You might perhaps be less familiar with the role of Independent Media, which is 20% owned by Chinese state-owned businesses, as a mouthpiece for the government of the People’s Republic of China. They’re the only media group in South Africa that uncritically publishes pieces by the Chinese ambassador to South Africa. For example, Independent titles will push stories denying the ongoing human rights abuses and genocide perpetrated by the government of China against the Uighur people, with titles like “‘Genocide’ tag against China is the lie of the century”.
Chris Roper News 24 18/6/2021
When Iqbal Survé announced that he would be holding a media briefing in October last year to release the results of an investigation into Piet Rampedi’s ‘Tembisa Ten’ claims by advocate Michael Donen, the press corps would have been justified in believing that Rampedi would be present to take questions and that they would be given a copy of the lawyer’s report.
Particularly if they had read Survé’s letter to staff published in December 2013 at the time of the Sekunjalo takeover of the Independent newspapers in which he promised that his editors would enjoy absolute autonomy and that accountability and transparency and ethical journalism would be the hallmarks of his tenure as company owner.
This was because Donen and Sekunjalo’s own Group Ombud had condemned Rampedi’s fake news reporting on the ‘Tembisa Ten’ which had brought South African journalism into international and unprecedented disrepute.
Asked about this at last October’s media conference, Survé’s curt response was telling – “With regards to Mr Rampedi — it was a feel-good story. Cut him some slack.”
Survé’s purchase of the largest group of English newspaper in South Africa in 2013 was part-funded (20%) by the state-controlled China-Africa Private Development Fund (CADFUND) and China International Television Corporation (CITVC).
Trewhela’s prescient warning was confirmed in 2018 when a Sekunjalo Independent Media contributor Azad Essa decided to devote his weekly column to the persecution of the Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.
He was cut no slack by Iqbal Survé.
Essa’s services as columnist were immediately terminated, and the article removed from the IOL website. African journalists condemned this as an attack on the continent’s media freedom, confirming Paul Trewhela’s prediction.
In 2019 a small cache of secret documents, now called the China Cables, were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and they have been shared with 17 media partners, including the BBC, the US TV network, NBC and newspapers such as Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Irish Times.
These documents confirmed what had already been established by extensive satellite photographic coverage – China has built hundreds of huge internment camps to perpetrate against the Uighur Muslims what has been called ‘The largest incarceration of a minority since the Holocaust’. More than a million Uighurs are being held in these brutal ‘re-education’ camps.
Further adding to the humiliation which these incarcerated Uighur women suffer is that their hair is shaved to provide the raw material used by the Chinese wig industry, something the US authorities are now seeking to combat- see here and here and here.
In June last year, Iqbal Survé bragged that Independent media and ANA would ‘… tell the story of China’s rise.’
As the photograph of the front page of the Cape Times at the top of this article indicates, all of Survé’s editors were forced to acknowledge the centenary of the Communist Party of China on 1 July 2021 even though this was of no relevance whatsoever in the lives of the dwindling Sekunjalo readership.
This proved that his statement during the sitting of the Mpati Commssion that his editors had autonomy and that he did not dictate the news content of his newspapers was not true. Evidence to this effect during the Mpati came from two former AYO executives, Siphiwe Nodwele and Kevin Hardy. A former political editor of the Cape Times, Dougie Oakes, stated that lying was an intrinsic and integral part of the Sekunjalo Independent Media ethos. This was not denied and he was not sued. Daily Maverick’s Ferial Haffajee ascertained from former Sekunjalo employees that Survé’s orders on news coverage were conveyed to staff by COO Howard Plaatjes. He has not denied the claim.
The Sekunjalo newspapers publish what are, in effect, paid advertisements – called ‘Sponsored Content’ – in addition to routine Bell Pottinger-type, China-promoting puffery – 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.
As Chris Roper points out the anchor quote to this article, no other South African newspaper company acts as a paid propaganda medium for the Communist Party of China.
Nothing remotely like this occurred during the apartheid era.
Is it not ironic that the owner of a South African newspaper company should support a country where media freedom does not exist, a country rapidly destroying the media freedom which once existed in Hong Kong?
Media freedom has never existed in China and it is now being snuffed out in Hong Kong with the closure of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily in June last year. The Xi Jinping regime has imprisoned the newspaper’s founder, Jimmy Lai, arrested five senior executives and frozen the newspaper’s assets.
China has acknowledged the supportive role that Survé plays.
What Survé’s newspapers don’t publish is details of how Uighur parents are separated from their children in Xinjiang province, a situation which might be considered analogous to his evidence-free claims of the mass abduction of babies from Gauteng’s hospitals.
What the Turkic-Muslim Uighur community – who make up 40% of the population of the north western Chinese province of Xinjiang – also suffer is a state-driven campaign against their religion – see here and here and here and here and here and here.
What does South Africa’s Muslim community make of this?
Is it not hypocritical of Dr Iqbal Survé to accuse all employees at Gauteng hospitals of being complicit in baby abduction on a huge scale while, at the same time, publishing paid-for Chinese government propaganda denying the Uighur genocide or, through censorship by omission, failing to inform its readers of this genocide?
What is not irrelevant here is that, while testifying under oath at the Mpati Commission, Survé acknowledged that he was servicing the loans of his Chinese funders.
This, while in questionable circumstances, he is refusing to pay back the 2013 loan from the Public Investment Corporation which enabled him to take control of the biggest group of English newspapers in the country.
This loan, with accrued interest, now exceeds a billion rand.
A billion rand would build a lot of maternity wards and buy a lot of CCTV security cameras to supplement those already in place at all state hospitals – the cameras which have failed to provide any video evidence to substantiate Iqbal Survé’s allegations of mass baby abductions in the ‘baby murder for muti’ evil perpetrated by the ‘Nigerian doctor with two names who has since fled the country.’
Furthermore, Survé has provided no evidence to back his claim that the alleged mastermind behind the purported mass murder of babies supposedly abducted from Gauteng hospitals is a Nigerian national and such journalism, as history has shown, is potentially dangerous.
It conflicts, at a most fundamental level, with one of ethical journalism’s most basic tenets – do least harm.