Sponsored Propaganda and Fake News Against the Independent Media and its Chairman Dr Iqbal Surve is an Affront to Media Freedom

Published Jun 25, 2024


The recently leaked letter detailing the Democratic Alliance's (DA) demands for the Government of National Unity (GNU) has vindicated Independent Media's fair and robust reporting of the past few weeks.

When the narrative that "the DA is not interested in positions" but is "interested in values and prosperity of South Africa" was being peddled, it was Independent Media that exposed the truth that the DA covets influential positions, particularly the Deputy Presidency and influence of key ministries.

Two and a half weeks later, what was disputed as "untrue" has been confirmed by the DA's own letter to ANC Secretary General, Fikile Mbalula.

The racist attitude of the DA, which we have consistently lamented, is again laid bare for all to see. Their overarching message surrounding the GNU, especially from the DA's perspective, is that whites need to supervise blacks, and that blacks are incapable of running anything.

Following the announcement of the electoral results after the 29th of May, the Independent Media and its Chairman, Dr Iqbal Surve, have faced a barrage of propaganda attacks for the media house’s balanced reporting on the developments.

While our mainstream media competitors were reporting in tandem, almost synchronised, Independent Media opted for a balanced approach, giving voice to the entire spectrum of views around the coalitions.

Before the coalition talks and negotiations commenced, the DA had run a “swartgevaar” campaign pushing against the black political parties’ coalition, dubbing it a "Doomsday coalition". Helen Zille, the DA Federal Council Chairperson, was unequivocal that the DA would do anything and everything in its power to thwart any coalition of black political parties. In a country with South Africa's history of racism, Zille's statement should have set off alarm bells. Worse still, the subsequent narrative in the mainstream media suggested that a coalition of black parties would collapse the economy and create an investor scare. The proponents of the ANC-DA coalition wanted this alliance at all costs, even if it meant condoning the racist undertones around it.

Coming from years of racial segregation and oppression, this narrative was laden with racial undertones, implying that blacks and black political parties cannot "manage the economy" or be allowed to co-govern together.

The mainstream media, especially the white-owned competitors, drove this narrative aggressively, particularly when the discourse shifted from coalition to GNU.

The GNU was sold as a panacea for the current challenge of an inconclusive electoral outcome, but it was not the only option to form a government.

Independent Media, an uncaptured and truly independent media company, gave equal voice to the other side of the national debate on this critical issue. We provided a platform for opinions and views that diverged from the curated mainstream narrative.

Furthermore, Independent Media exposed the racist underpinnings of the DA, including some of the arch-racist MPs who were part of the DA's governmental aspirations.

The Renaldo Gouws racist videos and Ian Cameron’s black-face painting serve as a case in point. It is crucial for our country to understand the values of the political parties vying to form our government, and the presence of a right-wing racist in our parliament is no trivial matter. The racism was too hard to ignore and had to be exposed – yet some accused us of stoking racial tensions while we were exposing racism.

As the contest for the information space intensified, the media domain became a battleground for control of public discourse. Unable to manipulate the public or the Independent Media, detractors launched an all-out campaign against our media house, our journalists, and Dr Surve. These attacks took the form of threats to our journalists, social media smears through sock puppet accounts, and general insults against our media house.

Of all the reports Independent Media has published, not a single piece has been questionable. We have presented facts and reported on events just as all other media houses have done. Yet, our media house was singled out for attacks by what appear to be government-aligned social media accounts. Of all the national media houses that reported on the Renaldo Gouws racist matter, we alone were targeted, with photos of guns suggestively posted on social media alongside our reports.

The propaganda machinery went into overdrive as the GNU negotiations faced one challenge after another, despite this having nothing to do with us. Ironically, sponsored social media accounts began laying the blame for the faltering negotiations at Independent Media's doorstep. Our supposed transgression? Reporting both sides of the GNU spectrum and providing a platform for those with dissenting views about the coalition arrangement. It is inconceivable that a nation of 60 million would have a uniform view on such a critical and complex issue as the GNU. While the mainstream media reported in a romantic manner, we allowed space for hard questions to be asked.

State-linked social media accounts, such as the sock puppet account of Goolam, launched into an overdrive of propaganda attacks and smears against Dr Surve, using fake news. A coordinated campaign was in full swing.

DA-linked social media accounts joined the fray, their tone even more crass, rude, and racist, mirroring their political party. All attempts to smear Surve were designed to obscure the truth and deflect the country's attention from the facts around the renamed coalition.

Media houses do not create news; they report news. Unlike the highly factionalised and captured media, our journalists report news and give a voice to all South Africans, irrespective of political affiliations or associations.

The truth, however, was seen as problematic because there was coordinated romantic reporting of the GNU by all the other mainstream outlets. The sponsored propaganda, these threats, and this fake news must be rejected with the contempt they deserve, especially when directed at media houses.

The media exists as a Fourth Estate in our democratic dispensation. That role is sacrosanct for our 30-year-old democracy. If the Goolams and any of the vile sponsored social media campaigns are allowed to prevail, we may soon witness the death of independent media. The power and importance of unfettered journalism cannot be understated.

* The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.