Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves
Julius Caesar – William Shakespeare
If Nelson Mandela were to be reincarnated as a journalist he would be reincarnated as Iqbal Survé – and he would not object.
We know that because Dr Survé – if Sunday Times Business Times editor Rob Rose is to be believed – told us so. “(Mandela) said to me just before he got ill, ‘Iqbal, are you still the same?’ I said to him: ‘Tata, I am still the same’. He said: ‘Now I can go’.”
But it was Karima Brown, recently appointed by Dr Survé as group executive editor at his newly acquired company, who gave us the first inkling of the colossally beneficial role that the new press baron – who just happens to be her new boss – is going to play in defending media freedom in this country. Six weeks after R2K called for an editorial charter Brown, for our edification and delight, announced that this would be done.
“Independent will be the first South African news group to operate according to such a charter, adherence to which will be overseen by an editorial advisory board of prominent and respected persons.”
We thus learn, as journalists and citizens, that we are extraordinarily blessed by the arrival of Dr Iqbal Survé. Forget names like Thomas Pringle, John Fairburn, Benjamin Pogrund, Donald Woods, Percy Qoboza, Zwelakhe Sisulu, Joe Thloloe, Helen Zille, Allister Sparks, Max du Preez, Tony Heard, Martin Welz and others whose exposes and battles against government censorship resonated so strongly with us in the past. Forget legendary Afrikaans news men such as Schalk Pienaar who persuaded the often reluctant readership of Naspers and Perskor that the vision of FW de Klerk was a better guarantor of their country’s future than the vision of Dr Andries Treurnicht.
The new South African media warrior, Dr Iqbal Survé, eclipses them all with his innovative charter which we are told, will make Independent Newspapers “…the first South African news group to operate according to such a charter”.
Where, one wonders, was Karima Brown on 25 October 2005 when the then editor of Die Burger, Arrie Rossouw, speaking at the Cape Town Press Club, introduced an inclusive editorial charter which emphatically broke with the past and committed the papers in the News 24 group to a broad South Africanism which was not affiliated to any political party?
A year earlier, on 14 October 2004, Business Day published a prescient column, “Afrikaans press carried torch of brave journalism” by Rhoda Kadalie in which she wrote: “The Afrikaans press … saw fit to cut its umbilical cord to the National Party several years ago, and much of the best investigative journalism and debate that is taking SA forward is occurring within its ranks.” (The column is one of the chapters in her book, In your face, Passionate conversations about people and politics, (Tafelberg, 2009).
In any case, an editorial charter is worth nothing if the news organisation which drafted it, simply ignores its injunction.
The SABC, for example, has an outstanding charter of news ethics based on similar codes by the BBC, the Canadian and the Australian Broadcasting Corporations. It has however simply ignored its charter for years under a succession of cadres and ANC imbongis such as Christine Qunta, Thami Mazwai, Peter Matlare, Snuki Zikalala Dali Mpofu, Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Jimi Matthews – and ICASA has been happy to look the other way.
Brown has personal experience of this because she left the SABC when life under Zikalala became ethically untenable for her – and nothing has changed since her departure more than a decade ago other than that the censorship by omission and the pro-ANC bias is now much worse under Motsoeneng and Matthews than it was under Snuki Zikalala and Amrit Manga – so much for editorial charters!
As part of his promise to Madiba, Survé has, perforce of course, had to sweep away a few archaic cobwebs dating from the infamous and oft-quoted “colonial times” and the “apartheid era”.
The extraordinary noblesse oblige, the honesty and honour with which he has done so is outlined in a letter to the Cape Times by Gerald Shaw, former assistant editor of the newspaper and author of The Cape Times: An Informal History (University of Cape Town 1980). In a letter to the newspaper on 29 January Shaw set out the historic chronology of the contractual obligations between the newspaper company and it editors that existed before Survé took control and the increasing exodus of white employees started (an exodus which mirrors what happened at the state broadcaster when the Christine Qunta/Snuki Zikalala cabal took control in 2004.)
Shaw points out that from its founding in 1876, the owners of the Cape Times created a mutually beneficial contractual obligation for each party to give the other three months’ notice and that the accord had been respected – until now. “When the Irish-owned Independent newspaper group bought the Cape Times, they respected the established position of the group’s editors. It seems this is not the policy of the new proprietors.”
If Dasnois was signatory to such a contract then a breach of contract seems to have occurred.
While editorial charters are certainly part of South Africa’s press environment, media owners using the pages of their newspapers as a means to promote themselves is not. In the latest homage to Survé, all newspapers in the company’s stable carried a full page story on his plans for management of the various titles. This was followed by a Business Report story, titled ‘The man who wants to change the world’ in which the leadership qualities of the fearless leader were punted ad nauseum.
“Perhaps the most apt description of Survé is that of a “change agent”. He recently stitched together a deal to save Independent Newspapers from its downward spiral under the Irish rein. As a founding member of the Clinton Global Initiative, he often enjoys moments of reflection with leaders like Bill and Hillary Clinton and most recently with President Barack Obama when he visited South Africa last June,” wrote Adriaan Groenewald and Ellis Mnyandu.
Again, he references Nelson Mandela, speaking of leaders who have in common “humanity, dignity and respect for all. They were fearless and were prepared to sacrifice their lives in pursuit of their beliefs. They were values-driven and committed to a society which treated people with equality and dignity. They shared more than just the resources, but also their thinking, and did not have a sense of personal entitlement. They were visionaries in that they crafted the future according to their principles and values no matter how difficult the journey to get to that perfect future and perfect world which had harmony and peace and dignity for all that lived in it.”
The writers agree, “This is the attitude Mandela adopted; this is the attitude Survé adopted; this is the attitude all leaders in South Africa, Africa and beyond should adopt if we are going to move this continent forward successfully.”
There we have it. The warrior press baron out to change the world.