Scandalising the Court: Another Sekunjalo Attack on the Judiciary

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Judge Gamble took the unusual step of issuing a press statement under the aegis of the Office of the Chief Justice categorically denying these allegations. But lurking behind this is the question whether the claims of Survé amounted to scandalising the court.

Open season on the judiciary Daily Maverick 15/8/2019

Attacks on the judiciary are now an everyday occurrence as the headline on the anchor quote to this article indicates.

What, however, is unprecedented for me in my 53-year career as a reporter is that a newspaper owner should attack the characters and credibility of individual judges in a personal context – not once, but twice.

Iqbal Survé’s first attempt to undermine the juridical reputation of an individual judge in a matter personal to himself occurred in October 2019. He accused Judge Patrick Gamble of having played a role in the raid on his offices by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) which is investigating him for potential share market manipulation – something the judge denied.

At the time, Legalbrief, quoting the afore-mentioned Daily Maverick article, asked whether this did not justify Iqbal Survé being held in contempt of court as it was clearly a most serious attack on the integrity of the judiciary as an institution.

Survé’s second and more recent attempt to undermine the integrity of the judiciary as an institution, I contend, occurred in the context of Audi alteram partem, one of the three principles of natural justice.

On January 21, Survé published one of his usual polemics in his newspapers and on his IOL online portal.

He accused retired judge Kathleen Satchwell and the SANEF panel investigating unethical journalism of not seeking his input about numerous accusations from former and current Sekunjalo Independent Media employees of news bias and censorship by omission – see here and here – in his company’s newspapers:

For the record, neither I nor Independent Media, were approached by the Satchwell panel to make any submission or to respond to the unfounded allegations advanced by these disgruntled former employees.

It is indeed disappointing that the Satchwell panel, for whatever reason, chose not to get the other side of the story prior to finalising its report. If they did, their outcomes related to me and Independent Media would have most certainly taken a different trajectory.

Attacks on SANEF from this quarter come as no surprise, however.

The response from the panel to Survé’s accusation has come as an addendum to an updated edition of its Final Report:

Dr Iqbal Surve

 The Panel has received a complaint from Dr I. Surve, Executive Chairman of Independent Media, that neither he nor his private office, executive management or editorial leadership received any requests for consultation with Dr Surve, as stated in paragraph 9.94 of the SANEF Report. The Panel stands by the contents of this paragraph. Further, the Panel notes that SANEF publicized the establishment and work of the Inquiry and encouraged all persons and institutions interested in or committed to issues pertaining to ethics and standards of practice in the media industry to communicate with the Inquiry which, regrettably, the Independent Group failed to do so.

The relevant paragraph is found on page 216 of the Report:

9.94 Everyone to whom the Panel spoke, within and outside the community of journalism, deplored the ‘cronyism’ of the Independent Group. Regrettably, despite requests for meetings, the Panel received no response from the group chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé.

Should these attacks on Gamble and Satchwell byIqbal Survé not be seen as part of a broader politically-driven initiative to lower public confidence in our judicial system – see here and here and here?

Furthermore, who do you believe – Survé or Satchwell?

The tenure of Iqbal Survé as owner of the biggest group of English newspapers in the country has been shrouded in an unprecedented level of controversy since 2103 – all of which has been documented and is available on the internet and in a book, Paper Tiger – so the suggestion that he would not have been approached by an Inquiry investigating media ethics is, by my assessment, as credible as his other claims which few, if anybody, now seem to believe.

What is relevant in this regard is that Survé has never previously responded to concerns raised by former staff members after they went public about, in particular, his brutal demolition of the Cape Times as a newspaper of acknowledged excellence and trusted repute, so I feel his complaint about the SANEF panel is disingenuous.

  • He has never responded to the excoriating allegations of former of former Cape Times political reporter, Dougie Oakes – see here and here and here – that he pressurised his reporters to favour the Zuma faction, surrounded himself with sycophants and that white staff were persecuted when Aneez Salie was editor of the newspaper;
  • He has also never responded to the allegations in Paper Tiger by authors Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield see here and here and here – that he drove out ethical newsroom staff and that he demanded that his editors publish adulatory articles about him with relentless frequency –  see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here;
  • He has also never responded to the damning Daily Maverick article by Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya headlined ‘I was fooled by Iqbal Survé’.

It would seem self-evident, then, that he was never going to respond to a request from the SANEF panel for input about these concerns.

Obvious point

In responding to Survé’s complaint, the panel has made an obvious point:

There was nothing to stop him of his own volition making a submission to the Commission from its commencement date in June 2019 when the panel specifically and publicly appealed for input.

When Iqbal Survé claims that the SANEF Commission ignored the audi rule, it comes down, in some measure, to who has the greatest credibility in the court of public opinion.

No hint of scandal has tainted any of the three members of the SANEF Commission.

In Survé’s case, however, we are talking about a man who, by his own admission, used his personal bank account to shift some of Brett Kebble’s stolen millions to leading members of the ANCYL to buy their political support; who was also involved in the Leisurenet scandal; whose flamboyant claims of treating Nelson Mandela ‘on and off the Island’ and of playing a singular role in the Springbok RWC win in 1995 have been comprehensively debunked; whose business conduct has raised concern in parliament, at the Mpati Commission, at the Zondo Commission; the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and the Financial Sector Conduct Authority; whose conduct at Independent Media has prompted a disturbing book; who surrounds himself with praise singers – see here and here and here and here and here and then appoints them to senior editorial positions – see here and here; who was an invited guest at the Gupta wedding, who contemplated going into business with them and followed their lead in withdrawing from the SA Press Council; who has twice been repudiated by his own staff who were testifying under oath at the Mpati Commission – see here and here; who has been abandoned by his auditors; whose Sagarmatha initiative gained no market traction; whose donation has been rejected by the reformist faction of the ANC; who blames ‘dark forces’ for his setbacks and issues dark threats which come to nothing; whose newspapers have been successfully sued for defamation; whose intemperate attacks on competing media companies and their reporters are without precedent in South African newspaper history; who, in the coming year – see here and here – faces two civil court cases which, if he loses,  will bankrupt him; whose newspapers are selling in commercially unsustainable numbers – see here and here and whose most experienced reporters are struggling to cope  with a 40% salary cut.

Terry Bell has researched his grandiose claims, the South African public seems to agree with Bell but nothing has come of Survé’s attempt to intimidate him.

Who, then, has the greatest credibility – the retired judge and her SANEF–appointed co-panelists, Nikiwe Bikitsha and Rich Mkhondo, both distinguished journalists – or the self-proclaimed billionaire and philanthropist whose philanthropy has not extended to making a contribution to the Covid-19 Solidarity Fund?

More recently, SANEF has again been attacked in his newspapers.

You don’t find Koos Bekker of Naspers or Tshepo Mahloele of Arena Holdings or Terry Moolman and Noel Coburn of Caxton or Branko Brkic of Daily Maverick doing this – or repeatedly attacking the judiciary.

In my opinion, and I am clearly not alone in expressing such concerns – see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here  and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here  and here  and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and  here and here – Iqbal Surve’s behavior manifestly and routinely brings the Fourth Estate into disrepute leaving an indelible stain which, I believe, will endure in infamy.

The attacks by him on two of our judges are, I contend, just the latest chapter in that process of attrition.

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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.