WHEN the Independent Group was taken over by a consortium lead by Dr Iqbal Survé, there were some like me, who hoped for a fresh start. The group quickly ran into criticism, the least of which is the highly publicized debacle surrounding the firing of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois.
After a settlement was extricated at Labour Court, the group once again ran into trouble with Dasnois accusing the company of being in breach of the settlement and so Independent was sanctioned by the Press Council, which ordered the group to apologise for a number of misleading headlines.
No sooner had the ruling by the Press Council been issued, when Independent announced it was withdrawing from the council, and a structure which had arrived out of decades of frenetic negotiation around a government-sanctioned self-regulatory mechanism. The reasons for the withdrawal were attacked for ‘not making logical sense‘.
“In ditching the Press Council, Independent Media listed as its main complaint the Press Council’s reluctance to reintroduce the highly contentious waiver as its reason for ditching the Press Council” wrote Julie Reid.
Previously, complainants waived legal action in order to bring their complaints under the auspices of the council, however the very reason the council had been set up was threefold. Firstly to avoid government regulation and intervention in the press. Secondly, to provide the public with a cost effective and impartial forum for making complaints and thirdly, to provide a Press Code that was not simply written by one organisation.
In its stead, Independent reverted to an internal Ombudsman system which had been in place during the years of the former Argus Group, and a state of affairs for which the Argus had already apologised during the TRC media hearings. In the process Independent dumped the Press Code, and formulated its own narrow view of the press, which appears to by nothing less than gabbering sycophancy so far as government is concerned.
In this sense, not only was the industry seemingly ‘regulating itself’, but the company was now distancing its titles from the legal system as well as the press council framework, in effect picking its own favorite regulator, a friendly Muslim, whilst playing a dual role of both editorial and inhouse complaints resolution. Thus setting in motion a situation where Dr Iqbal Survé, and his male-dominated and sectarian newsrooms, possessed an administrative override on any complaints made to his news organisation. While women still figure in writing and reporting, they are remarkably absent when it comes to editorship within the group and where they do affect editorial, they invariably occupy a symbolic role.
Of concern, is that there is currently no means of enforcing the Press Code when it comes to the Independent Group, and with our legal system being rather expensive and out of reach of the ordinary public, the result has been positively stifling.
Gone was any effort to balance news stories affecting a range of controversial subjects around the world, in particular the USA and Middle East.
Gone was divergence of opinion on the opinion pages.
Gone was the plethora of letters debating, disagreeing, and calling editors and writers to task.
In their place were editorial love letters, and weekly ravings by self-styled news correspondents such as “foreign editor” Shannon Ebrahim and “analyst” Ebrahim Harvey, two obviously Muslim persons, followed by lengthy and often turgid materialist and industrialist views of South Africa and the World. A world viewed via the narrow Islamic prism of the likes of Aneez Salie and Aziz Hartley.
A former shipping columnist Brian Ingpen for instance, is now a regular opinion piece in the Cape Times op-ed pages, providing the dull rigmerol of shipping information flowing into the gutters, alongside dense and impenetrable press releases, like that issued by DIRCO yesterday presumably testifying to the joys of a BRICS summit to be held in Joburg and thus available to buyers of the now 10 page rag, in 10 point type.
Independent titles in recent months have come to resemble government tearsheets, with short thrift given to concerns about whose opinion in the broader community should receive priority over the daily thrust of a hopelessly compromised news agency ANA, and equally boring headlines, with the one exception, that it appears INM have now launched a sports magazine, if only to allay fears that the group is going under.
Suppression of views with which one disagrees are the hallmark of authoritarian regimes. As a well-known commentator puts it, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Having a daily press the size of Independent producing government propaganda and fan-mail for the Survé Group, whilst censoring opinion, can only have the opposite effect to liberal democracy. There is a reason why Pravda is now a fashion label and a single newspaper in Russia, and is no longer the state news agency for the Soviet Union.