Pulling the plug on the GuptaTV stain that rubbished noble hopes for free media
Good riddance to the sorry charade of journalism that is ANN7
● ANN7 began broadcasting to a bemused if unimpressed pay-TV audience in August 2013. For four years and counting since, our democracy has revelled in the diversity of voices the new channel has offered. Here was opinion and news the likes of which just aren’t entertained by the “white” media.
Or so we are now being told, as GuptaTV faces oblivion in six months’ time. It’s all about curbing media freedom, we are being urged to believe.
Consider the mini-tsunami of outrage that has greeted the news (and who said all news is bad news?) that ANN7 is being unplugged by MultiChoice, its ever-so-public-minded host on the DStv bouquet, which now pleads that it has made “mistakes” in its dealings with the Guptas.
Sorry, or not, said Jessie Duarte, ANC deputy secretary-general and avowed Jacob Zuma bittereinder, “I think what MultiChoice is doing is that they are removing diversity from the platform of news in our country. One must ask the question, is the black partner at ANN7 right now not a good enough black partner?” Really?
It’s a question she could usefully have directed at the former minister of communications, the gormless Faith Muthambi, who did as much as any in President Jacob Zuma’s crowd to bed down the Gupta empire.
OK, the new channel is not going to be GuptaTV. And not so diverse that it would, for example, wage a vicious, ill-informed campaign of slander against Pravin Gordhan, an acknowledged hero of the liberation struggle and the transition to democracy, and a custodian in tough economic times. That’s the rich harvest of diversity?
Or did the diversity claim stem instead from ANN7’s former ownership by one of South Africa’s richest BEE moguls, the immigrant Atul Gupta? A bitter harvest indeed.
And what, one wonders, will happen to Carl Niehaus, scourge of debt collectors, whose call for rrrrrradical economic transformation must have had the grandmasters of capital shaking in their buffalo-skin slip-ons? At one point Corporal Niehaus was on ANN7 so often he became a member of one’s family — the black sheep, for sure — and one might have thought it was another DStv repeat. But no, this was merely “diversity” at work.
ANN7 offered shelter to all the ranking clowns in the three-ring circus that was the Gupta propaganda empire. Take Brian Molefe, the former CEO of Eskom and patron-in-chief of the Saxonwold Shebeen. ANN7 offered him a shoulder to continue crying on, and a chance for him to muse in intelligent company as to why the Treasury, among others, had it in for him. After all, it’s not as if he hadn’t said a Trillian times he wasn’t the bad guy in the Eskom fallout. Indeed, the constitution itself enjoined him to do business with the Guptas, he once pleaded with MPs. “Then I get labelled a Gupta person because I don’t want to break the laws of the land, because I cannot blacklist them without reasons.”
It’s precisely these sentiments that made Molefe the type of person who flourished in the ANN7 swamp. It became a shelter to the aggrieved, the hard-done-by, the unfairly dismissed, the misunderstood, the taken-for-granted. All united by a burning sense of grievance and a professional hatred for white monopoly capital.
Among these is ANN7’s analyst-commissar , Tshepo Kgadima, once accused by no less a liberation luminary than Zola Skweyiya of making off with millions in a bogus investment. Kgadima once stormed the old offices of Business Day in Rosebank, so when it comes to tackling WMC media he’s your man.
A vociferous opponent of WMC, he dresses his relentless critique in banal pseudo-analyses.
When it was pointed out that expropriation of land without compensation and nationalisation might meet resistance, and a possible war, he casually urged that it be brought on, in a way so cavalier that even the militant anchor Sindi Mabe was shocked.
Not that GuptaTV didn’t have its fans. Zuma called it “better than SABC”, and public protector Busi Mkhwebane famously ordered the screens she inherited from Thuli Madonsela be re-tuned to her master’s masters’ channel.
It shows, though, that even with friends in high places, you can’t beat WMC at the swamp racket. Sure, you can call it names, and aim your peashooter at Johann Rupert, but these are illusory victories on a battlefield that visits only grief upon those who dare challenge WMC.
Take MultiChoice. The spawn of Naspers, itself a company that predates classical apartheid, MultiChoice takes WMC fickleness to new heights. In the devilish way that WMC operates, it saw ANN7 for which it paid handsomely and the Guptas as a hotline to Muthambi, while she and her family and friends ruled at communications. So much so that a MultiChoice staffer actually wrote a chunk of policy on set-top boxes, which Muthambi dutifully passed on to the Guptas and Zuma for routine conversion into law.
Bingo! They even threw in a quick R25-million sweetener for the Guptas.
So things have changed and WMC, invertebrate swine that it is, has changed with them. It’s Zuma out, Cyril in. Now the tireless enemies of WMC are saying that because MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela is related by marriage to Gwede
Mantashe, so it’s nepotism inspired by MultiChoice’s desire to ingratiate itself with the new regime at Luthuli House. If this is so, it is nepotism of the highest order, and ought to be recognised as such by the dispatch of a crate of the finest to the Mantashe household.
The whole sorry ANN7 saga — in a way that is intrinsic to the ruinous Zuma years — makes a mockery of the notion of media diversity, and black ownership. Yes, our media ownership is too concentrated, and the blooming of diversity just has not happened. But a noble ideal has been rubbished by the way the Guptas were able, if even for a brief period, to pervert the cause of media freedom to their own nefarious ends.
Yes, ANN7 will go, a ghastly electronic shadow lingering on our TV screens long after the switch has been flipped. Truth is, the failed attempt by Zuma to install his ex-wife, Nkosazana DlaminiZuma, as ANC president has pricked the bubble of incipient economic upheaval that seemed to so energise ANN7. All the better to distract from the real and appalling news of state capture.
And when ANN7 goes, who will mourn its passing? Apart from its noneditorial staff, let all those who do hang their heads in shame.
ANN7 was a home-from-home for South Africa’s least-loved public figures.