The media on trial

Jeremy Gordin delivers his verdict in the case of Munusamy, Brown, McKaiser & Others

Hear ye, hear ye. Incorporated as per the statutes of the commonwealth of Parkview, Johannesburg, this Journalism Court is now in session – J Fishcake Gordin presiding as judge, evidence leader, prosecutor, and defence counsel. Today’s cases relate to the direct or indirect perpetrators, alternatively the actual writers, of several news reports and related articles or commentaries.

1. In re: Ranjeni Munusamy

Once Jacob Zuma’s confidant and “assistant,” and a sometime friend of our judge [Obiter dictum ex Judge (ODeJ): Ahem, ahem ...], but now a journalist presently employed at the Tiso Blackstar Group, Munusamy was recently fingered at the Zondo Commission by Col. Kobus Roelofse.

Roelofse told the commission that while investigating claims of corruption between crime intelligence officers and Atlantis Motors, Centurion, he found that R143 621.78 was paid from an Atlantis Motors business account to a Wesbank vehicle finance account as the settlement agreement for a silver BMW convertible in Munusamy’s name. [ODeJ: I remember the car being white but maybe at some point Munusamy exchanged it for a silver one; anyway, eight percent of males, including me, are apparently colour-blind or partially so.] The amount was paid on July 30, 2008.

Then on Monday, the Invisible Man, Crime Intelligence “whistleblower” Colonel Dhanajaya Naidoo, testified to the commission not in person but in a disembodied voice from a secret location because he is in a witness protection programme. [ODeJ: For some of us, his absence was reminiscent of the Passover ceremony at which an empty chair is always left at the table for the prophet Elijah, supposed to appear in times of trouble to plant hope in the hearts of the downtrodden. I have never seen Elijah and whether Munusamy, watching from “special leave”, was spiritually uplifted by the empty chair, is not known.]

Naidoo told commission that several journalists, including Munusamy, had been paid by crime intelligence. He also said he had met Munusamy at least three times while taking care of repairs for her vehicle on behalf of his bosses at Crime Intelligence. He referred to Munusamy as “Jenni”. [ODeJ: It is common cause that eight percent of males cannot pronounce “Ranjeni” any more than they can say “shibboleth”; Judges, 12:6.]

Munusamy has said these claims are “preposterous,” that a close family friend, Basheer Ahmed Abdool, paid for her car [ODeJ: Such friends we should all have ...], and stated inter alia that “...this is an attempt to destroy my credibility to ensure that I will not be taken seriously as a journalist with professionalism, independence and integrity”.

1.1 Charges

Whether Munusamy received money from Crime Intelligence, or someone connected thereto, will doubtless be pronounced upon in the next two to four years by Judge Zondo and is of but passing interest to this court.

Our main charge is, rather, levelled at Col. Roelofse, Col. Naidoo, the commission’s evidence leaders, the proprietors of Tiso Blackstar and the media in general. The reason for this is that Munusamy was not in 2008 a journalist. Why then has she been lumped in among journalists purportedly paid by Crime Intelligence/from the Secret Service Account?

The charge then is: Failure to do very basic research properly (cf. Journalism 101), an issue to which we shall return. A secondary charge is levelled at Munusamy for taking herself far too seriously. Regretfully, the court has been unable to find any evidence for Munusamy’s contention that she should be taken “seriously”. Serious is, after all, as serious does.

2. In re: Karima Brown

Brown is (or perhaps was) a leading talking head, the hallmark of her style being to repeat ad nauseam her own view on political matters while shutting out anyone else who might be trying to say something. She still has a programme on, I think, Sunday mornings on eNCA and previously had a “political” talk show on Primedia’s Radio 702. It is regarding the latter that she has recently come to our attention.

The details of what happened to Brown are convoluted and tedious. In short, after her contract was terminated at 702, Brown lodged a complaint of editorial interference and censorship against her former station manager, Thabisile Mbete. As a result, an inquiry was held by Terry Motau SC – he of VBS fame.

To cut an extraordinarily long story shorter, Motau found that Mbete had behaved correctly and that in fact Brown had been slapgat in her approach to the issue covered on a programme. No, she had been more than sloppy; she had created damaging aspersions about five individuals, thereby breaching the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa’s code. (If the reader has the patience for Motau’s 108-page report, it can be found here.)

How did this happen? To cut a long story short again, Brown failed to do her basic research properly. (See above: In re: Munusamy.) She attributed certain motivations to certain people based on where and for whom they’d worked at certain times. Small problem: she got the dates wrong and made ASSumptions. Uh-oh.

Well, we all make mistakes. More bothersome, however, was the attitude evinced by Brown – and particularly the depth of her anger. For example, in arguing with Motau that her contract should not have been terminated by 702, she said: “Xolani Gwala, as you know, suffers from stage 4 cancer, [yet] he’s employed by the station even though he has not worked at the station because he’s ill. [But] the mid-day show still runs with his name. They [702] leverage his name. ... So, for example, if you’re putting all your resources into daytime [shows], how are you employing Xolani Gwala when he’s never at work [sic]?”

In other words, Brown was miffed that Gwala received special treatment, didn’t have to work and still got paid – and just because he has stage four cancer. We move on.

Someone who spoke up on Brown’s behalf to Motau was one Eusebius McKaiser. On page 64, Motau noted: “It became apparent during the interview that not only did Mr McKaiser lack personal knowledge of the underlying facts, but that most of his views constitute opinion that could not be applied to the facts since an inquiry such as the one in hand is a fact-finding mission, the determination of which will rest on factual evidence.” We move on some more.

2.1 Charges

Brown is charged, based on the Motau inquiry and other information, with being a nasty bully incapable of dealing with not getting her way. She is also charged with failure to do very basic research properly (cf. Journalism 101).

Last, but not least, there is this. Certain members of the EFF, perhaps even the so-called Commander-in-Chief, have stated that Brown is not a “legitimate” journalist. Above all then, Brown is charged with causing members of the public to believe that the EFF might finally have got something right

3. In re: Adriaan Basson (“Bassonetjie”)

Following the mention of Munusamy at the Zondo Commission and ventilation of Brown’s character at the Motau inquiry, Basson wrote a grieving piece about the two women on Media24. It began thus: “Faced with the headwinds of fake news, a shortage of digital advertising and the collapse of editorial integrity at Independent Media [sic], the last thing our media needs are scandals that undermine the standing of senior journalists ...”.

Thereafter followed a not-too-bad summary, albeit anodyne and vanilla, of the careers of the two “senior journalists.” After this we were told the following in the final paragraph: “It was a dark week for South African journalism at a time when we should be obsessed with rebuilding trust with you, the reading public”. What?

Basson is charged with writing mawkish claptrap, thereby insulting adults throughout South Africa. 

4. In re: Simon Allison and Eusebius McKaiser

This matter concerns a young journalism graduate who allegedly lied to her family, friends and colleagues for almost a year about having cancer, stopping only when it turned out she was telling lies. She nonetheless continued with her career. Then, as Rebecca Davis wrote (in an excellent piece) on the Daily Maverick site, “it was revealed that the journalist would speak at two media conferences. For a proven fabulist,” Davis continued, “to be promoted in such a fashion has brought a story previously bubbling just under the surface to widespread public attention.”

In short, the proverbial hit the fan. Her former “friends” asked how a liar could be allowed to speak at major journalism conferences, etc. etc.? [ODeJ: Jeez, must say that most of the best journalists I’ve known have been consummate liars, seems to go with the territory ...]

Now, clearly the young person had some emotional/mental troubles, but she claims to have gotten over them, so I say give her a break. It’s not as if she’s the editor of the Sunday Times [ODeJ: Hold on there, not a good example, aren’t they supposed to have had some first-class fibbers on the payroll?] or the S-G of the ANC.

Anyway, I certainly wouldn’t name her – and I must point out that Davis didn’t either. But someone who did was Simon Allison at the Mail&Guardian. He wrote some 4 000 Woke words, which I unfortunately read. Who wants to see someone’s young life splattered across the desktop screen? As I remarked, she’s not the minister of finance or the chief justice.

Okay, so Woke journos really take themselves seriously and have no sense of proportion whatsoever. But what about our apparently fact-challenged friend, Eusebius McKaiser? He, it seems, wrote a piece about the same young women which was then posted on the M&G website, and then pulled – but it was there long enough for someone to send me a copy.

McKaiser’s contribution? “Would a black or brown person, if we are honest, survive this kind of scandal?” asked McKaiser. “Do we search for and ascribe this level of complexity to all bodies or only some bodies? I am reminded of variations on this case. A black mom kills her children and we are not interested in complexity. She cannot be understood. She is only to be condemned. Complexity and explanation are not for those who live under conditions of poverty, not for those who are moving through the world embodied in black skin.”

Pass the virtue-bag, Alice (or Allison).

4.1 Charges

Allison is charged with being so sickeningly Woke that not even a liberal like me would buy him a drink. McKaiser is charged with being McKaiser.

5. Verdict

All the above-named people are found guilty as charged. Leave to appeal is denied in all cases.

6. Sentences

Roelofse, Naidoo, the commission’s evidence leaders, and the media in general are sentenced to attend every day for three months a course in Journalism 101 at the end of which each must write a 3 000-word essay on when precisely a journalist is a journalist and what state capture means. The proprietors of Tiso Blackstar are sentenced to returning Munusamy to work until, and if, she is found guilty of furthering state capture.

Munusamy is sentenced to reading Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, and Mordecai Richler every day for three months, after which she is to be examined by a psychologist nominated by the court who will test Munusamy to see if she has gotten over herself.

Brown is sentenced to drink two litres of the milk of human kindness every morning for three months and to take (and not break) a vow of silence for the same period. Additionally, she is to work for six hours every day at a hospice, caring for terminal patients.

Basson is sentenced to stop writing his usual fare and to work for three months as a newspaper seller in Soweto.

Allison is sentenced to spending three months being tutored by columnist David Bullard. Following this, he is to be examined by a psychologist nominated by the court who will test Allison to see if he has been un-brainwashed. If not, he must continue with his treatment month-to-month until he is cured.

McKaiser is not sentenced to anything but remaining who he is. There can be no worse sentence, surely?