By Ayanda Mdluli
The media is under threat – from tightened purse strings, shrinking newsrooms and reduced magazine pages to the ever-declining readership as jaded audiences switch to news streams they trust (like social media), or simply switch off.
In effect, the media itself is a threat to its future. This is borne out on the pages and on the screens of publishers across the world, with South Africa having had its fair share of “narrative fixing”. The use of media to shape particular narratives to achieve desired outcomes is an age-old profession, and it looks like it will remain a well-subscribed one for years to come. This was evidenced, yet again, by the sterling piece of propaganda that landed in my inbox (forwarded by a colleague) yesterday morning.
Propaganda, for those who need reminding, is a persuasive technique largely using media channels to convey information that provokes an emotional response in the reader, and which then achieves a particular outcome or agenda. The art of persuasion.
Shout loudly enough from the ramparts and tell a lie enough times, and it starts to sound like the truth. History has enough examples for us to be have learned from, but because life gets busy and time moves on, we soften and forget what happened until, bang, it appears right before our eyes again.
While I have written several pieces this year about the tactics of some of my colleagues in the media, sometimes all it takes is a small event to truly bring things into focus. That was yesterday’s Daily Maverick article, courtesy of the sting in the tail Scorpio division, about the e-Learning contract in the Eastern Cape that will give students the ability to actually learn something.
Instead of focusing on the dire plight of education across this country and looking into what this contract will actually mean to the people of the Eastern Cape, the author (Pieter-Louis Myburgh) chose to head his so-called “investigative, public-service journalism” piece with a title designed only to capture eyeballs in the digital realm.
Use Iqbal Survé’s name enough times in headlines and opening paragraphs for search engines to pick up on, and any publisher would reap the benefit of additional eyeballs. Because, let’s face it, this is exactly what is going on here, along with a clearly orchestrated battle campaign to annihilate the doctor and his businesses and all their employees by casting enough doubt out there to persuade people of a different “truth”.
Yes, I know I work for Dr Survé. I also know I have been allocated the co-cheerleader role along with Business Report’s editor. However, I want it known that while I respect Dr Survé and the titles I work for, I am my own man. I am free to think and write what I want, and these are my thoughts and no one else’s. Have we got that clear everyone?
The aforementioned article tried very hard to, yet again, cast aspersions on businesses linked to the Sekunjalo Group. Having exhausted (for now) direct attacks on AYO Technologies, which in 2019 saw that group lose a contract that endangered several hundred employees due only to reputational damage caused by agenda-driven media houses and nothing to do with the actual service delivery, the Daily Maverick has turned its attention to specific companies within the group.
The “story” published yesterday had zero substance, was largely circumstantial and suppositional with much of Scorpio’s conjecture refuted even by the parties it interviewed and who were quoted in the article.
The awarding of the contract was legitimate and will serve to truly help people. Twitter woke up to this fact too, questioning the point of this so-called investigative piece.
Whilst we are competitors in business, this type of journalism that masquerades as the truth and being for the good of the country is dangerous for the profession as a whole.
As I opened with, all media is under threat. We all require revenue to drive our publishing houses to pay us. We all need audiences to read what we have to say. But never has it been more important for us as media to put aside our differences and unite in a common goal to ensure that we have a profession to come back to after lockdown, a profession that others can look up to, depend on and trust.
Public service journalism as espoused by the Daily Maverick and displayed in the article to which I refer here, is less about the real people of this country than it is about their own agenda to take on Independent Media by taking out its head.
Articles that have little to no substance and that rely on the parent brand’s market positioning line to lift them into veracity, are the very types of “journalism” that continue to drive audiences away.
It’s time for a new era in journalism. Covid-19 and the subsequent global economic meltdown has taught me that people are less interested in the sting in the tail than they are about balancing life and the scales of justice. That is where we should all be weighing in on the truth going forward.