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Trash journalism: The media is where the real hypocrisy lies

OPINION

The article by the Daily Maverick’s assistant editor, Marianne Thamm, published on Wednesday on the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) so-called “revolutionary trash”, failed the test of exposing the hypocrisy of the red berets. But instead, it has contributed to the gradual decline in the public's trust in the journalism profession at a time when the Fourth Estate is under pressure from corrupt politicians.

The claims that the EFF’s senior leadership live opulent lifestyles is nothing new. Thamm’s article was a rehashed story at best.

For a senior and seasoned journalist like her to go through random trash in an effort to somehow paint the entire EFF leadership as having been present at the Camps Bay villa with the same brush, was misleading and borders on attempts to discredit the opposition political party rather than expose their true hypocrisy.

It’s important to remember that the overall premise of Thamm’s article is about politicians’ morality, ethics, and their authenticity when they claim to be representing the interests of the people. Thamm claims to have stumbled upon the 14 bags of trash outside the property, but chose to take only seven bags with her for inspection, which implies her bias on what is exposed and withheld from the public.

In a country where most, but not all, politicians live better off than the constituents they claim to represent, Thamm chose to go through the EFF’s trash alone. And for this comparison to work, she needs to point out politicians and political parties that live up to their promises and the policies they advocate for.

What constitutes the public interest in the article was the expensive alcohol, the H&M receipts found, and the R60,000 paid for rent at the private accommodation. But we have no way of knowing who individually drank the booze, who specifically bought clothes from H&M at the V&A Waterfront, and who was present at the Camps Bay accommodation. And why it's a problem that any of this was taking place.

The Daily Maverick was able to only place EFF national spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi at the villa from “air ticket stubs”, which unfortunately is not credible enough to depict Ndlozi as living a lavish lifestyle.

MPs receive nearly 100 single-journey flight tickets as part of their list of perks. They are entitled to up to 88 single-flight journeys every financial year. The only catch is that they have to fly economy, except in exceptional circumstances.

The used condom and “young women who were seen leaving the house” being referenced in the article, which I believe raise a lot of questions about Thamm’s insinuations here. Thamm agreed in a recent interview with Eusebius McKaiser on 702 on Wednesday that the condoms were not relevant to the story, but said she was somehow trying to “join the dots”, getting this information from nosy neighbours.

“Not necessarily, no… Another question that Dr Ndlozi responds to has to do with the women who leave the house. And you will see in my response they certainly didn’t leave. If they were new EFF members staying in the only four-bedroom mansion in Camps Bay, they certainly didn’t depart with the entourage, they were left standing in the streets and waiting for the lift to take them. So, I suppose what I was trying to do there is join those dots,” she told McKaiser.

She also admitted that there were many items in the trash bags, but she left out some of them.

“There were many items we didn’t write about because it contains personal bank account numbers and deposits that were made. And of course, that is private information that I wouldn’t want out in the public,” Thamm said.

In her article, Thamm also speaks of the creation of special economic zones and how the EFF could have chosen to stay in township bed and breakfasts instead of Camps Bay to stimulate economic zones.

The reality is that all the political parties represented in Parliament - even the governing African National Congress (ANC) – don’t stay in any of these places, but do advocate for the development of the township economy like the EFF does. So, why is the EFF an exception to the rule in this case?

Thamm also referred to the EFF advocating for an end to alcohol abuse in their elections manifesto, but the ANC also supports the banning of alcohol advertising, and yet they too have been reported to indulge in expensive booze at their annual January 8th birthday celebrations, which have been characterised by opulence.

South Africa is in the throes of crucial judicial commissions of inquiry investigating serious allegations of state capture and corruption involving both the public sector and private companies. There are many competing agendas from political parties, civil society organisations, and the media for and against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reform agenda.

There have been various allegations and counter-allegations carried by newspapers questioning the allegiance of certain individuals to the reformers in government and those who are accused of malfeasance, like former President Jacob Zuma and his camp in and outside the ANC.

And as a result, journalists have been in the firing line from the public and political parties, particularly the EFF, who have accused certain quarters of the media of being biased and carrying out an agenda on behalf of certain individuals.

It is for this reason that the South African National Editors’ Forum launched an inquiry into media ethics - to be headed by retired judge Kathleen Satchwell - to probe such allegations that some media houses have been captured by politicians and corporate companies.

Thamm’s article has reinforced this view of a media that’s biased and used to push certain narratives. Because of her so-called “expose”, journalists should now expect further questions to be raised about their credibility and motives behind their work.

This plays into claims that the Daily Maverick has been used as a tool to discredit the EFF as claimed by its leader Julius Malema. I'm not saying journalists shouldn't report without fear or favour, but the Daily Maverick dropped the ball with Thamm’s article.

The real hypocrisy here is Thamm’s in choosing to focus only on one political party when there’s evidence that most politicians and political parties are not walking the talk.

Thapelo Lekabe is a writer for EWN. You can follow him on Twitter.

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