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

Sunday Times - - Opinion - By PA­TRICK BUL­GER

● 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.

Pic­ture: ANN7

ANN7 was a home-from-home for South Africa’s least-loved pub­lic fig­ures.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.