What was communications minister Dina Pule thinking? What had possessed her when she called that press conference on Monday (22 April 2013) to “set the record straight”?
Pule told the media a Johannesburg hotel that the damaging reports published in the Sunday Times over the last 10 months were part of a “sophisticated plot” to blackmail her. According to the embattled Minister, the reason for the “blackmail” is a multi-billion Rand tender for set-top boxes that will be used for South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital television.
Pule accuses the three journalists – Rob Rose, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter – of being used by a businessman who wants to destroy the minister’s career and get President Jacob Zuma to fire her. She goes on to accuse Wa Afrika of running a private cellular phone business on the side.
Let’s clear one matter quickly. I cannot speak to the veracity of Pule’s allegations. I also cannot attest to the integrity of the three journalists and whether or not they are guilty of the allegations levelled against them.
Frankly, I don’t care. I don’t care because from where I sit, Pule was ill-advised to call the press conference to make such “revelations”. This is Communications 101. Vilifying the media and making unfounded allegations against those you regard as your adversaries is the worst form of spin.
Even if there was veracity in what Pule told the media, the problem is that she presents such “revelations” not as a way of exposing wrong-doing, but as a warped way of defending herself from constant exposés by the Sunday Times.
Let us for one minute assume that there is truth in Pule’s counter allegations against the afore-mentioned journalists. Then I have a few questions:
- Why doesn’t she mention the businessman who is the handler of these journalists? Isn’t this businessman as culpable (if not worse) as the journalists?
- Where is the evidence of her allegations? In fact for someone who is accusing the media of making damaging allegations against her without providing any proof, why is she committing the same mistake she is accusing them of?
The media are not angels. In fact I have found myself pulling the last of my hair off at times when I see some glaring elements of unprofessionalism in the media sometimes. I truly believe that some of our journalists do not do their homework and sometimes take shortcuts in repeating allegations by faceless people or regurgitating as fact stories from their competitors.
But there is a quicker way of exposing bad journalists. First, produce facts to prove them wrong. Second call their bluff and sue them, especially where their damaging allegations are so blatantly baseless.
Any communicator worth their salt would have advised the Minister, for free dare I add, that if there is indeed a businessman using journalists to destroy her integrity and win tenders in the process, then a press conference was not the best place to expose them.
Pule, like those in her department and elsewhere who leak the information week-in and week-out to the media, could have leaked such information to other media, but this time with names and proof. Her tactics this time are without credibility – what with unsubstantiated allegations.
Unfortunately Pule is not alone in this circus. Ministers and other public figures have fallen to the trap of playing victim whenever they find themselves with backs against the wall. And when all denials have failed to stop the deluge of exposés, conspiracy theories and playing the blame-game is their refuge.
Here’s my advice, dear minister:
- Globally people have an inate distrust of politicians. You are not unique. Therefore your revelations will be treated cynically, not only because of what I have already said, but also because you are a politician.
- Never try to use the media to turn against one another. They may be competitors, but they are unlikely to believe a politician against their competitors, especially when such a politician ranks so low in reputation stakes.
- If you think your integrity is besmirched – for no reason – do not put petrol on fire like you did. Trust me I know.
There is an American concept called ‘Wag The Dog’. It is a tactic used often by the White House to deflect criticism, normally by starting a ‘war’ elsewhere. If this was your attempt at wagging the dog, unfortunately you put your hand in the mouth of the canine and got bitten.
Rams Mabote is a journalist, spin doctor,connector, author and MC. He owns the consultancy, The Kingmaker. Follow him on Twitter @ramsmabote.
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