Brown-envelope journalism rife at Independent

Revelations that journalists at the Argus and Cape Times accepted money in exchange for influence have rocked the media over the past week. Being paid cash “in brown envelopes” to write and influence news stories for ­political ends is really just the tip of the iceberg. The international media group has a serious problem with sponsor representation at board-room level and has been caught a number of times with its pants down. Juggling conflicting interests amongst its media, advertising, entertainment and public relations assets has blurred the lines between business and news.

Despite criticism, Independent hold steadfast to the belief in its own virtue and ability of editors to tell fact from fiction. Indeed, as I write this, the Cape Times continues to refuse to correct a news-story about yours truly, a story whose accuracy, dare one say, is not exactly in the realm of rocket science. Time for the Cape Times to fire Karen Breytenbach and come clean about the Robbie Jansen scandal?

The crafty footwork at Independent can been seen everywhere. In researching corruption at INM, I found out that boardroom tycoon Sam Montsi, a wealthy “black diamond” was doubling as a Sasol and Gensec board-member. Where does the man get the energy to balance the conflict between publishing the truth and publishing glowing advertorials which merely promote business opportunities for fellow executives whilst discriminating against ordinary South Africans?

If throwing ethics out of the window was of any concern, then surely nobody will raise an eyebrow when we learn that ex-politico Mac Maharaj (Remember the Transnet scandal) was recently appointed as Deputy Chairmanof the renamed Clear Channel Independent after an international fiasco involving Clear Channel CEO Lowry Mays. Oh the irony.

Mays, a staunch supporter of George W Bush and a Republican financier, is implicated in both the Halliburten and Blackwater scandals that ushered in the global housing bubble and economic problems of the Bush administration. For a period of at least five years Clear Channel Independent was the worlds’ largest influence peddler of outdoor advertising, public relations politics and theatre entertainment complexes, representing popstars such as Madonna and Elton John, sportstars like Beckham and Woods. The list goes on of who influenced who. But why should anybody care? Who really needs to know who determines what is news when the reality is the product called news is no longer what it once was. Online, readers may choose freely from any one of over 100 titles, none of them part of the  Independent stable. Nevertheless offline, the illusion continues. Independent is to print media as Rupurt Murdoch’s News Corp is to television.

The shenanigans of pro-war Clear Channel Independent may really take  the cake, but second prize in the brown-paper-bag category surely goes to Brian Mulroney, he of the ongoing Canadian Oliphant Commission investigation into the affairs of the Independent director. Mulroney, once the former Canadian PM, still heads up the O’Reilly Independent’s “international advisory board”. In addition to receiving a hefty annual payment as a non-executive board member for the group, Mulroney’s exploits have received some scrutiny from rebel shareholder Denis O’Brien, who really couldn’t give a damn if all the Independent titles were sold off to pay mounting debt in a financial crisis that is partly O’Reilly’s own doing.

Mulroney’s crimes may not be as brown as they are made out to be – taking kickbacks whilst in office is really just the beginning. A web of dodgy international deals have been exposed by award-winning investigative news programme Fifth Estate. It is therefore not surprising that Transnet afficionado Mac Maharaj is now in bed with another scandal, and a man who has rather strange relationship with German arms-dealer Karlheinz Schrieber.

So enough of the charade. Independent ceased being a media company years ago. The stories which it publishes on a daily basis bare absolutely no resemblance to the truth. Most are the produce of a vast public relations entity wielding influence and exercising power behind the thrones of world leaders. Is this the face of the new media? Certainly not, you know as well as I do, that South Africa has a vast online presence with hundreds of blogs exactly like this one. Publish the truth. Share this article amongst friends. Don’t believe Independent’s lies

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