Grumpy bastards

Andrew Donaldson writes on what journos should do about unpleasant politicians



RECENT reports dramatically suggest all is not well with our journalism. For example, Chris Moerdyk, the advertising person, recently complained of “shocking” editorial and management standards in the fish wraps. Writing in themediaonline, he suggests newspapers have forgotten all about reporting “both sides of the story” and hacks now have carte blanche in expressing “opinions and bias”.

If, that is, they can even write. For Moerdyk further claims many hacks “aren’t even able to string a coherent sentence together with the result that newspapers have to employ a completely new breed of editorial staff called ‘rewriters’ to convert the garbage they get from so-called reporters into understandable English”.

Newspapers are now hiring people? This is indeed startling. Only this very week, Iqbal Survé, self-styled media mogul with child-bearing hips and former personal physician to no less than Nelson Mandela, was telling the commission of inquiry into the Public Investment Corporation of the likelihood of more job losses at his newspapers.

As he admits, Survé had borrowed R850-million from the PIC to buy the Independent group in 2013 and now cannot service the loan. This is because Independent is paying squillions in interest to Chinese creditors for a separate loan, the details of which, oddly enough, don’t get much airing in his publications. The group is now in dire need of recapitalisation to the tune, he says, of R300-million. 

Which he doesn’t have. And there is no indication that such a sum will now suddenly make an appearance in his affairs. Such is life, and this may explain the more, uh, distracting testimony the commission has heard from our home-grown Hearst.

Wielding the well-worn struggle card so beloved of BEE beneficiaries, Survé states his life is in grave danger as he is “pro transformation” and that people want to kill him “because they believe Independent Media is championing black people’s rights”.

We beg to differ. Frankly, that is not why people wish him such extraordinary harm. 

But let’s move on. It appears that it is not only print journalism that is in a mess, but the broadcasters too. 

Much has been written of the cow Jessie Duarte had on Tuesday regarding eNCA political reporter Samkele Maseko’s “attacking” questions directed at the ANC’s leadership.

Commentary here has justifiably been unsympathetic towards the ANC’s deputy secretary-general. Fielding such questions, as she has over the years, she invariably responds with the grace of a warthog with an abscessed jaw. 

She is routinely unpleasant with journalists and, in that regard, there was nothing unusual about her behaviour during Tuesday’s media briefing at Luthuli House. Calls for anger management therapy, though futile, are now no less warranted than they were ten years ago.

Readers will recall that in the run-up to the 2009 elections that brought Jacob Zuma to power, Duarte accused the BBC’s John Humphrys of having “a colonial mindset” for asking about alleged corruption in housing in Alexandra. 

Shortly after that sniping display, she went postal on Sunday Times reporter Philani Nombembe when he inquired about online election campaigning and whether leaders interacted with voters on their blogs:

“I mean, how can you ask me a question like that? ‘Does the ANC president actually read?’ Good God, can you guys just get a life now? You must get a life, your newspaper must get a life, you’re terribly classist, and if you were not black I would say you were a racist but, well, I suppose you could be a racist even if you were black like me, but you’ve got a very bad attitude, your newspaper has, and seriously speaking now, this man, whether you like it or not, is going to be the next president of the country, and actually we’re not so concerned about what the Times thinks…”

The funny thing is that Nombembe, in putting together a report on online electioneering, wasn’t asking Duarte whether the next president could “actually read”, but rather if he responded to posts on his election blog. 

Though inadvertent, her response did reflect widespread concerns that the next president was, in fact, functionally illiterate and capable of little more than dancing and bothering women. Perhaps Duarte even shared the nation’s fears in this regard.

It soon transpired that Jacob Zuma can, in fact, read — albeit with some difficulty and provided the print is large enough. His lips, it was noted, really do move. But this is not unusual when stumbling through a speech. 

Numeracy, however, remains a problem. Even if you show him the figures, Accused Number One is not able to say how much of the fiscus was looted on his watch. At best, he may hazard a guess that it’s in the eleventy or twelvety something billions.

But back to this week and Maseko. It’s commendable that he instructed his colleague to continue filming despite Duarte’s instructions that eNCA’s camera be shut down while she had her fit. 

This is good. Grumpy politicians have no business telling journalists what they may or may not do, and the sooner she and her colleagues realise this the better.

However, Maleko’s yammering admission that he respected Duarte because she was as old as his grandmother is very worrying. 

As Jeremy Gordin wrote on this site: “Goodness me, is no guidance given to young journalists these days? Surely the way to a woman’s heart does not include banging on in front of the cameras about how she reminds you of your granny. I think someone in management should have a word with the young chap.” (Gordin, it must be said, was suggesting that we cut Duarte some slack, but even he had to admit that some drinking was required before she grew more agreeable.)

Perhaps this sort of supine obeisance is now expected of the press at Luthuli House. Certainly there’s a long history of shameful grovelling there. The low point came in April 2010 when Julius Malema, then president of the ANC Youth League, threw a BBC reporter, Jonah Fisher, out of a press conference after calling him a “bastard”, a “bloody agent” and a “small boy” with a “white tendency”.

Not one single journalist at that briefing raised a single word of objection at this appalling treatment of their colleague or walked out in protest. Not one. Instead, they sat in awkward silence, spineless, as the bully continued with his raving. 

This loutish and ill-mannered nonsense will in likelihood intensify as we get closer to May 8. But how interesting it will be if, at the next unhinged tirade, reporters shut their notebooks, switched off their cameras and simply walked away. 

The politicians will soon get the message and learn most pronto to pretend they are adults and be more civil in their dealings with the fourth estate. After all, the election is fast approaching, and they have plenty lies and empty promises they must share with the nation. They need the media to do that for them.


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