When the Sekunjalo Media consortium bought Independent News and Media South Africa there were two extremely positive signs.
The first was that the group has been wrested back from its money-grubbing Irish owners and returned to the country of its birth.
The second was that new owners promised that an editorial advisory board would be formed to ensure that the content of these iconic titles would not be sullied by toeing government or party lines.
Nothing has happened with the result that it’s competitors, mostly in the form of the paranoid and uber-sensitive Times Media Group, has mercilessly lambasted Sekunjalo chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé.
Whether or not his removal of Cape Times editor Alide Danois, was justified or not, the perception of editorial manipulation created by the manner in which this was done has intensified a hundredfold.
The manner in which Dr Survé continually rises to the bait thrown into his pond by TMG and the likes is demonstrative of his lack of understanding of the media industry. That same sort of lack of understanding demonstrated by the CEO of TMG in deciding to cut back on Business Day editorial staff because their numbers were greater than those of the Sunday Times.
It seems that the same lack of understanding of the media environment crippling the SABC is now surfacing in some of the country’s top newspapers.
The New Age has also suffered intense volleys of slings and arrows through their Gupta connection.
It is perhaps time for not only Independent Newspapers but also other mass media to take a lesson from the constitution of South Africa, which, through the Public Finances Management Act, insists that all state institutions, and agencies have external audit committees.
Independent News & Media, The New Age, TMG as well as Naspers, Mail&Guardian and Caxton will all at some stage or other be accused either by each other or government and civil society of being biased, dishonest and every other such epithet you care to name.
As I have said before, government’s intention to clamp down on media freedom, however shortsighted and silly, is being given a lot of impetus by the lack of oversight in the newsrooms.
The only way in which newspapers, particularly, can protect themselves is to appoint an independent oversight committee chairman. Yes, just one person. And then let that person decide on who the other members should be, with the only proviso being that they are all commercially and politically independent.
It will take massive balls for any newspaper owner to do this – unless of course they are dedicated and determined to provide unbiased, non-partisan content, free from any form of manipulation.
I am not holding my breath.
But, I am expecting the slugfest to continue unabated. With naive newspaper owners continuing to indulge in knee-jerk ripostes in spite of the fact that keeping quiet is undoubtedly the best policy.
Why? Because, if the truth were known, the vast majority of the newspaper-reading public actually has no idea of who owns whom and actually doesn’t give a toss about what one newspaper says about another.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk
IIMAGE: Wikimedia Creative Commons