Supersized Media – probing the Independent Group’s fixation with size, Part Three

(from[updated to include critique of development in south africa]

Big is well, Bigger –Independent’s Empire – The Sheer Magnanimity of it all.

IN THE climate of a negotiated settlement, and under the benevolent regime of Mandela’s presidency, there were few words in opposition to Tony O’Reilly’s new Independent Media stable. In fact landmark transformation occurred in the company with the hiring of black editors like Moegsien Williams and Ryland Fischer. With the creation of a new petty bourgeoisie, it seemed as if institutions like the Cape Times would continue to apply a progressive veneer to the news, despite being dominated by white liberals, and notwithstanding a history of firing editors for their views.

In fact, the terrible brewhaugh surrounding the sacking of editor Anthony Heard by the Cape Times board under sustained pressure from the Botha-government on the one hand, and the Argus Group on the other, was quietly forgotten. It seemed in the hazy twilight of transformation, as if anything could happen. Gerald Shaw records in his oblique way, the machinations of a lily-white, totally-male Cape Times board acquiessing to pressure from SAAN and overseeing the wholesale transfer of assets and local interests in favour of a new supersized, global entity under the iron fist of Tony O’Reilly.

As far as liberalism was concerned, people felt empowered. Things appeared to get better. Yet the Anglo-American stake in Media South Africa Inc. was being cynically protected while jews and people-of-colour were relegated. How much of this “transformation” was simply window dressing? Local media theorists Keyan and Ruth Tomaselli pose some interesting questions with regard to the role of the media as “gatekeepers of truth” — in a well-known critique of the way in which a highly selective process evolves into the dominant world-view.

As long as editors kept quiet and accepted their subservient role to the interests of British Capital, the charade of free speech, black empowerment and liberal politicking continued. However, those who transgressed the boundaries separating liberal ideology from reality, anglo-saxon philosophy from objective fact, were simply dealt with. Ryland Fischer was deposed, Moegsien Williams, relegated to Johannesburg and underlings like Sandile Dikeni and Gael Reagan, disciplined and browbeaten into oblivion.

In the Tomaselli’s critical notion, mass media appears to include a “consensual discourse” yet they also refer to “discursive sanctions” in which journalists are forced to work within an “ideological framework” that assumes a form of retribution for violations or variances in opinion.

“Policy [at the Cape Times] is learnt through osmosis, a tacit process of, ‘learning the ropes’,” the Tomaselli’s maintain. The subtlety of this osmotic void becomes ever more bizarre as one poses such critical problems. In fact, simply questioning the status quo or seriously tackling the conditions in which South Africans of all persuasions find themselves continues to be seen as threatening and unacceptable to the new guardians of moral authority, and the experience of the Cape Times is indicative of the way transformation can simply turn into a neat sidestep away from progress.

South Africa’s blue-chip morning newspaper, The Cape Times transformed then, from a progressive establishment voice into a supplement to the national daily Business Report and to this day still lacks a viable entertainment section.

[Parts One and Two have already been published on]

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