On transformation of the mass media

A comrade raised a question with us about whether we should have supported the call for the reinstatement of Cape Times Editor, Alide Dasnois, saying we should not have supported either side.

Sekunjalo, a BEE front aligned with the ANC, has recently acquired the Independent Newspapers group, which has 18 newspapers under its control, including the Cape Times.

The Cape Times has a history of being anti-ANC and pro-DA, making it difficult for any journalist to write articles critical of the DA and in support of the ANC. Working class issues are rarely covered unless there are burning barricades in the townships or rape or murder.

 The Sekunjalo owners have been threatening to sue its own journalists for carrying critical articles on their fishing investments; they have dismissed Dasnois for running with a critical article on the Public Protector’s report into Sekunjalo’s fishing tender activities. From what the MTMSA (Movement for the Transformation of the Media in SA) have been calling for, Sekunjalo now want to get rid of Tony Weaver for writing an article criticizing the dismissal of Dasnois. Since the dismissal of Dasnois, the Editorial of the Cape Times, described the booing of Zuma at the Mandela memorial as ‘unruly behaviour’, identical to the line of Luthuli House. (what is next? The Cape Times hosting breakfast with JZ and singing praises about what a wonderful President he is?)

Through the Secrecy Bill, the ANC has repeatedly wanted to close down the limited space for criticism against it. The ANC will start with the liberal press and end up targeting working class media and pro-working class voices. This is our point: we are not defending or supporting the anti-worker policies of the Cape Times, we are defending the limited space that there is for criticism of the govt and their capitalist backers. If they dismiss Dasnois and Weaver, who is next? Terry Bell? or any other journalist or working class activist or organization that wants to criticise the govt? The ANC wants not only to dismiss journalists, they want them put in jail; compare this to the pretence that the ex-Cape Times editors put up of standing for press freedom. This half inch of extra space for working class views and dissent that the ex-editors represent, is what we defend. This space has been won through many decades of working class struggle that has forced open this space for criticism of the capitalist regime.

That said, the issue of transformation of the mass media still remain.    

To understand which social class the editors of the Cape Times represent,  we remember that up to 1994 Anglo American owned the Independent Newspapers group which had 18 newspapers under its direct control (which included the Cape Times); Anglo American also controlled The Weekly Mail (later the Mail & Guardian). Thus imperialism directly controlled the mass print media. The editors were drawn from the upper white middle class who had a stake in the maintaining of super-exploitative capitalist relations (slave capitalism).

In 1892 when the ‘Native Franchise Act’ was being debated, the Cape Times supported the limiting of the numbers of black voters on the voters roll. This is what they wrote: ‘…the Government should abandon the saving clause in favour of those on the register and apply the purge boldly, unreservedly and at once.’ (Time longer than rope- Edward Roux)

 In 1905 when the poll tax rebellions took place, the Cape Times and Cape Argus among others raised protest against steps from Britain to suspend the death sentences of protestors who had been found guilty of the death of 2 white soldiers.

In 1930 when the state carried out raids in Worcester against ‘illegal beer’, acts that directly benefited the wine farmers of the Boland as their hold over the wine trade was strengthened, the Cape Times did not expose the role of a police spy Manzini, who had been deliberately planted in an ANC meeting with a rifle, to create a pretext for the police to attack it. At least 5 people were killed by the police. The Cape Times ‘glibly concluded that the Congress was now dead in Worcester’.

The early days of SA occupation of Namibia and of SA troop invasion and raids in Angola were all supported by the liberal press. Thus the Cape Times up to 1994 represented the upper white middle class that benefited from slave-capitalist relations imposed by imperialism.

After 1994, Anglo American unbundled its shareholding in Independent Newspapers, in essence putting Irish capitalist O’Reilly as a frontman while they maintained real control. The same social class that operated the Independent Newspapers since 1994 is essentially the same as pre-1994, except that slave capitalist relations have been nominally transformed to free capitalist relations. The private property clause of the 1996 Constitution guarantees that monopoly capital, imperialism, is still the dominant power that rules, albeit through its multitude of ties to the state.

Since 1994 only 3% of the shares on the JSE are in the hands of the BEE capitalists and even this is overstated as much of this 3% has been gained through loans from monopoly capital itself. Sekunjalo group is part of this fraction of 3%, which has now obtained loans to acquire the ‘control’ of the Independent Newspapers. Thus monopoly capital is still in control but the tiny part of the black middle class now wants to displace a section of the upper white middle class to operate The Cape Times and other papers in the Independent Newspapers group. Thus indeed in fundamental terms there is no difference between the upper white middle class and the upper black middle class, both are servants of big capital, both have an interest in keeping the working class in chains.  

So wherein lies the difference?   

The upper white middle class obtained its privileges over the deliberate suppression of the growth of a black capitalist class by monopoly capitalism. As the economy has long been stagnating, the only way any black upper middle class can develop is by elbowing aside the upper white middle class.

Imperialism has a problem:  the ANC and SACP have begun to lose control over the masses who have become more impoverished since 1994; on the other hand the black middle class has grown restless at the slow pace of self-enrichment (some want 60% share of the wealth, EFF, while others are prepared to accept a nominal 25%, ANC and Cope). So up to and since 1994 the Independent Newspapers was used to discipline and weaken the ANC to keep them in check, tied to the whims of imperialist needs, monopoly capital has now turned limit even the little criticism that was allowed up to now; imperialism does not yet have a strong enough force that can contain the masses if they break free completely from the ANC and SACP, thus the Secrecy Bill with its threat to imprison journalists for even the slightest exposure of the ANC/SACP kleptocracy, as well as the move by Sekunjalo to directly discipline journalists from within.

Thus the defence of Alide Dasnois from the Sekunjalo bosses is a defence from the attack launched by the ANC and its imperialist backers to limit the space of freedom of expression that has been won through the struggles of the masses. It is not a support of the class role of the capitalist editors, which is set to continue even under the Sekunjalo bosses (this is confirmed if we see the pro-capitalist role of the New Age, already under ANC control).

Internationally, imperialism has faced the toppling of their agents, in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt; and in several other places, their leaders are under constant threat of being toppled. Imperialism is desperate to halt this wave of working class revolt; this is why they have invested heavily in building up forces within the working class movement to betray from within; at the same time, as Egypt and Syria shows, imperialism will build up the state forces to use the harshest methods to suppress the masses. Such measures include the suppression of bourgeois media freedoms and freedom of expression, to downright brute force. Imperialism is preparing such jackboot methods in SA and these should be resisted every step of the way.

The minor criticism which was useful in the past to imperialism has become a danger to it as every small chipping away at the image of the force that imperialism uses to control the masses, is seen as potentially accelerating the total crumbling of this force, which could have the unintended consequence of accelerating the development of a revolutionary situation. The white upper middle class cannot play the role of preparing the jackboot to crush the masses as they have already been largely exposed and openly identified as the enemy. If they launched the attack on the masses, the revolt would immediately be widespread, deep and massive. The role of preparing the attack on the masses is played by the ANC elite, as they use their legitimacy, acting from within.

What will the transformation of the media look like?

Following the work of Trotsky on Literature and art, we may extend his ideas to ask that the minimum one expects from a truly independent media is to dissect every issue from every possible angle. Yet Dasnois was dismissed because her issue of 6 Dec was allegedly not pro-Mandela enough. At one blow, all journalists were intimidated into glorifying and deifying Mandela (admittedly, some of them did not need intimidating, they censored themselves). Neither Sekunjalo nor any of the capitalist press uttered a single criticism of Mandela.  How can any of the media claim to be really independent? We need to ask: Why did they censor themselves and who benefits? The major beneficiaries of democracy in SA have been Anglo American and other imperialist companies that control the stock exchange. The theft in transfer pricing (among other mechanisms for the extraction of profits) by the major mining corporates have accelerated since 1994, effectively trillions of dollars in wealth have been stolen by them. These are the owners of the mass media and it is for this reason they trumpet and force-feed the masses on the Mandela ‘miracle’, hoping to browbeat any resistance of the masses and to reinforce the lie that reconciling with the class enemy, the capitalist class, is for the common good.

There is no such thing as a truly independent press- we live in a capitalist society and thus the mass media represent the dominant power, the capitalist class and stands for the deliberate suppression of the working class and allies.

The ANC-aligned MTMSA shows no interest in the workers’ perspective to be covered; rather they are really concerned about the superficial replacement of white faces with black faces to implement the same capitalist agenda for the imperialists; at the same time they are more concerned with self-enrichment schemes than they are with the rights of the casualised media workers. Indeed, in essence, very little separates the MTMSA from the R2K (Right to Know Campaign)- both are pro-capitalist.

If the middle class and the capitalist class have shown that they are incapable of ensuring that all views are expressed (they only allow the capitalist interpretation of events) then it follows that real transformation of the media starts with the expropriation of the capitalist press, from the production of trees, to pulp, to paper, to print, editing, distribution, without compensation to the capitalist, and for the press to be placed under workers’ control. We cannot expect the ANC govt to do it, only a workers’ government, based on grassroots workers’ councils can ensure such expropriation. Meanwhile, the working class movement should resist any attempt to narrow the scope of coverage of issues. Indeed what the current struggle shows, is that while we fight for working class views and perspectives to be covered in the mainstream media, for the end of labour broking and casualization of all media workers and journalists,  the setting up of a daily workers’ newspaper should be considered. Perhaps the workers of Numsa should think about this.