A new report has exposed the ugly truth about South Africa’s liberal media: its nefarious funders seek to advance democracy, defend press freedom, combat corruption, and promote an open society.
‘US government’s National Endowment for Democracy – with @OpenSociety & @luminategroup – have captured South African “liberal” media such as @dailymaverick & @amaBhungane.’
Thus warns Vijay Prashad, who lists several Marxist affiliations, as well as a senior fellowship at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, in his bio.
He refers to a detailed exposé of Western imperialist lackeys like Branko Brkic and Sam Sole, editor-in-chief and co-founder, respectively, of news site Daily Maverick and investigative journalism centre amaBhungane. It also implicates the neo-conservative WASP-nest that is the Mail & Guardian.
The exposé was written by Ajit Singh, an investigative journalist with the No Cold War project, which defends the interests of China and Russia against the unprovoked aggression of NATO expansion, and Roscoe Palm, the co-founder of the Pan-African Institute for Socialism.
The slur ‘tankies’ needs explaining. According to Wikipedia: ‘Tankie is a pejorative label for communists, particularly Stalinists, who support the authoritarian tendencies of Marxism–Leninism. … Specifically it was used to distinguish party members who spoke out defending Soviet use of tanks to crush the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and later the 1968 Prague Spring uprising, or more broadly, those who adhered to pro-Soviet positions in general. The term is also used to describe people who endorse, defend, or deny mistakes and crimes committed by authoritarian left-wing leaders … [or] who are perceived to be biased in favour of authoritarian states … that are currently ruled by nominally communist parties.’
Such ad hominem attacks are the last refuge of an imperialist running dog, to use a phrase made famous by the great Mao Zedong.
But seriously, the article is light on gotchas, and rather awkward on principles.
In the headline, ‘Manufacturing consent: How the United States has penetrated South African media’, it references the book by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, which argues that even without coercion, commercial mass media serves a propaganda function that protects the power and privilege of governing elites and corporate interests.
‘In recent weeks,’ it starts, ‘South African public discourse has been focused on concerns about alleged Chinese influence in the country’s media landscape.’
This is a reference to an analysis of the demise of the far-left publication New Frame, which was carried by both amaBhungane and Daily Maverick. It linked the publication and its primary funder, Roy Singham, to both the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the Chinese Communist Party. It name-checks Vijay Prashad as a director of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, which is described as ‘a willing ally in China’s communication operations and a means of implanting the party’s official message within the international left’.
‘However, these conversations,’ the exposé continues, ‘have tended to overlook the already existing spheres of influence within South African media. Politically motivated sponsorship of prominent South African media outlets by the United States dates back decades to the apartheid era.’
At considerable length, it details global funders of journalism, including the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the private Open Society Foundation (OSF) headed by George Soros, and the private Luminate Foundation, run by Pierre Omidyar, most famous for financing the non-profit publication The Intercept, which in turn is most famous for publishing Edward Snowden’s leaks from the National Security Agency.
It then draws links between these funders and South African media organisations such as the Mail & Guardian, amaBhungane and Daily Maverick, which, the authors argue, raise questions about the influence of Washington and other Western governments on editorial content.
‘Given the well-documented political partnership that exists between these private foundations and the US government, does their financing compromise the independence of their grantees in South African media?’ the authors ask, rhetorically.
The supposed exposé involves entirely public funding relationships, and steamrollers assurances that funding agencies have no editorial control over the publications.
The authors are outraged, however, that the NED actively promoted democracy in partnership with South African media prior to the fall of Apartheid, and that recent Mail & Guardian journalists and editors continue to be associated with organisations that the NED sponsors.
The NED has played a similar role in former communist states, where it supported the emergence of independent media. This, too, the authors deplore as Western imperial influence that proves anti-communist bias.
It elaborates on the funding of many South African publications and media initiatives by the OSF and Luminate, and paints them as proxies for US intelligence interests.
In the case of Luminate, it is striking that members of the US military have been prohibited from reading The Intercept. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regularly investigates the publication, harrasses its journalists, and imprisons its sources when they are exposed.
Exposing the abuses of the US government are hardly the actions of a US government propaganda proxy, are they?
In the case of the OSF, its mission is to promote an open society. An open society, the concept of which was developed by philosophers Henri Bergson and Karl Popper, is one characterised by freedom of expression, respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
George Soros is a left-wing progressive, but he is no communist, which no doubt irks the far-left authors of our exposé. In fact, he might be described as an anti-tankie, given his Hungarian birth and citizenship (as György Schwartz).
What a scandal
As a sort of ‘smoking gun’, the authors have this to offer: ‘According to OSF, in 2016 “we initiated high-agency work on state capture through our research and advocacy partners” and provided funding to amaBhungane and Daily Maverick specifically “to commence research on the extent of state capture in South Africa” and “on the extent to which state-owned enterprises have been captured by vested interests”.’
How malign all this Western influence is for the Marxists behind New Frame. What a scandal, accepting funding from organisations committed to promoting democracy, supporting independent journalism, combating government corruption, and defending values such as freedom of expression, respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
But for the brave work by Prashad, Singh, and Palm, South Africa could end up as a prosperous, liberal country, instead of a corrupt, socialist, poor, violent puppet of authoritarians in Russia and China. How awful that would be.
Even left-wing progressives – and the Daily Maverick, Mail & Guardian and amaBhungane are stacked to the rafters with them – have taken issue with this supposed exposé.
Witness Neil Coleman: ‘Honestly Vijay I’ve great respect for you &your work. But this article is tendentious to say the least, & undermines excellent work Amabungane, Daily Maverick have done in exposing state capture, including by the way the role of US MNCs [multi-national corporations]. Its claim to expose a conspiracy are thin.’
I don’t have great respect for Prashad or the authors of the so-called exposé, but I agree, the article is tendentious and its claim to expose a conspiracy is razor-thin.