Mark Lives, the PIC and the Sagarmatha Scandal

2.1. The media shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the media’s independence and professionalism.

SA Press Council Press Code

In the Cape, Die Burger (Eastern and Western Cape editions) has declined from 50 258 to 47 400. The Cape Argus has decreased from 29 796 to 27 662 (2 863 to PMIE), while the Cape Times has also declined from 30 781 to 29 673 (2 863 copies go to PMIE). Son has fallen from 74 103 to 66 043.

ABC Analysis Q4 2017: The biggest-circulating newspapers in SA Mark Lives  14/2/2018

Virtually without exception the world’s leading newspapers featured a photograph of Jacob Zuma on their front pages after he announced his resignation on 15 February this year. Die Burger, the Afrikaans morning daily in Cape Town, covered its entire front page with a photograph of him from top to bottom, from corner to corner.

Die Burger front page on 15 February

The resignation of Jacob Zuma was going to happen – everybody knew that – so newspaper editors had plenty of time to prepare in advance for the event and to discuss potential front page layouts with their subeditors and graphic artists.  As this article on the Mark Lives website indicates, two South African newspapers, Business Day and the Cape Times did not place a photograph of Jacob Zuma on their front pages on 15 February.

Business Day chose to use a photograph of the Hawks raid on the Gupta’s Saxonwold compound, a significant moment and perhaps an historic turning point in the country’s fight against pervasive Zuptoid corruption.

So what photograph did the editor of the Cape Times, Aneez Salie, choose for the front page of the newspaper on Thursday 15 February?

Enigmatic, macabre photograph

At the top of the front page, covering its entire width, is an enigmatic, indeed macabre, photograph showing sculptures of headless men in suits in a squatting position. It is the only photograph on the front page.

The news angle is that these sculptures will be shown at an exhibition in New York. This is hardly front page news – South Africa’s creative community exhibits all over the world all the time.

So who is the sculptor?

By cosmic coincidence, it is Haroon Gunn-Salie, the son of the editor of the Cape Times, Aneez Salie and his former wife, Shirley Gunn! Quite why he feels that a photograph of his son’s work for profit was of more historic importance than the keenly-awaited resignation of a disgraced political leader – something that was front page news in famous newspapers throughout the world – is not explained.

No conflict of interest there, then? No contravention of section 2.1. of the Press Code which stipulates that personal and commercial interests must not be allowed to dictate and determine news coverage?

Heaven forbid, perish the thought and a plague on all your doubting houses!

This is not the first occasion when Salie’s choice of front page content after momentous events in our political history has left one startled and incredulous. Read my prescient article which refers to the Sona address by Jacob Zuma in February 2015 – the occasion when the ANC brought a signal jammer into parliament and Mmusi Maimane referred to Jacob Zuma as ‘a broken man’. Every newspaper in the country led with that angle except the Cape Times. This was because Aneez Salie deemed the most important news of the day to be an exposé about ‘white racism’ – an email squabble over holiday accommodation which no other newspaper in the country deemed to be worthy of coverage, still less of a follow-up article. Nothing further has been heard – not even from the Cape Times – of this momentous event and supposedly horrifying example of ‘white racism’.

At the time, Max du Preez placed the following comment on his Facebook page:

“Reading the Cape Times every morning the last few months was like watching a huge train smash in slow motion. I have never in my long career in journalism seen such a deliberate attempt at destroying a newspaper.”

Evolving Cape Times tragedy

But the most recent Mark Lives article on the Politicsweb website, reflects another facet of the evolving Cape Times tragedy – its declining circulation.

Iqbal Survé, the owner of the Cape Times was one of the speakers at a meeting UCT Black Alumnae Association on the university campus on 7 April 2015 which is reflected on this YouTube clip.  It was a speech which, in my subjective opinion, seethed with ethnic antipathy towards the white employees at the university. He effectively called for a purge of white staff – a call which, in my personal opinion, was analogous to a statement previously made by the ANC’s Tony Ehrenreich – that if the ANC came to power in the Western Cape, it would seek to impoverish white provincial civil servants by depriving them of their jobs, to the detriment of their families.

The ABC circulation figures have for several years have revealed a continuously declining South African newspaper and magazine readership. This is reflected in one of the anchor quotes to this article and the decline of newspaper and magazine readership throughout this country and the world.

What intrigued me in this context was the following claim that Survé made at 50 minutes of his UCT speech:

“The truth is, yesterday the AMPS figures were released. The Cape Times readership has gone up by 35 000 in spite of what some person has said (inaudible). The Argus readership has gone up by 60 000.”

As the Mark Lives figures indicate, the claimed circulation figures of the Cape Times have recently dropped below 30 000 for the first time in the newspaper’s history.

I say ‘claimed’ because a breakdown of the figures, particularly of Survé’s newspaper The Star – as indicated in the Audit Bureau of Circulation table shows a substantial number of giveaways. Acquaintances in Cape Town’s small media community tell me that the profit break-even point for the Cape Times is actual sales of 25 000 newspapers a day and that, if you strip away the giveaways, the core circulation figure for the Cape Times is below that.

So try and work that one out – the circulation figures of the Cape Times and the Cape Argus decline incrementally month on month, year on year after the Sekunjalo takeover in 2013 but, thanks to the entrepreneurial genius of the new owner, the readership improves by tens of thousands. I am not for a moment doubting that statement because, as everyone knows, the truth is sacred to Iqbal Survé – but is it not puzzling nevertheless?

Claimed readership

I have personal knowledge of how some newspapers try to increase their claimed readership because a friend teaches at a small primary school in Cape Town which has about 60 copies of the Cape Times dumped on its doorstep each week day – 60 copies which the school never requested and which it does not need or read. They do not get a single free copy of Die Burger delivered because that is not how Naspers operates.

You will also have had personal experience of this if you have ever been a passenger in transit using the Cape Town International Airport and seen how many giveaway copies of the Cape Times and the Cape Argus litter its precincts, the vast majority unread.

Another recent experience leads me to believe that the circulation figures of the Cape Times are in terminal decline.

I live in a retirement home where the majority of residents cancelled their subscriptions when people like Tony Weaver, Alide Dasnois and John Scott were driven out of the company and people like Ann Crotty and Wendy Knowler chose to resign.

They have told me that circulation staff at the Cape Times has again started badgering them – pleading with them to renew the subscriptions which they cancelled several years ago.

One of the residents did not cancel her subscription when all around her were doing so and, at my age of 74 years, I asked her why she had not done so.

“Young man”, she said haughtily, “I have been doing the Cape Times crossword since before you were born and I have no intention of stopping now!”

She did, however, complain that the ‘hatched, matched and dispatched’ section of the newspaper had dwindled to almost nothing compared to what it was prior to the Sekunjalo takeover of the Independent News Media company in 2013.

Print media – newspapers and magazines – has been in decline for several years throughout the world and it clearly cannot compete with online news distribution. Two local examples suffice. Tiso Blackstar’s outstanding product, The Times is now only available online after losing millions apparently. Then Trevor Ncube sold the Mail & Guardian because he needed the money to prop up his other newspapers.

Less and less people are reading newspapers because they get the information they want and consider they need through their smartphones. A friend in her fifties hasn’t read a newspaper in years and neither has her teenage daughter. Using her smart phone she follows reporters – from Karyn Maughan to Christiane Amanpour – on Facebook and Twitter. What seems clear is that, Gasant Abarder and Anees Salie, as successive Cape Times editors, went out of their way – with the apparent approval of Iqbal Survé – to alienate what was then the newspaper’s core audience, leafy suburb whites.

Beloved columnists

Abarder got rid of beloved columnists like John Scott and then refused to publish his letter explaining that his column had been snapped up by Die Burger.

Five Indy columnists dismissed by Gasant Abarder were immediately employed by Die Burger.

The Cape Times published one front page lead after another which sought to portray South Africa’s white citizens as innately racist.

A typical Cape Times front page lead

When former white subscribers expressed concern they were abused and threatened by Salie. Furthermore, senior news executives like Karima Brown and Vukani Mde  – both of whom have since severed their ties with Iqbal Survé – openly expressed their antipathy towards whites after writing an article threatening white staff:

“A small but very privileged and racially definable minority still controls the tools of public discourse, including the bulk of private commercial media and virtually all the mainstream newspaper groups.

This group has resisted and fought against transformation of the media, be it in ownership, management, or in newsrooms. They’ve grown adept at paying lip service to the goals of transformation and media diversity, but in truth remain against them, as their joint and individual actions demonstrate.”

In the same period and in what seemed to be an orchestrated attack, an article written by a Survé supporter was posted on Politicsweb. It was headlined The fight against the white media begins today.

Two articles posted on Politicsweb, one by Professor David Benatar of the UCT Department of Philosophy and the other by Sydney Kaye gave one an inkling of how Aneez Salie would be approaching that fight and the tactics he would be employing.

Clearly, it was hoped that in a rapidly-growing city like Cape Town, the void left by departing white subscribers would be filled by readers who were not white.

This is not happening as the declining circulation figures for the Cape Times and the Cape Argus – reflected in the quarterly ABC circulation figure summary – indicate.

In 1994 the African National Congress promised the country and the world that, in a complete break with the past, a new era of transparency and accountability was dawning.

Fast forward to April 2018 and the Public Investment Corporation indicates that it is resolutely opposed to a Democratic Alliance resolution that would compel it to be more open and accountable – with specific reference to the Sagarmatha scandal.

The ANC, supported by the EFF, has vetoed the Democratic Alliance proposal –showing once again just how opposed these two allies are to the transparency and accountability ethic which the nation was lied to about in 1994

In my subjective perception, the partisan support by the ANC for the Cape Times and its Gauteng counterpart The New Age, is no different in principle to the National Party support of The Citizen in 1976. It has done immense damage to the standing of the Fourth Estate in this country and to the cause of media freedom.

Ed Herbst

Ed Herbst started his news career as a photographer with the Natal Witness in 1968 but quickly switched to reporting while retaining an interest in photography. He joined the SABC in its Pretoria news office as a camera reporter in 1977, one year after television was introduced in South Africa. In 1978 he was seconded to the SABC’s Windhoek office for six months to cover the run-up to the country’s UN-monitored election and was then posted to the SABC’s Sea Point news office. He asked for early retirement in 2005 because of pervasive SABC corruption, news censorship and unaddressed abusive treatment of staff. From 2007 to 2009 he was employed as a consultant in the media department of the Cape Town municipality but became a pensioner when personal circumstances forced him to retire. He now writes without remuneration for local websites about the interface between media and politics. He is writing a book on media capture after 1994.

%d bloggers like this: