Category: Media Activism

Clash of Media Titans

One wonders why the Mail & Guardian’s Chris Roper felt the need to save the skin of his own “reporters”, that of one Craig McKune, by repeating a journalistic fabrication?

In a piece of rhetoric without any substance, Roper repeats McKune’s allegation that Dr Iqbel Surve, the new head of Independent Media South Africa  “accused the M&G of being funded by the CIA”.

Both Roper and McKune should know the difference between an allegation and a question mark, but then, since they are not exactly journalism school graduates, they may have missed courses on syntax and spelling.

In a rather candid interview, Surve called the shots, referring to McKune’s work, as absolute BS and challenging the media house to come clean about its ownership structure, which it subsequently did.

That an editor would take offense so easily speaks miles about the conceit of white South African journalists who believe they have the right to attack their opponents who do not have an equal right to a defense.

While I agree with the sentiment regarding the use of the problematic W. A. R word, (whose phoney war is this?) I most certainly do not accept either of journalism’s mother grundies, Roper nor McKune and their campaign against the use of colourful language, such as that used by Surve.

Sorry Chris, we have not entered the era of the rogue media owner, rather, thanks to social media, we just left it.

The Obama Contradiction

SPEAKING in front of the U.N. general assembly, 26 September 2012, U.S President Barack Obama called on world leaders to confront the forces of intolerance and extremism within their own countries and permit more freedom at home. The blatant deception in these remarks is so startling that when I heard it on the radio in my car; I had to dig out my sunglasses to avoid causing an accident.

Over the past two weeks U.S. embassies, predominantly in the Arab world, have been bombed or attacked in a somewhat knee-jerk reaction to the airing of a U.S. produced anti-Islamic film. Obama’s statement is a clear condemnation of the acts committed by terrorists who often obliterate the lives of the innocent in religious defiance of anything that is seen as a threat or menace to the Islamic world.

Condemnation rightfully so, yet there is something quite contradictory in the utterances by the leader of the “free world.” As the saying goes “all’s fair in love and war,” yet little over the better part of a decade has been fair in this much loved game of war.

Terrorism, especially in its 21st century U.S portrayal, takes the shape of fundamental extremism. As Communism ground to a halt, the American economy required a new source of capital flow. War, real or perceived, is vital for its economy to stay afloat.

Exceptional examples of American prosperity under war are littered throughout the annuals of time; none more so than U.S. involvement in the second world war. However, events that took place during the presidency of Ronald Reagan set the wheels in motion for the political trend that is evident today. During his tenure in office, Latin American countries became the new “promised land” for a large number of American based transnational companies. Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador at one point or another fell prey to the neoliberal doctrine practised so vociferously in the best interests of American prosperity. In the name of democracy, global peace and poverty alleviation the U.S. unleashed a terror similar to that of the Spanish conquistadors. Instead of blankets covered in smallpox, they received democracy in return for exploitation. So called evil empires, run by dictators that did not have the best interests of its nations population at heart needed to be removed.

When, in 2003, George W. Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, the intentions were not so clear. The logic behind the story goes, dislodge a disingenuous, tyrannical and populist movement and liberate the masses under the sacred banner of democracy. The actual intentions were three fold. One: money follows blood. The longer and more violent a war, the more arms manufacturers stand to benefit as does the economy. Two: oil. With vast, oil rich resources, anyone with the ability to manipulate Iraq’s oil supply – especially in an era when non renewable energy resources are on the decline – essentially develops or reaffirms global hegemony. Third and finally: an enlarged Middle Eastern sphere of influence. With Israel as it’s only ally in the region the U.S. has managed to distance Iranian influence from an increasingly nuclear Pakistan by strategically placing itself in Iraq. It also shields Israel from threatening, but often not unprovoked hostilities from Iran.

When Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th American president back in 2008, he did so off the back of an election campaign promising change. His perestroika of change went along the lines of promising to forbid companies in bankruptcy from giving executives bonuses, to enact windfall profits tax for oil companies, and, in consultation with the Iraqi government, to end the war safely and responsibly within 16 months of taking office, among a multitude of other promises. None of these so called promises of change have been enacted. In fact, since taking office, Obama picked up the baton where his republican predecessor George W. Bush left off. To quote from his address to the U.N, it makes sense that he has spent more money on the war in Iraq than Bush.

“Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained, it would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the stability of the global economy.”

When the U.S. invades nations under the guise of liberators, it is akin to the kind of atrocities committed by extremist Islamic sects, only the implications of such acts are more clandestine in nature. The 9/11 attacks claimed the lives of nearly 3000 people. The war in Iraq has claimed the lives of some 114 732 people, with this number still rising.

“People need to confront the forces of intolerance and extremism within their own countries and permit more freedom at home.”

If the U.S. was serious about this claim, it would be more tolerant of nations that do not, by general consensus, wish to live under U.S. imposed democracy. Some nations do not want to adopt free-market economic principles. These are not wrong choices, yet they differ from those that are championed by the “liberators” of the world and must therefore be tyrannical, despotic and deplorable.

For real change, change that the world can believe in, Obama should – by way of introspection, take his message to heart. As dangerous as a person with C4 explosives strapped to their body may be, so too is a nation famous for its veiled neo-colonial ambitions. Terrorism by another name is still as dangerous. Come willingly or there will be hell to pay!

Warren Gwilt is an independent political analyst and social activist based in Johannesburg. He has a BA Journalism degree from the University of Johannesburg.

South Africa’s media freedom under scrutiny

TWO issues impacting on the constitutional guarantee of press freedom have emerged over the past weeks. The first relates to the ability of the media to report about and to access information held by the state, and the second involves the right of the public to demand fairness and accuracy in reporting, and when such conflicts emerge, to have a redress of grievances. While reporting about the proposed Protection of Information Bill has been on the whole good, and Medialternatives supports the stance taken by SANEF — the act severely limits press freedom and should be opposed — the shake-up of the Press Ombudsman framework by a draconian “media tribunal” in which ordinary citizens as well as government departments may ostensibly seek redress of grievances, has failed to establish the role of the public sphere in the mediation of a “marketplace of ideas”.

It does not help the debate to see two sectors pitted against each other. On the one hand government bureaucrats who wish to see the press in some form of subservient role instead of a vibrant and independent “fourth estate” while claiming they have the best interests of the public at heart. On the other hand, the press barons who similarly wish to see press freedom as freedom only for those who own the presses.

The debate about information access and the ill-considered media tribunal comes at a time when the mainstream press is increasingly irrelevant to the new social discourse which has emerged as a result of the Internet.

In today’s interconnected world, the idea of the fourth estate may seem a little antiquated. For starters, we no longer rely on print media for information. Electronic media has surpassed print media in ways that could never have been predicted. Not only do we have a multitude of radio and television channels, but the written word has been liberated by social networking sites, blogging platforms, and a plethora of new ways of exchanging media.

It would seem trite then that our government has only now woken up to the fact that yes, there have been abuses committed in the name of press freedom, while seemingly championing a cause which will essentially restrict what may or may not be reported about? Surely a reactionary and Orwellian move which ignores the newly empowered public sphere, while quixotically introducing restrictive measures such as an apartheid-era “media tribunal” to regulate the press, which no longer exists in the way it once did?.

Since we no longer operate in an environment in which the fourth estate exists as an entirely separate entity to the public sphere, (the analogy taken from revolutionary France really no longer applies in an online world, since we are the media) we need to ask questions such as — how will this regulatory witch-hunt effect online media? What precedents will be set and will they be good or bad ones? Can we escape the manufacture of consent, creation of propaganda, and dictates of large media cartels at the same time that we move towards an open society?

Will closing ranks around a few bills that essentially limit constitutional guarantees, result in regressive legislation? And how can we best create a more tolerant, open society, that essentially regulates itself by guaranteeing basic freedoms? In fact is there even a need for a media tribunal in the first place when we have a legal system? Wouldn’t any tribunal merely reproduce the problems in the legal system and shouldn’t government be doing more to provide access to justice and civil liberties instead of tinkering with a new, untested animal which may have all sorts of negative social impacts?

These are the questions which Medialternatives wishes to pose in the coming months as the debate about South African press freedom and government regulation heats up.

NOTE: Read Prof John Higgins’ excellent piece on Censorship and Karl Marx published by Business Day.

SA media corruption under the spotlight

THE Ashley Smith saga is just the tip of the iceberg. What with an Independent News Media director being rapped over the knuckles by the Canadian legislature for bribery and corruption  (should former politicians be allowed to own a stake in the media?) and former apartheid cronies acting with impunity despite being on the payroll of the past government and the Naspers Group, one would think television news media would be having a field day. Unfortunately this story does not appear to be getting much coverage despite the consequences.

Government hawks and spooks smell blood and are moving in to restrain South Africa’s corrupt print media. Let’s face it, if we can’t trust Newspaper Hse to look after its own, then who can we trust? Well, how about the increasingly vociferous and loud fourth media? Yes, that ‘s right, us bloggers. The Internet is the reason why any of this information is getting exposed in the first place. Government should therefore be thanking us for a job well done. As for the proposed launch of an ANC daily, I smell another Information Scandal. If you were old enough to remember the era when B J Vorster tried to buy the Washington Star then you probably also remember Muldergate and the battle to free the press from government subservience. South Africa needs a broader more inclusive media, not self-serving bureaucrats posing as journalists.

ANC using Rasool issue to ‘justify media tribunal’

ANTON HARBER: It’s up to the ANC and the media to stop the rot

Editors demand zero tolerance on corruption among SA journalists

Media ‘resents’ SA’s successes

Amagama closes chapter in blogging infamy

THE South African blogging platform which stripped the Creative Commons license from its users material and rebranded itself without bothering to consult or engage on the issue of copyright, has finally closed. The Mail and Guardian announced the closure of their blogging platform Amagama in a letter posted to remaining online users yesterday. This comes after a three year storm over the launch of the platform in which work published under the Creative Commons was hijacked from users accounts at the M&G Blogmark and moved without consultation.

Admittedly Amagama/Blogmark made history. In exchange for a free account (and ample writing space), users parted with their creativity, prose, opinion and banter. The M&G Blogmark had attracted some of South Africa’s liveliest and fresh online writing talent and even the likes of seasoned comedian and playwrite Ian Fraser. Unfortunately what had first appeared to be a welcoming, homespun and open space, where one could express ones deeper fears and anxieties, safe from editorial censorship, quickly turned nasty. M&G staff, unable to resist, began to interfere in the blogging process.

Ian Fraser was kicked off the platform for making weird comments about the President. A book review of A Secret Burden, which I had written to demonstrate the problem of embedded journalism during the Border War was deleted without my permission and access to the rest of my material was suddenly blocked without notice

I complained to M&G editor Ferial Hafagee and there was an exchange of emails on the subject. It eventually came down to my characterisation of a military journalist who cannot be named, as a spy working for people who cannot be mentioned. Hafagee refused to concede that this person was South Africa’s first official embedded journalist and that the review had any merit. The seized material was not returned and is still in the M&G possession.

Then without any warning, the M&G blogmark rebranded itself and moved over to the new Amagama platform causing a flurry of debate and users to leave in droves. The rest of my work, still under lock and key, was simply repackaged and press-ganged into service without any consultation, no compensation or recognition of the Creative Commons license scheme under which the original work had been released, and so a new regime came into force.

Henceforth, the M&G would act like our online masters. Alienating a creative work from its original license is probably the greatest sin one can commit in today’s electronic age. Nevertheless handshakes were given all round, deals with Media24 were signed. Spin-doctors began congratulating themselves. All work posted online would now be exclusively under South Africa’s Copyright Act, a real chestnut of a law which still gives publishers exclusive use over any material submitted for publication.

After some six months in which I was effectively banned, I yet again requested the material to be returned. Vince Maher, the brains behind the Amagama launch made a number of promises. None of which were kept. I stood by and watched as my material ratcheted up clicks which were aggregated by the site and sold to its advertisers. We had all been nothing more than Guinea Pigs for an experiment in corporate capitalism. With still no sign of any resolution to the dispute I got legal opinion from an attorney at Mallenicks. It came down to “my rights under the Creative Commons vs their rights under the Terms and Conditions,” which as it turned out, like so many EULAs, could be changed and reinterpreted at any time.

Still feeling aggrieved by the lack of respect shown towards the subject matter, I consulted with a number of the key minds in electronic activism around the world, including Gwen Hinze of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Eventually my course was decided after I wrote to Joichi Ito of Creative Commons explaining my situation. Ito had been a long-time associate with a diverse range of net-heads whom I had grown to love and know through my association with the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL) in San Francisco.*

The most cost-effective remedy for enforcement of the Creative Commons in South Africa, short of sending ninjas and spambots, appeared to be simply to issue a take-down notice, which could be made by filling in the correct forms and issuing a request via ISPA. The result was the ceremonious take-down of my own material. After having had my book review seized and presumably deleted, then being banned and having my remaining work hijacked for some 12-months, I was now compelling management to delete all the remaining material (which had been initially blocked) in a very public manner. Despite the negative publicity, the company continues to act as if nothing has happened.

Comment on mybroadband.co.za

Amagama Controversy on Zoopy

INM board mischief, mere window-dressing?

Deposed Ivan Fallon

IT’S amazing what difference a week can make in the lives of today’s corporate executives. Take the changing fortune of deposed INM board member Ivan “The Terrible” Fallon, or the fate of media tycoon, Tony O’Reilly, replaced by son Gavin?

After the INM night of the long knives, with one other O’Reilly clan member already tipped to walk the plank, Gavin appears to be the only O’Reilly member with any staying power on the slimmed down board, and one could be forgiven for enjoying a bit of schadenfreude as this palace putsch plays itself out.

The move, labelled as a form of weightwatchers for executives in the media world, will apparently address “trenchant attacks” by dissident shareholder and telecoms billionaire Denis O’Brien who last year commissioned a report which claimed the INM board had too many members allied to O’Reilly.

Tony O’Reilly, a controversial figure has been embroiled in a bitter war of words with O’Brien, said he will retire as chief executive and as a director of the board on 7 May – his 73rd birthday

O’Reilly is still the largest individual shareholder in INM after the Bank of Ireland, with 28.5%, and has been the strategic driving force behind the company for the past 36 years.

His son Gavin, who is currently chief operating officer, will maintain his reign on power, by becoming chief executive-designate with immediate effect and will thus succeed his father in May.

O’Reilly is apparently eager to bury the hatchet with arch-rival O’Brien who will be given three seats on a slimmed down board of directors.

However, such moves have not quelled criticism of the inclusion of Canadian Brian Mulroney, a long-time O’Reilly supporter at the centre of a storm surrounding a bribery and corruption scandal, who is the subject of an international inquiry into financial dealings whilst in office, where he was once the progressive conservative party Prime Minister before stepping down. Mulroney is also accused of taking bribes from German arms-dealer Karlheinz Schrieber, and more recently, of encouraging sponsor-representation at board-room level in INM’s many overseas operations.

South African media analysts have entertained the public with rumours that INM could be selling off its local operation, but there is very little chance that O’Brian will be giving up his stake in the market. Rather, we are likely to see a complete meltdown before anything happens as the group fails to heed warnings by the public to come clean on the Mulroney scandal.

We know nothing – SA Media

SOUTH AFRICA’S news media knows absolutely nothing about the bribery and corruption scandal involving Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schrieber. The shenanigans of the Independent News and Media director has dominated overseas headlines and has been part of a three year investigation on Fifth Estate, Canada’s version of Third Degree – but local news media, many of whom are employed by Mulroney, can’t be bothered to familiarise themselves with the facts, and see the subject as taboo.

“I can’t comment, I’m uncomfortable with this, there are some things I don’t want to know” said Franz Anton Kruger of the Wits School of Journalism.

Patrick Conroy of eTV news express complete cluelessness: “I don’t know!” When asked if he didn’t know because he was not party to the facts or didn’t know because he didn’t want to know the truth, he was even more vague, “No comment”, he blurted before putting down the phone. Several print media journos, all expressed utter ignorance of the case and it would appear local media is in the process of denying the inevitable – an INM head has been caught red-handed taking kickbacks from business and the arms industry.

Mulroney is the disgraced former progressive conservative party Canadian PM, now the subject of a public inquiry held before Canada’s privy council. The Oliphant Commission was appointed late last year and is about to embark on a series of public hearings that look set to rock international media, even though its current terms of reference are also the subject of serious debate. According to the Canadian Press, the price tag for the inquiry will set Canadian taxpayers back by $ 14 Million.

Mulroney is a non-executive director of Independent PLC the parent company of Independent News and Media PTY LTD which prints such titles as Cape Times, Star and Argus and owns some 137 newspapers worldwide. He also sits on the local international advisory board which sets newsroom policy for the media group and recently attended a function of the World Association of Newspapers at Cape Town castle where he could be seen hobknobbing with industry bigwigs and corporate tycoons who have literally bought the local press, lock stock and barrel, turning SA media into unaccountable, personal fiefdoms in the process.

I asked Kruger, the author of a book on Media Ethics, whether or not he knew of any colleagues taking bribes, or if he had received any cash in exchange for favours from people like Karl-Heinz Schrieber?

“I really don’t know, I can’t comment” said Kruger

When will South Africa’s media know anything? Probably never, judging by the lack of concern for what is surely the hottest corruption scandal involving print media this century.

Commission of Inquiry into Certain Allegations Respecting Business and Financial Dealings Between Karlheinz Schreiber and the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney\

Mulroney-Schreiber inquiry to cost $14M: report

Mulroney the Unauthorized Chapter