COMPLAINT WIKIMANIA CAPE TOWN
While I appreciate the trouble you have taken to respond to me, in particular your acknowledgement of my contributions to the community over the past years, your unsupported assertions are both unwarranted and unsubstantiated. I therefore respond to your email received on 10 August 2018, in point form.
1. The first I became aware of the aforementioned ‘Decolonising the Internet’ co-located Event (“”Event”) was when I viewed the conference programme several days before the main conference on 17 July 2018. It is clear from the main programme that the keynote delivered by Dr Jacbs was not merely co-located but also linked to the pre-conference topic.
2. While the attached WhoseKnowledge website page has a blue box at the bottom of the page, showing that the event was “an invite-only conference”, this was after some 1000 words, describing ‘the first ever conference about centering marginalized knowledge online” claiming “to build more awareness, allies, and joint action plans” while convening “marginalized community organizers, technologists, scholars, artists, and Wikimedians” and also apparently creating “newly created alliances and networks, [working] together towards more diversity and inclusion in the experience of internet design, architecture, content, and governance” and further proclaiming: “We intend to dramatically change the way the internet represents the majority of the world.”
3. It thus seems a bit odd that this statement should be followed by an exclusivity arrangement whereby the event was held in Cape Town, with absolutely no attempt by the organisers to engage with local Wikimedians. I therefore did not receive the barest forewarning that the event was to occur in the run-up to Wikimania CT. It is also not immediately apparent from the statement as to exactly how the ‘colocated conference’ aimed to be inclusive. Nevertheless I blogged about it on Medialternatives.com, emailed a request for admission to the organisers, which included tweeting this request to some of the speakers, (one of whom acknowledged my tweet) and then requested admission from the organiser in person.
4. As an anti-apartheid activist, and veteran of the struggle for freedom and democracy, I wholly concur with the principle of ‘nothing about us, without us” and reject any inferences which may be drawn in regard to SC support for the matter, of the closed door event. The organisers should know better than to host an event in South Africa, a country with a specific and painful history and where principles of openness and transparency are paramount, and then to embark upon a course of action leading into the main event (“Main Event”) that is at odds with the values suggested by the founding statement. This smacks of wanting to manipulate the opportunity, in other words, proclaiming ‘inclusivity of marginalised persons’ at an event held in South Africa, but when confronted with the reality, the tragic legacy of apartheid and separate development, looking the other way to exclusivity.
5. That I met with the organiser of the ‘Decolonising’ event without incident is now common cause, and notwithstanding the allegations contained in the earlier James Alexander email, which you have also acknowledged in writing, is a troubling case of mistaken identity. What is disputed is the manner and circumstances of the refusal of admission, (I have yet to receive a satisfactory reason aside from “it was closed” ) and thus reject the further reason given by another SC member, that it was because apparently ‘I was not indigenous’, as many non-indigenes attended. For the record, I am legally black and accepted as a Khoisan by the Khoisan National Assembly.
6. With regards to preparation of the main conference programme. My User Talk Page reflects three notices in this regard. A 9 May 2018 ‘Wikimania scholarship application for SA and SADC” (for which I was grateful), the second a 20 May 2018 Wikipedia Capacity Building Workshop ‘hosting Asaf Bartov from the Wikimedia Foundation for 5 days where he will be conducting a series of Capacity Building Workshops in Johannesburg and Cape Town” and a 20 June 2018 ‘Application for WikiIndaba Steering Committee Open.’
7. To say the one ‘capacity building’ event ‘Wiki Loves Monuments’ which I attended in 2012 was inadequate for the purpose, or that its sequel this year, barely two months before Wikimania CT, and six years later, was a case of ‘too little too late’, is putting it mildy. I would have thought that a National Wikimania, rather than one or two local events would have been a strict requirement before hosting a conference of this size, magnitude, scope and importance.
8. The result is more than simply a lost opportunity. It is a massive embarrassment for the local community, if not those who arrived on our shores. To expect me to have to remind the National Steering Committee that the tragedy of apartheid, an ongoing and prescient saga whose effects are far from over, is the single most important topic defining us as South Africans is beneath contempt and must be rejected as unreasonable, given the circumstances.
9. Nevertheless I appreciate the time, energy and effort spent on finally hosting Wikimania. Had it not been for my work-load, I might have made myself available for the single round of capacity building this year, and would have certainly volunteered for the SC. However giving us all 5 days forewarning for the capacity building workshop, and then two days notice of the SC election, is surely beneath the pale of reasonableness and scheduling?
10. Providing local Wikipedians very little in the way of support and an effective zero notice for topic submissions is however, what I do find to be risible. Claiming that ‘banner ads were placed’, and/or conveyed via the mailing list, is simply not good enough, and raises the question, what is the use of posting notices on our User Talk Page? And further, why no local marketing campaign via radio and print media? Why no outreach to schools etc?
11. With regard to the allegations that I have in any way abused the ‘safe space policy’ by photographing and/or videoing guests and attendees outside the venue AT A CO-LOCATED EVENT without their permission, or that it was necessary for me to register as a journalist and to gain permission in order to accomplish same, I once again refute the allegations and point you to our Bill of Rights, enshrining press freedom.
12. Further, in regard to the allegation of intimidation, I intend to provide you with my short video documentary, available in due course, (and pending final rendering) where you will find quite the opposite, and assert, that yes I too felt uncomfortable and intimidated, at being on the outside of the event, given the importance of the issues at hand, and no, I refuse to apologise for this making anyone else feel uncomfortable.
13. I hereby reserve all my rights to continue raising these and other important issues affecting both Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation in public and as needs be.
David Robert Lewis
021 788 3119
082 425 1454
I am writing in reply to the email (and attached letter) you sent the legal department at the Wikimedia Foundation on the 6 August 2018 (and copying me in on) in my capacity as the organising chairperson of Wikimania 2018.
It is with great regret that I learnt of your removal from Wikimania 2018 in Cape Town. You have been an editor on Wikipedia for many years now and have attended Wikimedia ZA events in the past which is why Wikimedia ZA granted you a complementary ticket to attend Wikimania 2018. The the best of my knowledge you are correct that you did not attend WikiIndaba in Tunisia; James was mistakenly referring to another individual based upon incorrect information given to him.
A few points on how Wikimania is run. Hosting a Wikimania is a group effort between the local organising team (of which I am a member), the Wikimedia Foundation host team (who assist in many of the more practical aspects of hosting Wikimania), and the Wikimedia community broadly (who host the individual events, workshops and presentations that make up the conference).
Community derived events which makes up the vast majority of events at Wikimania were hosted by community members who applied to host them or present. Their applications were passed by the program committee. The program committee is made up of a group of volunteer Wikipedia community members whose responsibility it is to select presentations that will be hosted during the main conference. Public announcements (advertised both through mailing lists and banner adds on Wikipedia) were made over the course of a month this year during which any community member could apply to give a presentation or host an event during the main conference.
The program committee sought to select events based on their fit to the theme of bridging knowledge gaps. You refer to the absence of any event dealing ‘apartheid memory’. If someone had made an application to host an event or presentation talking about that then the program committee would have seriously considered accepting such a presentation. However to the best of my knowledge no one made any such applications. Therefore there were no discussions on that subject. In the future I would suggest applying to give such a presentation if you hope to see one happening. Be bold (but not abrasive).
Some events were large full day or multiple day events. Such events could only be hosted during the pre-conference due to logistical reasons. The Decolonising the Internet event was one such event.
WHEN the Independent Group was taken over by a consortium lead by Dr Iqbal Surve, 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 group 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 waved 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 favourite 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 Surve, 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 Surve 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.
REVELATIONS that South Africa’s media were the targets of a dirty tricks operation at the behest of the apartheid government, named Operation Romulus, and that the victim was the late Winnie Mandela, were bound to cause a sensation. More so in the aftermath of her death. Embedded journalism is highly problematic. The least of which is the impact, it has had on several titles that may be implicated.
The untested claims attributed to Stratcom agent, Vic McPherson are all contained in the documentary on Winnie by Pascal Le Marche. The Citizen however, was forced to remove an article entitled “Stratcom Reporters at the Weekly Mail”, issuing an apology to then editor, Anton Harber, as did the Huffington Post.
Readers may remember the circumstances in which the apartheid government bought and paid for the Citizen in what became known as the Information Scandal, and the manner in which both South Press and Medialternatives itself were banned, the latter by none other than Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee, after yours truly exposed the problem of apartheid embedded journalism at the Independent Group (formerly Argus Group).
“We failed to seek out comment from Harber, Gqubule and Mathiane before publishing untested allegations. We are deeply sorry and apologise without reservation” wrote Huffpost editor-in-chief Pieter du Toit. A title, which is also the subject of some controversy surrounding its inclusion in the Naspers stable. An apartheid corporation, responsible for Stratcom and whose newsrooms until recently carried portraits of editors such as D F Malan and HF Verwoerd.
Thus it came as no surprise that Weekly Mail, along with its former racist bedmates, was now being implicated. After a sterling run as the bastion of progressive politics, the successor to the Weekly Mail, threw its lot in with 24.com, while the online version of the newspaper under Chris Roper, became the proving ground for former apartheid spies and journos.
Winnie Mandela repeats many of the claims in a recent interview conducted before her death. The result ended up in a takedown of posts at two media houses, both themselves implicated in the apartheid regime. The original Citizen article is only available as a cached page on google.
It may seem a little too convenient then, that Politicsweb, responsible for banning Medialternatives on Black Wednesday, rose to the defense of Harber, apparently quoting a 1995 Weekly Mail expose of Stratcom and thus the words of one Paul Erasmus
The article pictured to the left, by
embedded investigative journalist Stefaans Brummer, fails to examine the implications of a stratcom operation aimed at the Weekly Mail newsroom, and its NIA successors under the new regime.
Was Harber in fact also the target as many newsrooms were during the struggle? The full extent of Operation Romulus is only now becoming public record.
A fuller investigation into the many skeletons housed and embedded within South Africa’s press and their shortcomings during apartheid, is most certainly warranted. Declassifying documents may be the first step according to Open Secrets’ Hennie van Vuuren.
Watch eNCA below reflect on the media during this period.
LAST week the Competition Commission announced that it was investigating 28 media companies, including Media24 for collusion on advertising pricing, and that Caxton and Independent Media had already pleaded guilty and/or had paid fines. The investigation avoids the troubling impact of cartel behaviour already demonstrated and reported here and here.
While some may accuse the CompCom of casting its net too wide, it is most certainly picking low-lying fruit and scratching the surface. One can only hope that its next port of call is to investigate the over-concentration and cross-ownership which is stifling journalists and readers alike.
Cartels and monopolies are not simply bad for business and competition but create the situation where news itself is overly centralised and where public opinion is subject to newsroom censorship. The result is bad for democracy and the outcome, the manufacture and manipulation of public opinion, unacceptable in a constitutional state.
A YOUTUBE video posted by Adam Spires, substantiates claims that millions of gallons of drinking water are being allowed to escape, flowing downstream from a major dam, apparently to save farmers. Posted earlier this month, the video shows the sluice gates are open at a dam site outside of Cape Town, posing the question why is this happening? With Zero Day approaching, and the water crisis beginning to impact upon households, why are wealthy farmers in the country’s wine estates benefitting? Is this another case of the Stellenbosch Mafia coming first while ordinary citizens’ needs are sacrificed? Why are local media houses publishing incorrect information on water shortages?
KOOS BEKKER is a very rich South African. He effectively controls a massive portion of South African news and media. In many ways, he can be considered the Rupert Murdoch of Africa. He has a net worth of roughly $1.6 billion and is the chairman of Naspers, which controls or owns outlets such as the South African Huffington Post.
Rupert Murdoch is an apt comparison; he’s not the only billionaire who has a huge stake in journalism. The owners also aren’t exclusively in news media, and to many, their news outlets are a side project, a way to project power or simply something to have (like a car or an extra mansion).
Naspers and Ties to Censorship
Corporations and the extremely wealthy, as a general rule, do not care much about censorship. In fact, the only thing most of them will oppose is a lack of profits. For example, Naspers was complicit in the apartheid regime, and the Afrikaans press was used to keep the oppressive regime in place. They’ve apologized for their actions, but this only occurred far after apartheid turned out to be the losing side. In other words: when it was profitable and politically expedient to do so.
Naspers, having many interests that get in the way of the truth and holding ties to many companies and countries that can prove to be a competing influence (as opposed to the public good), is the perfect example of this.
To go into more detail, Naspers owns Media24, a media group that states it’s interested in freedom of the press and other media freedoms. Yet that comes into conflict with the fact that Naspers’ largest stake is in Tencent, a Chinese tech and social media company who enforces social media censorship by the Chinese government.
This raises a major concern: Do Naspers’ Chinese ties and Koos Becker’s business interests compromise the integrity of South African news? It would be easy for such a company to keep a few unfavorable stories quiet.
Even just fifty years ago it would be considered possible for a new startup, with some capital and resolve, to break into the news and media business and hope to succeed.
Now, given the equipment that is needed and the poor returns in general of the newspaper business (or the entire news industry), along with the fast-paced nature of online news, journalism is a rich man’s game, and that isn’t a good thing. In America, for example, 90 percent of their media is controlled by six companies. South Africa’s situation is hardly different.
These barriers to entry remove variety from the press, eliminating competition and lowering the standards of news for people. People will either get compromised or poorly-formed journalism or nothing at all. Unfortunately, there are few examples showing there’s a better way.
Voices Get Silenced
If the press isn’t free from corporate interests, it’s hardly different from government control. It’s merely serving a different entity with different priorities. Larger entities tied to power won’t report on threats to that power to avoid giving them their justified attention and public interest. When was the last time you heard about the Shack Dweller’s movement and their protests on a major station?
Individual voices and good journalists also get regularly silenced when they try to make the difference. Desmond Cole and the Toronto Star is merely one example of this outside of South Africa. Others accuse the media, including News24, of not showing good news whatsoever and inciting violence amongst the people.
People Fighting Back
The situation looks grim, but people can and will fight back against the oligarchic control of information perfectly encapsulated by Naspers’ actions. Billionaires, try as they might, do not have control of reality.
Citizen journalism has become a trend with the advent of social media and information technology. A video at a scene cannot be so easily denied as false, and a trending topic or a viral post cannot be so easily ignored by the media elites if they want to keep credibility with the public. While it’s not perfect and certainly does not meet the standards of independent professionals, its mere existence is a threat to corporate control and a step forward.
Other people continue to expose the truth while hiding from the limelight (and the wrath of those companies). People will cover their tracks and use tools such as online proxies to stay anonymous as they bring us the truth about conglomerates, from inside or without. Without people like this willing to fight back, there’s no telling what the state of the news media would be today.
This problem will not go away on its own, and it will likely get worse before it gets better. People need to know what is happening and how the billionaires are controlling them to feel the anger to fight back. There are more protagonists out there besides Naspers, and even if one person is taken out of the news arena, more will appear, blocking genuine change in the way things are done or avoiding a viable alternative. There is a chance to change the flow of information, and South Africans can’t afford to miss out.
Do you happen to know anything else about Naspers or have a story you would like to share? Are you concerned about the growing consolidations of private media and the news? What else do you think they’re hiding? Please leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts.