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‘Ramaphosa, Gordhan want to silence Independent Media using the banks’

Business Report logo Business Report 2022/07/19 Sizwe Dlamini

“SILENCING Independent Media is the ruthless aim of Pravin Gordhan and Cyril Ramaphosa” stated Dr Iqbal Survé, executive chairman of Independent Media, who also asked if South Africa could still claim to have a democracy when the media is muzzled from showcasing a diversity of views or from holding those in public office to account?

This as Standard Bank – which has reneged on its submission to the Competition Commission where it said it was not closing the Group company bank accounts – has now expressed its intention to shut the banking facilities of the country’s largest independent media organisation.

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Survé said they too had now succumbed to political pressure and collusive conduct in the banking war against the Sekunjalo Group of Companies.

“The political pressure at play has nothing to do with democracy, it is a ruthless campaign that only serves a political agenda to keep Pravin Gordhan and Cyril Ramaphosa’s power narrative alive,” stated Survé in a gloves-off video interview.

If Standard Bank is successful, this will severely hamper the country’s largest print publishing network from getting the news out to its millions of readers and is tantamount to an extreme form of censorship harking back to the conduct of the apartheid state’s assault on media freedom and freedom of expression.

Political motivation cannot be ruled out as Independent Media – as part of the wider Sekunjalo Group – has been a political target for some time. Survé was once offered an opportunity “to join the side” of the current administration, but he declined to partake in what was an effective attempt at media capture by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration.

The editor of The Star newspaper, Sifiso Mahlangu, shares a similar story, in that he was once contacted by the Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, and was asked to stop publishing negative news about the administration in exchange for advertising support from said administration. Mahlangu informed Survé, who outright declined the “offer”, saying: “This would be wrong and against the values of the Constitution.”

Soon after this engagement, Sekunjalo and Independent Media found themselves victims of an orchestrated and choreographed smear campaign by detractors of Independent Media, resulting in the company (and even some private) bank accounts held by other banks, being terminated.

In a frank and emotionally charged written communique on behalf of the nearly 1400 Independent Media employees, sent to Standard Bank, Independent Media’s editors noted their extreme disbelief and disappointment in the financial institution’s intentions.

“This poses a very serious risk to our democracy, media freedom and freedom of expression. Closing the bank accounts of Independent Media means depriving its collective audience of more than 10 million readers of their daily news, and along with it, their right to know. It will also lead to their voices being silenced and depriving them of their right to contribute to dialogue ...your decision, whatever the reasoning, borders on censorship,” reads the letter.

Standard Bank’s move, which smacks of extreme disrespect for the courts, comes just after the Sekunjalo Group was granted an interdict against Nedbank, in a prelude to the main case in the Equality Court, in which the presiding judge found that the Sekunjalo-related entities had been subjected to different treatment – discrimination.

In so finding, Judge Mokgoatji Dolamo also found that there was just cause for Sekunjalo’s main application at the Equality Court to proceed, for all banking accounts to remain open and for any that were closed, to be immediately reinstated.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, in his final report on the State Capture Commission, critically recommended that there be laws protecting clients before banks shut their accounts.

Should Standard Bank be allowed to see its threat through, it will result in a significant reduction of competition in the media space, and a monopoly of the news. The implications of which threaten to reverse the gains of the country’s young democracy.

At the root of the desire to stop Independent Media’s role as a public commentator, is the fact that the media house has never shied away from exposing the less savoury side of government, its corruption and its manipulation.

Independent Media editors to Standard Bank: “We bring to your attention that it was our media house that exposed the PPE corruption scandal involving the highest office in the land. It was Independent Media that exposed the bank statements of the so-called ‘CR17’ campaigns when other media houses denounced the story as fake news before they followed our lead. It was recently this media house that broke the story about the Phala Phala theft involving the president.

“Above all, Independent Media is the only media house that is truly sympathetic to the plight of the poor, giving a voice to the voiceless. Our ongoing campaigns include denouncing gender-based violence through our Don’t Look Away project and raising awareness about racism through our Racism Stops with Me and the Dignity Project, which highlights the plight of homeless people. We highlight these examples to demonstrate the role we play in giving a voice to those who were previously denied such platforms.”

Interestingly, the Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka announced she will subpoena President Cyril Ramaphosa to respond to questions related to the alleged cover-up of the burglary at his Phala Phala farm.

Having just acknowledged Mandela Day, originated to ensure that former President Nelson Mandela’s dream of a united democracy and equal rights for all the people of South Africa, it’s pertinent to reflect on something he took to heart: “The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the Constitution so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”

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