So what is one to make of the fact that Aneez Salie has been replaced as editor of the Cape Times by someone who joined Sekunjalo as an intern six years ago – something which company owner Iqbal Survé is claiming is a huge transformation breakthrough?
The cynical might see it as an attempt to distract attention from his current travails while punting the transformation refrain, but everything will depend on the ability of Siyavuya Mzantsi to be his own man, to chart his own course, to fiercely defend his autonomy as an editor, to create his own legacy.
As a Cape Times employee he has witnessed the undisputed abuses described in Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield’s book, Paper Tiger, and by Dougie Oakes which have resulted in international opprobrium; the unseemly and threatening behaviour – absolutely without precedent – which brought Independent Media into disrepute; the endless puff pieces; the farcical predictions; the attacks on UCT and Max Price; the support for the brutal and destructive Fallists and the tragic way that ended; the evil Tiger Tiger Five campaign; the Fake News vendettas against Helen Zille and the Democratic Alliance; the absurd Newseum claim and the fact that those falsehoods remain on the IOL website – see here and here and here and here; the hypocrisy of attacks on Alide Dasnois when the best journalism by far in the Cape Times emanates from GroundUp, which she co-edits, and so on.
How will he respond to the sort of pressure that former Mercury editor Philani Mgwaba described in his Paper Tiger interview as a reason for his resignation?
‘My private concerns turned to alarm when, soon after Iqbal Survé took control, editors began to receive instructions from Iqbal’s underlings and acolytes to publish opinion pieces that shamelessly ﬂattered and promoted him and/or defended him from legitimate questions that were being raised about his curious business interests.’ P142
Speaking at the Cape Town launch of Paper Tiger a former editor, of the newspaper, Tyrone August, said the Cape Times was a “pale shadow” of its former self and Max du Preez predicted that outcome in a Facebook post five years ago.
To turn the situation around, to regain the subscribers lost during the past six years, Mzantsi needs to end the anti-white rhetoric which has dominated the front pages of the newspaper since Salie was appointed editor; Salie and his predecessor, as described in Paper Tiger, went to extreme lengths to drive out long-term and talented journalists such as Tony Weaver and Melanie Gosling and columnists like John Scott.
He needs to appoint and retain staff on merit; spelling errors and bad grammar have become the hallmark of the newspaper in the Salie era, culminating in the notorious Westerford devided on racist remark headline on the front page lead on 23 August last year.
Mzantsi needs to strengthen the sub-editing department and the front page leads must be relevant to the lives of Capetonians and not pander to Survé’s Chinese funders as happened on 8 June 2015.
*The views expressed by contributors or columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Media Online.
Ed Herbst is a retired journalist and media commentator.
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