IN 2018 I wrote an opinion piece warning, that closure of debate, in particular the gutting of letters pages of titles published by IOL would lead to ruin. The job of a free press is to reflect public opinion, to guide and mediate popular discourse. As a media freedom watchdog put it: “The backbone of any democracy is an independent, professional and responsible media. Their role is to inform, criticise and stimulate debate.”
The daily press may often colour journalism with its own aims and objectives, but when it does so, willy nilly without concern for its readers, it becomes nothing less than yellow journalism. Political propaganda has no place in the broad-sheets of flag-ship titles such as the Cape Times and Cape Argus.
Over the past months we have seen the encroachment of paid agitprop from Russian and Chinese news agencies, Pravda, Sputnik & Xinhau, promoting BRICS ‘Socialism from Above’ alongside the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
To make matters worse, the long-running feud between Dr Iqbal Survé and other news outlets has resulted in a situation in which disputes inform newsroom decisions — a partisan, combative approach which leads to news editors failing to determine fact from fiction. News gathering functions are further stunted by lack of credibility stemming from a discredited Multi-baby scandal.
If management had come clean at the outset, and dealt with the problem at Pretoria News, instead of hunkering down in the basement, other titles may have been saved.
Appointing a complete ignoramus and bigot, Aziz Hartley as group Editor-in-Chief cannot have done IOL any favours, the outcome was to encourage minority parties on the fringes of SA politics to become deal-makers in Anti-Gay Pride coalitions, which resulted in these communities feeling threatened by the group, which to its credit, then belatedly published some defence of LGBT rights, but too late to rectify the damage.
While IOL may have been somewhat quicker to react in this instance, they failed miserably on other fronts.
The Cape Times continues to be stained by a sad episode involving the serialisation of the life and times of a member of the Hitler Youth, this at the very start of its new management. Under Aneez Salie, it has done very little to correct the impression that what is required to gain attention of IOL newsrooms, is membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, if not in fact, then in spirit.
It is a sad day to see titles such as Pretoria News disappear while other titles and Weekend editions are rationalised.