazi propaganda playbook,” and “STOP the propaganda machine: Karyn Maughan’s reporting on Survé and Sekunjalo mirrors historical apartheid tactics”.

Please read the full report when it comes out. It’s a fascinating look at how the networks clustered around Survé work, and includes information on the spikes of misinformation coming from his fake writers. The graph of their tweets is flat, and every now and then there are spikes associated with various disinformation campaigns, like the one against Maughan.

We can’t allow ourselves to start shrugging off this sort of evil as just part of our information ecosystem. Violence is contagious, and before we know it, we’ll be accepting attacks on journalists as part of the cost of doing business.

I was disturbed by something I read on the BBC website a few days ago. Commenting on the sentence he’d imposed on a man jailed for 25 years for killing a woman who made a wrong turn into his driveway, the US judge said, “I think it’s important for people to know that it’s not OK to shoot people and have them killed for turning down your driveway”.

Excuse me? There are people who don’t know that? How the hell did that happen? We can’t let that sort of slippage happen in our society, where people like Mandela’s Doctor Iqbal Survé™ and his minions can make a female journalist collateral damage in their fight to evade accountability for their actions. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • L G says:

    This is beyond depressing. Thanks to Maughan, yourself and others for the incredible work you do despite the vile hate

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the brave, dedicated and moral journalists like Karyn and media such as DM, News24 etc and NGOs like Freedom under Law, HS Foundation etc. that continue the dangerous fight to expose wholesale theft and corruption that is bedeviling our country, and also exposing the wicked fraudsters/thieves like the odious Surve and countless others. We are awash with the most vile vermin! They are the thin line separating SA from becoming a criminal and gangster state that is a virtual accomplished fact.

  • Denise Smit says:

    I do not think it is confined to “strong” female journalists. In the media, including DM female commenters are also subtly attacked by men who think their opinion superior to any woman. Look at all the attacks on Helen Zille and Mpo Phalatse. The more SA men say woman are equal and must not be treated violently, the more it is done. The culture of all SA men, of all nationalities in spite of them vehemently denying it

    • A Green says:

      Those were my sentiments exactly, Denise. We aren’t angry enough at all abuses of power, including the everyday male abusing females. Our mindsets need to change before this becomes so normal. I appreciate this article’s main message.

    • Random Comment says:

      By this logic, the investigation into the Speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, is also an attack on a woman. Should those corruption allegations be ignored or dropped because she is a woman?

      What about the abuse of employees and animals at Thandi Modise’s infamous pig farm? Was that reporting sexist or prejudicial due to Modise’s gender? Did the expose constitute an attack on a woman?

      Either we have equal rights between the sexes or we do not. One cannot pick and choose those rights which are beneficial and then bemoan those which are not.

      The reprehensible behaviour set out in this story should be framed as an attack on a journalist, not an attack on a woman (with due respect to the parties involved).

      • drew barrimore says:

        No Denise it’s not the culture of all men of all nationalities – take that fake equivalence somewhere else. Random Comment above it quite right – it’s an attack on a journalist, not a woman.

      • Michael Britton says:

        Whatever you think about the personalities involved in this deliberate and damaging attack on a journalist, and whatever straw-man fallacies you trot out to detract from the real message, what you have to admire is Roper’s scathingly skilled riposte. It is, whatever side you take, a beautifully written piece. This phrase is an excellent example of what I mean. ” … why a real person would write in the style of an AI bought on a remainder sale and trained on the diary of a petulant teenager is a mystery”. The imagery is brilliant and it brings a smile to my lips knowing that the art of Oscar Wilde’s put-downs, and scathing Churchillian jibes, live on in our beautiful and blighted country.

    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      Wait a minute! When you are in a public space your opinions are going to be the subject of scrutiny and people have the right to respond. The issue is how we respond – right?
      However, it does not mean that a man cannot disagree with a woman and nor can it mean that when a man disagrees with a woman this necessarily stems from a basis of perceived superiority. Furthermore, one cannot automatically jump to that conclusion I.e. Helen Zille is being attacked by so-and-so male, because Helen is a woman!
      Nor can we take away Helen’s or Mpho’s agency. In other words, believe that they don’t have the intelligence or strength to ‘fight their corner’.

  • Ismail Lagardien says:

    My deepest fear is that once the EFF come to power, at least Malema will, the Independent Group will be “the standard” of journalism in South Africa.

  • Malcolm Dunkeld says:

    I am looking forward to reading Iqbal Surve’s forthcoming book “How to destroy a great Newspaper Group in one Sleazy Lesson.”

  • D Rod says:

    Nothing new and nothing exclusive to South Africa. Mogul controlled mainstream media is GLOBALLY the highest threat to freedom of speech and freedom of thought.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    I take it that in this case TM stands for Tiny Mind.

  • David C says:

    The ONLY reason I periodically visit an IOL publication is to quickly scan the advertisers so that I know who to explicitly boycott.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    Two years ago I canceled the e-edition of the Cape Times, having been a loyal reader of the newspaper since 1973. Luckily, I found an alternative in DM that largely meets the needs of independent and professional journalism. I agree with Chris Ropers’ analysis almost entirely, but I also have to agree with Random Comment and Grumpy Old Man when they argue that the general attack on free journalism is not the same as the attack on women in certain professions. Is the subtitle “Proliferation of violence against women” perhaps deliberately making a current reference to International Women’s Day? The author points out that he himself was attacked using the same stylistic means as the woman his article is about! If the impression arises that men should not criticize women just because they are men, or that white people are not allowed to criticize people of a different skin color just because they are white, if objectively justified criticism is countered with accusations of sexism or racism, then this only plays into the hands of populism from the right. What about self-critical reflection in the editorial conference?

  • Al Lovejoy says:

    Spot on! Well done and well said Chris.
    The only reason I came looking for this column was because I saw an article by the “Dr.” whining again about DM being all mean and nasty and personal (didn’t bother opening it – tend to avoid narcissist propaganda as a waste of time and brainpower). Lol.
    So, it appears that the sniveling Good Doctor of Fake Hack likes to dish it out but can’t bear a tiny taste of his own vile lefty medicine. Poor sweet snowflake. At least the useless prat has a practical use by pointing discerning readers in the right direction!
    Nice article. The whole world desperately needs more actual journalists like you and Karyn, and no, I agree, it isn’t a competition but it is like that Roger Waters lyric “Each small candle lights a corner of the dark” … keep it up.

  • C S says:

    So sad. I formally complained to IOL about that piece and they have yet to respond. Instead they continue to publish attacking print defending their bias and skewed ideology.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Iqbal Surve is an insult to journalism

  • Peter Holmes says:

    A mogul is (dictionary definition) an important or powerful person, especially in the film or media industry. To describe Iqbal Survé’ as a mogul is laughable.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted