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South Africa – A Journalist hub for media freedom or revenge?

by Central News Reporter
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South Africa – A Journalist hub for media freedom or revenge?

Opinion

South Africa, a beautiful and awe-inspiring nation also known as Mzansi (isiZulu for a country at the bottom tip of Africa) is a nation with arguably the most friendly, courteous and accommodating people you can find on the planet. The country has some of the best cuisines and very affordable tourist escapes a dollar can pay.

Mzansi is also a country riddled with its own problems, some of which is unemployment, inequality, crime and of course the biggest elephant in the room; CORRUPTION and REVENGE. Delving into this, I become curious in my research to find out what it is that keeps injecting this injurious wound into the lifeblood of such a great nation & I’m left with only one explanation – AMBITION.

For almost 30 years into its democracy, South Africa and its people have been exposed to the Western side of fashion, luxury, wealth and extravagance which lends itself to seeing more and more people aspiring to live the “high life” through the eyes of many celebrities, sports stars and politicians – precisely where the ambition truncates.

On the other hand, I’ve come to notice that the same politicians aspire to be celebrities and vice versa BUT it doesn’t end there, we now have an overflowing gratification of media also finding themselves fighting personal battles with entrepreneurs and the rich and famous.

Let me unpack this with greater context: most Mzansi journalists have become bosom buddies with these same leaders for patronage, thus compromising a lot of journalism ethic codes for the sake of scoring a quick dime & using favours for colloquial character assassinations. My context for this statement is based on a few interesting articles that I have been reading which thus led me to doing my own personal research.

The country has been riddled with state capture, tender corruption, graft and other fiscal threats. One that caught my attention is the NLC (National Lotteries Commission) corruption investigations and allegations against certain professionals in positions of power.

Equally, the last few years have brought into sharp focus the extent to which professional freedom is under scrutiny, particularly by pen jotters. In the last few years, those threats have accelerated due to the pandemic, with unscrupulous regimes introducing oppressive journalistic measures under the guise of tackling corruption, using increasingly sophisticated methods to control online information narratives and continuing the clampdown on the same allegations by journalists.

One such character who appears on my radar is Raymond Joseph, a South African veteran journalist of newsrooms who has worked in senior editorial and executive positions on a wide variety of daily and weekly national and regional publications. His stories do unpack some of the alleged corruption and maladministration in the agency, rightfully so but to a certain degree, I feel like they also create personal attacks to these professionals, considering the hyperbole of trial by media being another problem in modern society. If we as journalists can use our inked influence, does that become fair on the ordinary citizen? I highly doubt that. All is fair in love and war & this to me leaves a trail of foul smells with the way in which he pens his investigations.

With an impressive resume, Joseph has embraced the dramatic changes happening in journalism and made the transition from print-only to a journalist able to work across multiple platforms. An evangelist for data-driven storytelling, he founded and is an executive committee member of Hacks/Hackers Cape Town, which is part of the worldwide movement that facilitates collaboration between journalists and technologists.

Joseph has worked closely with Code for South Africa, a Cape Town-based civic technology lab that uses data and technology to drive social change and he has played a key role in training and advising journalists on the use of data, social media and digital tools to improve their work. I’m also awe struck by my findings, which lead me to the alleged statements by a few civilians that seem to know of his personal dealings and his links to the very Commission he so writes about.

Tebogo Sithathu, a South African activist recently alleged to a South African publication TimesLIVE that Raymond Joseph and some of his colleagues at GroundUp were part of a funded but inexplicable campaign against the commission. “There is an interest from certain quarters. People are fighting for the soul of the NLC. For what? One [reason] is that he [Joseph] is unhappy and that his funding was stopped,” he said. “Two, [lottery operator] Ithuba is maybe in this thing  and I think there may be links between him and Ithuba. We’ll find out.”

Whether these allegations were proven to Sithathu, we are still to find out. He also claims that the NLC previously funded The Big Issue, a non-profit magazine established for the upliftment of homeless people where Joseph was a director for many years but Joseph told TimesLIVE it was an unpaid position that he held for two more years after the NLC stopped its funding. I also, through my sources got a hold of an organogram that seems to paint a different story about him and his associates. (Excerpt below)

From the organogram, it may suggest that the highly acclaimed veteran journalist could’ve received more than 52 Million Rands (Equivalent to $ 2,7 Million USD) through 8 of his own organisations, together with some of his associates and journalist friends. Now, having seen the above I quiver in doubt that the stories which he has written about the likes of some the NLC executives; celebrities, associates and legal consultants might have been completely investigative or personal. I’ll leave that to the same public to decide.

A few names of some of these individuals, who have fallen under the radar of law enforcement agencies in South Africa are in no way excused but I have a sense that we are still yet to learn more about this interesting person after reading so many backend facts and seeing documents that link him personally to the NLC. Could it be a case of closed taps running dry for him and his interests which led to him braking these stories or just a passion project to lead some of these suspects into the hands of the law? Or could it be a personal vendetta against some of the alleged culprits? This is still yet to be seen.

As someone who is more than 10 000 miles away, I’m yet to finalise comments from some of the direct contacts I have made with a few of the implicated individuals whose names I have seen splashed all over the South African media and opinion pieces. In another article I read, Joseph claimed that neither he nor any of his family members have ever applied for or received a lottery grant. But a former COO of the NLC, Philemon Letwaba sang a different tune to his claims which tell a different story about this gent in another article I perused.

He said: “The NLC continues to suffer just because an individual is no longer receiving money sitting in Cape Town with multiple NGOs that have been benefiting from the NLC.” Letwaba said Joseph was a “major beneficiary” of lottery funds. He told a news reporter on a South African news channel: “This has been going on for five years. My character has been attacked by this man since 2014.” Letwaba then claimed that more than 12 organisations linked to Joseph were no longer receiving lottery funds, and suggested Joseph was attacking him because of this. He also claimed that Joseph, his wife and family were direct beneficiaries of lottery funding. These are all allegations that Mr Joseph, the veteran journalist has vehemently denied to a point of even laying a civil suit against Letwaba for defamation. Again, if someone is innocent of all claims, why go to the extent of litigation and continue with personal attacks against them? The case still continues in a South African court of law.

From the organogram, we also dissect a few poignant names that feature on a cross pollination of articles that have been splashed all over the internet, assuming that the character assassinations and the narrative of creating the sensationalism of public judgements would still cast a doubt amongst readers at large, to my surprise the same individuals who wrote some of the articles seem to have been the alleged beneficiaries of some of these funds. This now brings me to my next point yet again. Is this journalism or a personal attack by the same media mavens who have had their own taps dried out by these so called culprits. This story continues like a theatre play on Broadway that has no tale end but still leaves the audience in complete awe.

A statement that I have read also said that “Mr Raymond has been a beneficiary of the NLC grants from 2001 until 2014, a year in which, coincidentally, was the year that said COO joined the NLC. They claim to have seen documents that Raymond Joseph was a director of The Big Issue Cape Town, an organisation that was directly funded by the NLC from 2001 until 2014 until he resigned as a director in 2016 – when their applications could not meet the requirements for grant approval,” reads the statement.

The NLC Board itself released a statement in 2022 saying that they fulfilled their fiduciary duties to lead the Commission ethically for sustainability and taking account of the Commission’s impact on internal and external stakeholders and being committed to applying the principles of openness and transparency in fulfilling its statutory responsibilities, particularly in regard to the management, administration and holding in trust the National Lottery Distributing Trust Fund.

There is often no accountability for these kinds of attacks where members of the media commit such acts of with impunity. Sometimes, journalist stories are often based on meritless, frivolous, or exaggerated claims and are brought in order to pressure the public and the law rather than to vindicate a right. It is still to be seen and proven on the above claims but in my opinion, the grass is not always greener on the other side for journalists, even if they are well sought after. Journalists must always remember not to use influential publications to settle personal scores which end up destroying people’s lives and careers because they themselves are no longer benefitting financially. They must always be thorough, fair, and accurate in what they publish, carefully attribute their sources and quotes, record conversations — with consent — whenever possible, and do not phrase statements in such a way as to create implications or illusions that they do not have the evidence to support.

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