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THE IMPACT of a media cartel on a case adjudicated in the Labour Court of South Africa in 2010, by a director of the Resolve Group, partly owned by Remgro subsidiary Kagiso in a dispute in which Naspers subsidiary, Media24 were the respondents, was bound to present challenges. The least of which is the many deals which were being brokered between these entities during the course of proceedings.
The cartel includes Kagiso, Caxton, Remgro, Perskor and Naspers.
In order to appreciate how this was possible, one must first relate a bit of apartheid history.
In 1970 two pro-apartheid competitive Sunday newspapers, The Image (in Naspers ‘s possession) and Dawn (in Perskor’s possession), merged as Report to end the bitter struggle between the newspapers.
The combined paper’s first issue on 29 November 1970 appeared.
Thus Perskor, a media company started by HF Verwoerd, was gradually absorbed by Naspers.
The constant merging and spinoff of new entities, whilst maintaining shareholder control over the units, was to become a dominant theme of Naspers and its media cartel partners, who in turn sort to maintain Afrikaner privilege, in particular the theological basis for race classification and separate development.
Caxton, a major newsprint distributor and printer was no different. Its merger with Perskor, during July 1998, occurred shortly after acquiring CTP (Cape and Transvaal Printers) in 1995. This did not stop units and subsidiaries of these holding companies, from suing each other.
The competition commission recently heard evidence regarding issues to do with the collapse of Gold-Net News aka Gold Fields Reporter, a community newspaper in competition with Media24 “fighting brands”, in a case involving abuse of a dominant position in the industry.
The Competition Tribunal also granted Caxton and CTP Publishers and Printers Limited permission to participate in the hearing of a merger between Media 24 (Pty) Ltd, Paarl Media Holdings (Pty) Ltd and Paarl Coldset (Pty) Ltd. In the merger Media 24 intended to “purchase a 5% share in Paarl Media Holdings as well as a 12,63% share in Paarl Coldset.” The resulting entity has now been listed on the JSE as Novus.
Rupert’s “Bidco” stake
The sanctions-busting Rembrandt Group comprises Remgro, Richemont and Venfin, and includes a variety of equity investment vehicles such as Reinet Investments.
“Bidco” in turn, comprises RMB Investments, Remgro and Caxton directors Terry Moolman and Noel Coburn. It was involved in the recent buyout of ElementONE, a major Caxton shareholder.
Johann Rupert via Independent Online, said Remgro had an effective shareholding of less than 7 percent in Caxton. “These are shares that we acquired about 20 years ago when there was a huge fight between Naspers and Perskor.”1
Remgro has long held a 1,7% stake in Caxton, a legacy of the old Perskor Group.2
Caxton subsequently acquired Perskor and vice versa.
The resulting Remgro stake in the cartel which includes Kagiso, Caxton, Perskor, and Naspers, represents a serious concentration of media assets amongst a few Afrikaner businessmen.
The impact of the cartel on proceedings before the Labour Court of South Africa would result in calls for the removal of the labour broker and legal professional responsible for drafting a decision memorialising and reiterating the ‘apartheid heresy’ from a top post at the ivy league University of Cape Town, in impeachment and disbarring proceedings that include removal of M H Cheadle from the institution’s Senate.
Deals made during court proceedings, included the merger of financial units associated with Kagiso and Sanlam, a major shareholder in Naspers.
A long association
The late Anton Rupert’s association with Naspers began in the 1940s with the establishment of Tegniek (Technology), the Afrikaans business magazine started by the Rembrandt Group which would later become Finansies & Tegniek (with an English counterpart Finance Week) in the Naspers stable. Mutual projects at the behest of the apartheid regime, orchestrated by Anton Rupert, included the Urban Foundation, set up to exploit the black townships and bantustans, and involving “prominent Afrikaners” Andreas Wassenaar (Sanlam), Wim de Villiers (Gencor), David de Villiers (Nationale Pers), and Jan van der Horst (Old Mutual) as well as Rupert’s own Rembrandt Group.
Today, the Rupert dynasty has an effective interest in Naspers via Momentum and Sanlam, including a variety of connection companies.
The Rupert-Sanlam connection began with the white supremacist Afrikanerbond and its “volkscapitalisme” emerging with the pivotal 1953 deal which saw Rembrandt’s acquisition of tobacco company Rothmans International, followed by successive deals (South African Breweries, Distell and Gencor), in which white Afrikaner economic interests were shared out amongst a select few. A bailout of Volkskas and Sanlam by Rothmans in the 1980s would put the Ruperts in the proverbial pound seat.
Sanlam-Rembrandt partnerships in mining giant Federale Mynbow would follow with Sanlam retaining shares in Rembrandt and vice versa, the “mutual cooperation that will be created by this new and powerful partnership”.
“The controlling interest in Gencor was held by Federale Mynbou, in which Sanlam and Rembrandt between them held a 72% stake. As a result, Sanlam became one of the largest conglomerates in the country after Anglo American and Old Mutual.” 3 The often tempestuous relationship between Rembrandt and Sanlam is illustrated in several chapters of Anton Rupert’s biography, written by Naspers editor Ebbe Dommisse and published by Naspers imprint, Tafelberg.
Rembrandt would go on to buy out Sanlam’s stake in Volkskas, in the process orchestrating a variety of mergers and spin-off companies.
The Rupert, Bekker, Stofberg relationship
The Rupert, Bekker, Stofberg relationship began in the early 1990s when Johann Rupert selected pay-TV as the third leg for the family’s growing offshore business, Richemont. 4
Cobus Stofberg is a major Naspers shareholder, a non-executive Naspers director, and a senior executive at MIH Holdings Limited, a Naspers subsidiary.
The pivotal 1994 election year would see the creation of a 50-50 Rupert-Bekker holding company, NetHold, which held the multichoice assets which would later become MIH. Rupert’s Remgro stake however was subsequently spun-off into Canal+ in a complex equity deal which effectively removed Remgro control over the entity. Remgro, currently holds 31.2% of Sabido, the media division of black-owned conglomerate HCI, (eTV) amongst other media assets which include radio stations such as Heart 104.9 FM.
Another current Remgro-Naspers connecting company is Dark Fibre Africa. A Bloomberg search reveals that Rudi Jansen of Naspers Limited has “Board Affiliations on Dark Fibre Africa (RF) (Pty) Ltd”. Dark Fibre Africa is held via a complex series of nested companies, and ultimately owned by Venfin, a Remgro subsidiary.
Anton Rupert’s 2005 biography contains a diagram of the share structure of Rembrandt, showing SAIL as a Venfin subsidiary. The SAIL website claims the group is “privately-owned” but is involved in DSTV sportscasting, including Vodacom SuperRugby and DSTV delicious. Rupert’s Venfin at the time had a 15% stake in Vodacom.
Not only is Remgro invested in SABIDO which owns eTV, it is a crucial part of the MIH Multichoice bouquet and resulting Media Cartel. The latest scandal involving Multichoice’s dominance in this sector is bound to ring alarm bells.
The Sanlam Connection
The Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Lewens Assuransie Maatskappij Beperk (South African National Life Assurance Company Limited) otherwise known as Sanlam, is perhaps the most difficult entity to deal with. As an insurance giant, it is anything but transparent. It is only in recent years that the Naspers-Sanlam connection has come under scrutiny.
A history of the company here and here shows that In December 1917 a small group of Afrikaners including Willie Hofmeyr (a prominent Afrikaner leader and first chairman of the Board of Directors of the then newly established Afrikaans newspaper De Burger owned by Nasionale Pers, and since 1918, Managing Director of Nasionale Pers), started the enterprise.
In reality two separate entities emerged from the one holding company, Sanlam and Santam. The one focusing on short term insurance, the other on long term insurance.
In 1935 Sanlam bought the shares of the life assurance company African Homes Trust, which would later become Metropolitan Life, from Santam. In effect two companies owned by the single holding company would begin selling units back and forth in a familiar pattern which would repeat itself many times. The Metropolitan deal would later play itself out during proceedings in 2010, as the cartel cemented its control over units that had been opened up to limited black economic empowerment, and giving a semblance of transformation, and yet Naspers itself, opposed the outcome of the Truth Commission and thus resisted the negotiated settlement and transitional justice framework.
Afrikaner business intrigue thus really beings in 1940, when Federale Volksbeleggings (FVB) was registered by Sanlam, “giving policy owners a stake in a large number of commercial and industrial companies and providing them with the opportunity to contribute” towards white broad-based development, to their mutual benefit. The foundation of FVB would eventually lead to the foundation of Afrikaner industrial and mining giant Gencor in the 1950s and the ensuing competition for control of South Africa’s industrial sector by the Rupert dynasty, and its takeover of Volkskas which in turn created Amalgamated Banks of South Africa (ABSA) and lead to the creation of Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), owned by Remgro.
A variety of co-option schemes and plans to include key black industrialists have further implicated the cartel in a ruse to simply whitewash past associations with the apartheid regime. Patrice Motsepe for instance, owns a substantial stake in Sanlam’s Ubuntu-Botha BEE Scheme. One can’t help but thinking the result is a black PW Botha of BEE.
RMB own 100% of Momentum, which in turn is part of a new entity called Momentum Metropolitan Investments (MMI), the result joins both sides of the cartel in an interesting financial merger.
1Retrieved 11 April 2015 http://www.iol.co.za/business/companies/rupert-hits-out-at-the-anc-1.1616316#.VSjnM-HvakA
2Retrieved 11 April 2015 http://www.financialmail.co.za/fmfox/2013/12/05/rupert-denies-grand-media-scheme-at-remgro
“From refusing to make a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about its complicity in propping up Apartheid to forcing journalists to endorse the National Party as part of their employment contracts, Naspers has remarkably survived its odious past. Not only survived, but thrived, as one of the 21st Century’s biggest global media players. In a recently published book, former arts journalist Gabriël Bothma explores how some writers and editors attempted to navigate the dubious ideology and slavish propaganda”
Christi van der Westhuizen is an award-winning political journalist and the author of White Power & the Rise and Fall of the National Party (2007). She has worked at Vrye Weekblad, Beeld and ThisDay and has regular columns in The Star, Cape Times, The Mercury and Pretoria News. She has been interviewed for political comment on the BBC, Radio New Zealand, Radio Adelaide (Australia), SAfm, SABC3, e-tv and M-Net. In 2005, she edited the book Gender Instruments in Africa: Critical Perspectives, Future Strategies while working as senior researcher in International Relations. She worked as Inter Press Service’s trade editor for Africa and Europe between 2007-2011. She holds an MPhil in political economy and South African politics
In a piece published by Amandla she says: “I recently resigned as monthly columnist at Media24’s daily newspapers after one of my columns was censored. The offence that led to the censorship? As a proponent of the position that the media’s allergic reaction to self-criticism is to its own detriment, I had dared to do exactly that: employ critical examination of the media.”
In the piece, she attacks newsroom juniorisation, the practice of purging qualified staff and hiring inexperienced juniors in order to prevent the formation of professional echelons that could be in a position to criticise the manner in which the company conducts its business. Media24 has been taken to task by Noseweek Magazine for producing cram-collage journalists via Damelin College and City Varsity, both of which are owned by the company, and which allow uncritical hacks to bypass University Journalism departments.
“The effect of the continuous personnel cutbacks in newsrooms is obviously that there are not enough people to do the work properly, which leads to errors.” says van der Westerhuizen.
An investigation has found that Media24 engaged in exclusionary pricing conduct through Goudveld Forum whereby its advertising rates were priced below cost. It further, found that this was intended to exclude competitors and to bolster Media24’s reputation as an aggressive competitor in order to reduce the likelihood of future entry into the community newspaper market. The Commission concluded that Goudveld Forum was used as a fighting brand to prevent competition with Media24’s larger and more lucrative title, Vista.
Commission refers predatory pricing case against Media 24
The Commission has today referred a case of predatory pricing against Media 24 to the Competition Tribunal for adjudication. This relates to advertising rates charged by Media24 in the community newspaper market in the Goldfields region of the Free State.
The Competition Act prohibits predatory pricing which involves pricing below average or variable costs in order to exclude competitors in a market.
This referral follows a complaint that was lodged by Berkina Twintig (Pty) Ltd trading as Gold-Net News on 30 January 2009, in which it alleged that Media 24 engaged in predatory pricing, which resulted in Gold-Net News exiting from the market in 2009.
It was alleged that the anti-competitive pricing occurred during the period from January 2004 until February 2009.
During this period Media 24 operated two community newspapers, namely Vista and Goudveld Forum in the Goldfields area.
The Commission’s investigation found that Media24 engaged in exclusionary pricing conduct through Goudveld Forum whereby its advertising rates were priced below cost. It further, found that this was intended to exclude competitors and to bolster Media24’s reputation as an aggressive competitor in order to reduce the likelihood of future entry into the community newspaper market. The Commission concluded that Goudveld Forum was used as a fighting brand to prevent competition with Media24’s larger and more lucrative title, Vista.
Evidence before the Commission reveals that Goudveld Forum budgeted for and operated at a loss over this period and was closed down in January 2010 after Gold-Net News had been driven out of the market.
The Commission has asked the Tribunal to levy an administrative penalty of 10 percent on Media 24’s turnover.
A NEW global multimedia megacorporation is determining the future of communications on Planet Earth. From cradle to grave, chances are your life is already affected and controlled by Channel Life.
If you attend Damelin College or City Varsity, buy tickets via Computicket or access broadband with MWeb, your life has been inextricably altered by Channel Life.
Whether you surf Facebook, play with Mixit (until recently 100% owned by Naspers) , read ZigZag or Saltwater Girl or any one of 60 magazine titles, or watch the plethora of Multichoice Television programmes on DSTV via a vast array of platforms owned ultimately by insurance giant Sanlam you may knowingly or unknowingly be a part of the Channel Life experience.
If Channel Life did not exist, then someone would have had a good cause to create the term to express the way humanity is increasingly becoming interconnected through communications technology. Problem though, Channel Life does exist and it describes a lot more than a shareholder stake in a complex holding structure behind today’s networked mega-corporation.
In 1914 J.B.M. Hertzog forms the National Party. The following year Nasionale Pers i.e Naspers is formed by the same man, along with a daily newspaper, De Burger, later known as Die Burger.
D F Malan, a former minister in the conservative Dutch Reformed Church is persuaded to become editor and is the main supporter of Hertzog’s National Party.
In 1916 Naspers publishes its first magazine Die Huisgenoot.
In 1918 the company takes a further step towards expansion when its book publishing operations is founded as Die Burger Boekhandel.
The racially exclusive Afrikaner secret society, Die Afrikaner Broederbond is formed. A Broederbond circular from this time states: ‘The Afrikanerdom shall reach its ultimate destiny of domination in South Africa . . . Brothers, our solution for South Africa’s troubles is not that this or that party shall gain the upper hand, but that the Afrikaner Broederbond shall rule South Africa.”
D. F. Malan is one of the driving forces behind the organisation.
Piet Cillié editor of Die Burger from 1954 until 1985 is a staunch supporter of the National Party, under B J Vorster and P W Botha. Cillié upholds the apartheid system through many pro-segregation editorials until the very end.
1973-1977 The National Government under B J Vorster attempts to purchase the Washington Star. A slush fund is set up to acquire the Citizen and other English language newspapers. The secret operation is exposed by the Rand Daily Mail as the “Information Scandal”
1984, Naspers, as part of its broad propagandist strategy acquires Drum Publications, with titles consisting of City Press, Drum and True Love & Family. As well as a 50% interest in Jane Raphaely & Associates.
In 1985, under P W Botha, Nasionale Pers enters into an arrangment with Perskor, the media company founded by HF Verwoerd and publisher of Die Vaderland and Transvaler to form an all-white, Afrikaner-owned electronic pay-television media business, called M-Net, the new entity eventually lists on the JSE Securities Exchange (JSE).
In a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), former Rand Daily Mail journalist Raymond Louw is recording as having felt “it was significant that M-Net, soon to be owned by a consortium of newspapers, got its licence in the same month as the Mail was closed” although any connection is denied by the government until this day, The Mail was clearly closed due to pressure from the Botha government and covert operations conducted by the Broederbond and Bureau for State Security (BOSS) as part of the Information Scandal.
In 1987 Naspers introduces English family magazine You.
In 1993, M-Net is divided into two companies — M-Net itself becomes a pure pay-television station while the company’s subscriber management, signal distribution and cellular telephone activities are formed into a new company called MultiChoice Limited (later renamed MIH Holdings Limited).
Nasionale Pers itself lists on the JSE on 12 September 1994 and in 1998 the group’s name is officially changed to Naspers.
The TRC is set up in terms of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act , No 34 of 1995, and is based in Cape Town. The mandate of the commission is to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, reparation and rehabilitation.
Naspers publications publish cartoons depicting P W Botha as the only man able to stand up to the TRC. P W refuses to participate. The TRC is also depicted as a ‘biegbank” or confessional and the Archibishop’s participation as nothing less than an inquisition.
In 1997 the TRC holds a special hearing into the Media, comprising four sessions in Johannesburg, (15 – 17 Sept 1997). The Afrikaans press declines to make a submission to the Commission. Instead, it provides the Commission with a copy of Oor Grense Heen, the official history of Nasionale Pers (Naspers).
Volume 4 of the Final TRC report (pg 180) observes: “The history concedes that Die Burger, for instance, promoted Verwoerd’s ideals of bantustans from an early stage and that, after Sharpville, the same newspaper advised that all positive aspects be speeded up. Occasionally,doubts about apartheid do surface but, in the main, the book reflects a total lack of concern for the company’s support of the racist system”
In the TRC investigation into the role of the Afrikaner Press under apartheid, Prof Arrie de Beer appears in his personal capacity as “a former full-time and part-time journalist in the Afrikaans Press” and as a university media lecturer and media researcher (session 4).
Some extracts from his testimony which are useful:
“There are many pseudo-legalistic and particularly sarcastically spiteful arguments in the Afrikaans media and elsewhere, why people or institutions should not appear before the TRC. These are almost as cynically brutal as the friendly open faces of the people who testified in the Vlakplaas and Hani cases as the perpetrators of these deeds, where they chose their words with great circumspection to condone the deeds before the TV and the public.” Prof de Beer.
“The one point of view which is maintained in the Afrikaans Press, is that everything that could be said about this matter had already been said in the Afrikaans language Press, and that adequate writing had taken place on this matter. This is a question which everybody has to reply to for himself. But I am not convinced that everything which the Afrikaner Press did during the apartheid years, collectively or individually, had been adequately answered.” Prof de Beer
“If one looks at the collective issue; whether the Afrikaner Press collectively had been keeping mum for too long about [crimes under apartheid], it is a fact in the heyday of apartheid years, at least three Afrikaans papers existed which were official mouthpieces of the NP, that many people of the NP were involved in the Press groups in leading positions and exercised their effect very carefully, and they criticised many people for points of view which are now commonly
accepted by the Afrikaans Press as facts of life.” Prof de Beer
In the TRC final report, Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu asks a pertinent question with regard to the failure of Naspers to make a full and proper submission: “Is silence from that quarter to be construed as consent, conceding that it was a sycophantic handmaiden of the apartheid government?”
However, after the hearing the Commission receives some 150 affidavits from individual Afrikaans-speaking journalists :– “These acknowledged the important role of the Commission and expressed disappointment at the Naspers decision not to appear.”
“They believed that the Afrikaans press had been an integral part of the structure that had kept apartheid in place, particularly in the way Afrikaans papers had lent their support to the NP during elections. The submissions maintained that, although the papers may not have been directly involved in violations, they should accept moral responsibility for what happened because they had helped support the system in which gross human rights violations occurred.”
Corporations are supposed to be legal entities which can sue and be sued. Unfortunately there are those who believe that human beings should be subordinated to the rights of corporations and in fact, restricted from possessing such rights (guaranteed by the constitution) which are then shifted away from the domain of private law into the domain of commercial law.
Where does labour law fit into the picture? Surprising though this may sound, corporations such as Media24 continue to deploy arguments which run contrary to the spirit of the constitution. In fact the entire Labour Relations Act and the relevant clauses guaranteeing every citizen Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association and Freedom of Religion, no longer appear to apply when it comes to the media.
Media24 have already argued, for example, that a 7 day work week is an “inherent requirement of the job,” that their interference in my private life is “provided for under contract” and that “they should be absolved of any wrongdoing” either for their participation in the Apartheid system or for their continued discrimination against struggle journalists, including Jews. Needless to say, the company has yet to supply a /bone fide/ contract of employment and has attempted to defraud the court by claiming a document to which my signature is attached to the last page, is a valid contract of employment.
Media24 is a company with an egregious history. It failed to make a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Despite Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu’s conclusion that “the Afrikaner press would lose their case by default,” and the likely consequences of non-participation would jeopardise any future defenses or claims of amnesty, Naspers/Media24 ignored this advice and pursued a path of non-cooperation, even going so far as to publish cartoons depicting the commission in an extremely negative light.
Now we see the result of the charade in which the only persons with any rights left in South Africa are “unnatural persons”. A circus in which “socialism for the few” and “capitalism for the privileged” are the buzz phrases which spring to mind. Is South Africa’s fragile democracy about to run aground because of the failure of the handmaidens of the media industry to take responsibility? The chief protagonists in this battle are the captains of racism and industry – Maria Ramos, Boetie van Zyl, Vallie Moosa and their ilk, who sit on the same board of directors that control the Media24/DSTV lobotomising machine, and who are still playing the old game of segregationist politics.
If the recent saga of the Khulumani Victims of Apartheid is anything to go by, and the pain and suffering of those who have been denied justice by the South African system is a gauge, then we are all in for an interesting legal battle. If it can be said that a corporation lacks the qualities of a moral agent, i.e it has no moral conscience, then a company should not be allowed to seek absolution in the same way a Christian might seek to be absolved of sin from a priest.
The Labour Relations Act should not be a means whereby perpetrators of crimes against humanity are given amnesty and a “second chance” in order to continue engaging in forced labour and acts of economic terrorism against the working class, destroying wages and creating servitude that turns us all into robotic slaves. Yet Media24 have sought to have their crimes absolved via trickery, deceit, and slight of hand.
Corporations want to have their cake and eat it. They want all the rights that human beings possess but with none of the responsibilities. They want the freedom of capitalism but the protection of socialism. They want rights for themselves but no rights for ordinary citizens. It is time to take a stand against corporate capitalism and Media24 brainwashing.
In 2006 when I was frogmarched out of a Media24 newsroom for complaining about the rejection of a “controversial” article about the music industry. There were no objections from any of my colleagues. The complaint before the Labour Court details the manner in which I was degraded and abused by Media24 managers who surprise, surprise, no longer work at the company.
When Media24 attempted to gag me from speaking out about racism and racial profiling at the company I was forced to resort to the moral agency argument. “Corporations cannot claim defamation or libel because their legal /personae/ is limited, i.e their personality as not a human personality but a brand which does not have “feelings” or “psychological integrity” in the same way a human being does. The Freedom of Expression Institute released a newsbrief condemning the company and the newstory was ignored by the local press but covered in Canada.
Now we see a former cabinet minister Kader Asmal claiming that “Moral condemnation can only be imposed on natural persons, and corporations should be absolved of responsibility or exempt from wrongdoing.” Surely there is a vicarious connection to this story?
As a South African with a history in the struggle press, I was mislead like so many fellow South Africans, by the saccharine-coated promises made by Media24 and a sycophantic press which made a big fuss about national reconciliation without bothering to check the facts. Now we see the result of a blanket amnesty — the destruction of history and a nation which is doomed to repeat its past. Corporations should rather be resoundingly chastised for their participation in the apartheid regime and should not be absolved like natural persons. Period. It is minister Asmal who deserves to be condemned.
There is a hearing on the 20 & 21st of January, Labour Court, Twinell Hs, Loop Street, Cape Town
IN several articles published in the print media over the last 18 months referring to my dispute with the Independent Group and Media24 and the ongoing attempt to gain a fair hearing, media hypocrisy has been taken to new heights. Not only do these articles contain inaccuracies, half-truths and outright lies, but they deceive the public and go far beyond what may be considered fair comment, or reasonable criticism.
For example, Karen Breytenbach, a person who can hardly be called a struggle journalist, has succeeded in penning an outright lie, framing my spat with Media24 within the context of an unresolved dispute with the Independent Group, who one dare say, still has the power to call the shots, but is rapidly diminishing in stature as its pro-business, pro-war boardroom populated by petrochemical industry cronies and Irish capitalists dilly daddles with an embarrassing relationship created by Clear Channel Independent – a company which has contaminated the press with sponsor representatives from industry, stifling criticism and the watchdog function of the media in the process.
Oil and property tycoon Sam Montsi for example, is listed by Forbes.com as sitting on the board of Sasol and Independent as well as a local property investment group Gensec – a conflict of interest if ever there was one, while O’Reilly continues to forget “his company” is, for all intents and purposes, in hock to the Bank of Ireland, and has a controversial partnership with Bush crony, Lowy Mays, whose Clear Channel corporation has been implicated in deals with Halliburton and a range of advertising and public relations firms which have blurred the borders between what one might consider to be mass media and big business.
Breytenbach writing in the Cape Times and referring to my CCMA case in which an in limine or elimination hearing found nothing more than that I was an independent contractor and fell outside the boundaries of the Act – came to the startling conclusion that I had somehow lost a legal battle and deserved what I got from Media24 (a company which still refuses to acknowledge its complicity in the Apartheid regime and has yet to apologise for its participation in crimes against humanity).
To put the matter straight, as I have been trying for the past 18 months, Breytenbach’s conclusion should be considered ultra vires or beyond the powers of the particular commission – a farce of a hearing which was held without access to legal representation, and merely to assess the position of workers such as myself who fell into a flannel grey area caused as a result of the newspaper industries casualisation of its workforce. MWASA the Media Workers Association in a similar case brought to prevent a rationalization process that began in 2001, may have thrown in the towel, but my blue-collar battle with white-collar criminals who deny our labour rights continues.
I still maintain (however hard this may seem) that since I was a de facto employee at Independent, and prevented from conducting my own business in the normal way – as a freelancer able to invoice for services rendered and able to sell my labour to the highest bidder – I should have had some recourse to the labour courts. Instead Independent chose to fulminate on not having to pay, since, to my astonishment, and despite actually receiving an invitation by the outspoken social commentator, Sandile Dikeni to write for the Cape Times, I was now simply a correspondent “doing this for a hobby” and “if we paid you we would have to pay letter writers”.
I was aghast at the sheer vitupurativeness of senior staff, like the late Stephen Wrottesley, since having been forced onto the company payroll despite my protestations and after three years of regular appearance in the paper, I was now being told that this fact meant nothing in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, and Independent could not be held liable for such an oversight.
A fraud by any other name
Regardless of the Oxbridge outlook and Constantia carpeted legal implications, I successfully sued Independent in the Small Claims court and was awarded a smidgeon of the monies owing to me as an “independent contractor” this after the dismissal of struggle stalwart Gael Reagon, for questioning Independent’s coverage of the Iraq War. This fact, like many others about my case, was never published, nor were any questions raised after several former Independent employees complained about the Group’s one-sided war coverage.
Nevertheless Breytenbach chose to perpetrate a lie, referring to me as an “unsuccessful serial litigator”. Having sued the Cape Times and won, and after a protracted struggle in which Anthea Garmen of Rhodes University Journalism department weighed in on the merits, I would have thought that the matter would have been laid to rest, but instead, the paper decided to champion the cause of racism, both within the citadel of Anglo-American largesse as well as at Media24.
While all of the broughaugh over the collapse of the shortlived, Nigerian-funded Thisday and the potential demise of the lords of the new capital was going on, I had quietly snuck off and gained employment elsewhere only to be brought down to earth with an almighty thud. Despite issues such as freedom of speech — I was now threatened with a gagging order after a Media24 boss fired me for challenging an editor, without so much as a hearing, (a story I had written about a black jazz musician had been rejected out of hand) — I found to my horror that the press were no longer interested in press freedom, but rather freedom for those who, to use George Orwell’s words, “owned the press”.
While the labour/discrimination case drags on, the South African press continue to muzzle me in order to prevent criticism of my dismissal without a fair hearing, along with my complaint about racist editorial policy, the continued use of racial profiling, anti-Semitism and de facto racial segregation in the newsroom, amongst other things. As I write this, it appears I am going to be denied access to a fair hearing in a legal wrangle that has gone into its third year.
I am flabbergasted and stymied by the lack of interest shown by my associates, in either case, despite having to fend off legal attacks by billion rand corporations, and being forced to watch the Sean Johnson’s of this world living it up in Llandudno, and seemingly oblivious to the conceits which had created empires and petty fiefdoms, one of which has now gone so far as to purchase the commercial use of the numeral 24 outright and continues to make claims as to its final ownership – this despite mathematicians pointing out the absurdity of such a position in the face of quantum mechanics and chaos theory — I keep hope alive — the strange belief that press freedom means freedom for the press, not simply freedom for those who bankroll the presses.
While Breytenbach manipulated the facts to make it seem as if I had lost my claim against Independent group, and the press ignored press releases from the Freedom of Expression Institute and the Alternative Media Forum, I approached then Press Ombud, Ed Linington, who insisted that if I wanted a review of the offending articles, I would have to sign away my civil rights. I proposed an amendment that would reference the Bill of Rights, only to be told: “It’s either our way, or the highway.” Needless to say I chose the highway.
The Alternative Media Forum, an ad hoc group of media activists then brought an Access to Information request to determine what records, in such cases such as mine and the MWASA case, Independent were hanging onto without bothering to inform the public. The application was denied, in Tony Howard’s words: “There is no such thing as the right to be informed.” Directly contradicting the Press Code it would seem is a daily occurrence.
Cast adrift into an ocean of antipathy for my position, I encountered Zulpha Khan, a news anchor at Heart 104.9 who refused to believe such a thing as press corruption was possible. Blinded by slavish obedience to authority and a servant mentality that could see no wrong with her master, she promptly had me arrested for doing the devils bidding – simply raising my voice – apparently in a paroxysm of outrage at the ineptitude of cram-collage journalism, I had threatened blue murder. My criticism won the day. Under cross-questioning in court by my attorney Michael Jennings, Khan eventually broke down and blurted out the following: “He never threatened me”. Well then, asked the judge, who did he threaten?”
Having been charged for literally challenging authority and asking uncomfortable questions, my raised voice was now being exaggerated to appear as if I was about to blow up or attack the press bosses with machine guns and anti-personnel bombs. That we should be so lucky. Media hacks fail to see that I have been vindicated, and my allegations are real. As we speak another episode of this saga is about to play itself out as fraud charges continue to be leveled against the perpetrators of falsehood.
Earlier allegations of fraud, placed before the Cape Town Fraud Unit during 2007 have, not surprisingly, considering the DA-lead coalition in the city, been unilaterally withdrawn by the senior state prosecutor. No reasons have been given. Instead, I have been forced on the defensive, defending myself against gagging orders, interdicts and attempts to have me put away for petty offences – my experience would surely not raise eyebrows in the former Soviet Union.
Not everything is so bleak. Not only have I been acquitted by the travesty which played out in the Magistrates court 13, but the law is perfectly clear. Although a regrettable incident, it is not an offence to verbally menace a building when in fact, there was no immediate danger, nor any threat was implied at the time. Strange though it may seem, the law does protect its citizens from supernatural beliefs, future dangers, spurious signals and in a sense Khan was accusing me of having shouted: “Theatre” in a Fire Station, or worse, promoting regime change at Newspaper House.
World Wide Weather Report
All the news reports emanating from a single journalist from SAPA had a common theme, at first they played up the nature of the alleged threat. Then they attempted to provide reasons for my acquittal. At no time was there any examination of the evidence given. Khan’s testimony was carried verbatim. Her cross-examination and subsequent dismissal as an unreliable witness who made up a Daily Voice version of the “truth” as she went along, oblivious to the real world, was not carried at all.
Despite the testimony of another Heart 104.9 witness who could not verify anything that Khan said was true, and the inadmissibility of a third witness’ testimony, the station manager no less, who was busy doing her hair I imagine, and not at the scene at the time, the news reports carried the authority and stamp of approval of the South African Press Association (SAPA) and the plethora of news titles in which they appeared.
The story multiplied itself online, until it had made its way around the globe. One Irish radio station went so far as to publish the story as a strange but true factoid on their website, neglecting to correct the obvious error that contaminated each and every report, I had complained about the spiking of a story about a black jazz musician, not a black magician. A Dutch blogger corresponding from Cape Town labeled me a weirdo. If I was a crackpot, there was no threat and if there was, it was unintelligible gibberish. To date the Mail and Guardian Online is the only news service to have corrected this serious error of fact. I am still waiting upon the lying Irishmen – O’Reilly and Associates to correct their mistakes, and the D F Malan Organisation – Lobotomedia24, and its many incarnations to do the same.
Although vilified by the establishment media which has sort to stamp out dissent and to impose its colonial worldview on its employees, as well as unsuspecting readers, I have no doubt that a third-wave of anti-establishment, alternative media will spring up in the vacuum created by the destruction of the titles such as New Age which was created in the wake of 1976, and The Vrye Weekblad, which was birthed during the eighties student revolt. This third wave media, I predict is already in the offing. It’s emergence can be seen in individual blogs that criticize monopolies and cartels, it can be found in microzines that carry the reality of life in the streets, and it can be heard in podcasts that actually broadcast content superior to that found on SABC or any of the officially sanctioned outlets.
The gulf between the reality of the new media and the old, I predict, is going to be so huge, that when it eventually grows up, we will jettison the old media entirely. The press bosses who brainwash the public will disappear. The puppet-masters who control the news will be cut-loose. We will witness a renaissance, an enlightenment in which all opinions, voices and ideas are heard. There will be no story too controversial, or too hot to handle. We will have press freedom, not simply freedom for those who own the presses.