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Objective reporting or smear campaign?

By Udo Froese
As a concerned citizen of South Africa I noted your frontpage article by a certain Lyse Comins on June 16, 2012, under the title "BOB'S PAD BARRED" with an even more insulting sub-headline "Work stopped on Mugabe crony's R200m Ballito 'bolthole'".

Above-mentioned should not go unnoticed.

First, your reporter's use of slogans and unfounded clichés without much effort to deliver facts discredited not only your newspaper and the standards, you claim to hold, it further undermined the media's and more particularly the foreign owned publishing house, Independent Newspapers Limited credibility.

Those continuous efforts of an intensified media spin marginalise the media. Following are the examples, how the SATURDAY STAR undermined its own reputation. The headline disrespectfully refers to an elder African statesman, a head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces of a sovereign neighbour as "Bob".

How would you, Messrs. Crowley and Howard, respond, if your newspapers would refer on your front pages to the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II as just Liz, or Germany's head of state as just Angie-Baby, or the US president as simply that Bar-wecan? Is it simply because the media is just dealing with an African president that foreign owned publishing companies can willy-nilly dismiss them as leaders of backyard, squatter camp dwellers?

Your newspapers' approach towards senior African leadership seems to have its own history. It would explain, why the media has never reported on the blatant breach of the 'Lancaster House Agreement of 1979', which forms the cornerstone of Zimbabwe's sovereign independence. Or is it that international agreements with Third World and African countries need not to be as respected as with the US, Israel, UK, Canada, the EU, Australia and New Zealand?

The sub-headline with the chosen propaganda wording of "crony", adding another word for some residence in Ballito Bay outside Durban, and describing it as a "bolthole", is another case in point. The writer picks up in the following article, again referring to "A 'crony' of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, building a luxury mansion with an underground bunker in Ballito, KZN, has been ordered to stop work on the R200million property." Your writer then goes on to report, "It is rumoured to be a bolthole for Mugabe,..."

And, more such reporting by the SATURDAY STAR, "... indentified in some reports as the leader's former pilot..." "He (that is dr. Robert Mhlanga) is reported to ..."

. The writer then goes on to refer to a "potential impact on neighbouring properties and the environment."

Then this: "The SATURDAY STAR this week established that Mhlanga, via his company Formate (Pty.) Ltd is the mystery man behind the development." There are referrals to "bullet proof windows and an underground bunker" and "some internet reports" when "reporting" on dr. Robert Mhlanga.

Your writer then refers to "two Global Witness 2010 and 2012 reports on blood diamonds in Zimbabwe."

But, your writer has made no effort at all to proof the credibility of that "Global Witness" and their reports. The reporter did not research the trail of the money of funding of such foreign NGOs, such as the "Global Witness". Who pays those NGOs? Why do the media refuse point blank to investigate the funding and the funders of such civil society? Why do the media take their defence of such civil society even further, by declaring efforts to research the funders, the funding and therefore the owners of that civil society to be "conspiratorial theories"?

More such unproven and unsubstantiated allegations, further discredited by terms such as "questionable circumstances to opaque companies at Marange" litter that front page article of the SATURDAY STAR of June 16, 2012.

The rest of that article fails to proof beyond doubt that any of the listed allegations have substantial facts. Most of those people named, were simply not available, or had nothing to contribute.

The entire article seems to be a media spin only. It does not allow facts and substance to get in its way. It seems to focus on one direction only. That is, to intensify the media spin against Zimbabwe.

Therefore, the writer created the perception that the frontpage allegations against an African head of state, more particularly the elder Zimbabwean president, are nothing more than a form of character assassination in order to mislead the public. Such is vulgar political power peddling.

A so-called "crony", one of the indigenous African-Zimbabwean businessmen and mine co-owners, is merely used to get to President Robert Mugabe.

It would be responsible if such reporting would be brought to the attention of the media ombudsman. It would be important that slander and libellous media reports would be dealt with in the same way as all other slander and libellous campaigns - taking it to the courts and let the law take its course.

The onus is on (a) the publishing house to apologise unconditionally and promptly with the same prominence it gave its article on the front page of its publication and (b) on the media ombudsman to take the necessary action to rectify such reporting and finally (c) for those victims of such reporting to take action against such publishing company.

It is further important to establish, what exactly the role of the media is in South and southern Africa and why it remains foreign, majority owned, as it not only stifles the national debate, but disrespects African thinking, history, culture and daily expectations, dressing Eurocentric Afro pessimism up as Pan-Africanism.

The aforementioned would be the honourable route to follow, if the owners of the media are sincerely committed to become part of improving life for all living on the African continent. The media should not be tendentiously manipulating the market through power peddling and malicious rumour mongering.

No amount of ingenuous chicanery can obscure the simple basic facts about the media's hidden agendas. Therefore, the owners and their senior management of the media would have to be held responsible for it.

It is important that governments, the owners of the economy and civil society as well as of the media take note that any form of blurring the lines between democracy and High Treason is unlawful in South Africa. There is a law against it. This also means that any attempts at what certain opportunistic politicians and mischievous armchair academic analysts describe as "North African-style Arab Spring" with the subsequent result of a "regime change" are punishable by law. The media is their platform.





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