Zille questions Surve on media ‘standards’

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille on Sunday questioned the independence of Independent Newspapers.

She called on executive chairperson Iqbal Survé to give answers about the group’s stance on producing the highest standards of excellence, maintaining credibility and keeping the trust of its readers, as stated in the preamble to the SA Press Code.

In open letter to Surve, Zille asked: “Is it acceptable to issue an apology to the president on the basis of an inaccuracy in a published opinion piece, when senior editors were fully aware that the column in question was indeed factually correct?” 

The letter was published on the DA website. She was referring to a piece written by columnist Max Du Preez, published in Independent Newspapers on December 30, titled “[President Jacob] Zuma – SA’s one-man wrecking ball”.

In the column, Du Preez wrote: “The devastation caused by … Zuma will take years to rebuild, even if he were to leave office tomorrow.” 

He offered his analysis of the political machinations he believed were behind the appointment of Tom Moyane as SA Revenue Services commissioner in September, and the suspension of Hawks head Anwa Dramat. The presidency referred to the piece as “racist and mind-boggling”. 

Independent Newspapers later issued an apology for the column.

On Thursday, in his resignation letter published on Facebook, Du Preez lashed out at the group’s executive editor Karima Brown. “You did not even have the decency to send me your apology in advance or to inform me that it was going to be published. 

“I thought my explanation would have convinced you that an apology in this matter would have been a travesty,” he said.

ANC clothing
Du Preez said another reason for his resignation was that he found it hard to work beside Brown after she and editor of opinion and analysis Vukani Mde were photographed wearing ANC clothing as they attended the ruling party’s birthday party at the weekend. Zille said in wearing ANC colours, Brown and Mde demonstrated that they were unapologetically for the ANC. 

She called on Survé to give clarity on the matter. “Is it acceptable to attend a political party’s birthday celebrations in colours of support, as the most senior editors of a group’s titles, and actively promote and advertise this action in the public space?” she questioned. 

Zille said Mde had already made his position clear by stating he would have “no problem” with his colleagues emulating him by going to a political bash wearing party clothing, and then actively promoting this practice in this public space. 

“Does this approach constitute the ‘highest standards’ when it comes to managing perceptions of political independence? 

“Or do you concur, contrary to what you assured me when you visited me in my office several months ago, that the ‘Independent Group’ has now forfeited its independence and become a mouthpiece for the Zuma faction of the ANC?” Zille asked Survé.

Media houses ‘vulnerable’
She said like the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority, Sars and the Electoral Commission of SA, the country’s “independent” media houses were vulnerable to being captured, through the “(ab)use of public funds, by elements in the ruling party”. 

“Independent Newspapers seems to have abandoned their readers to pursue a political project,” she said. 

“If this is the case, then the group must be honest with readers about this and not pretend to be anything different. People deserve to know this upfront, which is why I seek answers to these questions,” she said. 

Surve could not be immediately reached for comment. – Sapa

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