Debunking the Lies: A response to News24’s special projects propaganda

Despite only having 12 opinion pieces published in Independent Media since 2021, Edmond Phiri refutes the notion that his work serves as PR for Dr Iqbal Survé, pointing to a lack of evidence in News24's "hit piece."

Despite only having 12 opinion pieces published in Independent Media since 2021, Edmond Phiri refutes the notion that his work serves as PR for Dr Iqbal Survé, pointing to a lack of evidence in News24's "hit piece."

Published Mar 15, 2024


Edmond Phiri

Last week, I critiqued Karyn Maughan’s ‘Survé targets senior judge’ article as propaganda similar to that used in Nazi Germany.

In response, a team of journalists from News24 and Daily Maverick launched scathing attacks against me, Independent Media, and its Chairman, Iqbal Survé.

Notably, since 2021, only 12 of my opinion pieces have appeared in Independent Media, an average of just three articles per year.

In their hit piece “Inside Iqbal Survé’s glitchy propaganda machine,” News24’s Nick Wilson, Jan Cronje, and Jeff Wicks made false claims about me without affording me a right of reply, despite Nick having the means to contact me, and having communicated with me via email.

Interestingly, he was able to publish a response to one of his emails to me, and my rejection of his instructions whereby I was supposed to do a Team or Zoom call with him to “prove” that I exist.

It reminded me of the typical arrogance of “baas” to his “baas boy” during the apartheid era.

Wilson, Cronje, and Wicks go on to claim that I am a “fictitious opinion writer” curated by Survé to polish his image.

This is an outright lie, and they back it up with no credible evidence. The claim by News24 is an attempt to reduce my opinion pieces to some PR-controlled efforts.

Even with their “painstakingly” long series of stitched-together screenshots, they provide no shred of evidence of how and why I “work for Survé”.

If we are to go by News24’s flawed reporting logic, blacks or opinion writers cannot express their views freely without a “handler” lurking somewhere.

My criticism of shoddy journalism dates back to 2017, as evidenced by my Twitter (now X) history.

I’ve criticised journalists like Qaanitah Hunter, Sam Sole, Carien du Plessis, and Ferial Haffajee, amongst others.

My views have been consistent with those expressed in the Karyn Maughan article.

News24’s attempt to link me to Feroza Petersen and claim I work at the behest of Survé is comical.

If they truly analysed my 9,000+ tweets and read the 12 articles, they’d find no evidence of this alleged association, except their innuendo propaganda.

My opinion pieces reflect my long-held views, not some covert PR campaign as claimed.

My only sin was to be seen as “defending” a black-owned company.

The suggestion that “most of my published works relate to Sekunjalo” is egregious and misleading.

The recent escalation of attacks against black individuals and organisations by the media and the establishment is both alarming and worrying.

The Sekunjalo and Independent Media battles with banks serve as a prime example of this troubling trend.

When a group of black-owned companies with billions in revenue and thousands of employees face the closure of their bank accounts, it should be a major story.

However, instead of focusing on the substance of this issue, certain media outlets have chosen to target those who dare to speak out against this injustice.

I have consistently used the Sekunjalo case as an example to illustrate the broader problem of media bias against black people.

My articles clearly explain why I have chosen this particular case to make my point.

In the current polarised environment, where some individuals and organisations were labelled as proponents of “state capture,” I risked being branded with the same brush if I were to use some people and organisations as examples.

News24 has no right to dictate where I send my work for publication.

They never took issue with “Judge Professor Balthazar” writing exclusively for Daily Maverick, or worse - using a pseudonym.

The attempt to discredit me by suggesting that I am a “fictitious” writer or that I work at the behest of Iqbal Survé is nothing more than a desperate attempt to police my views, undermine my credibility and silence my voice.

The suggestion by News24 that “Phiri, has written targeted pieces, thinly disguised as op-eds” is baseless.

I do not work for Independent Media or its associated companies, including Sekunjalo and Survé.

Therefore, the pieces I write are my independent opinions, which I have proven consistent with the views I hold and express even on digital platforms.

News24 claim that “despite claiming to be an independent analyst and commentator, most of Phiri’s published works related to Sekunjalo” are misleading and an act of desperation.

Opinion writers always hold particular positions, which they express and argue in their writing or analysis.

There are many journalists, opinion writers, and media houses who have expressed sharp views before.

And we have not seen an outcry from News24.

Today, the mainstream remains silent when Pauli van Wyk calls MK Party supporters “Zuma’s Zombies” or when Zapiro caricatures Survé in despicable ways.

So much for virtue.

But I am targeted with a “Special Projects” investigation “war room” team for daring to express unpopular views and “defending” a man currently under attack by the establishment.

The News24 article is not about my dozen articles over four years - it’s an attempt to silence dissent.

Deploying an army of journalists and cyber investigators to trace me, rather than engaging with the substance of my arguments, is a brute force intimidation tactic reminiscent of apartheid-era suppression of dissenting views.

We must not forget what happened to the likes of Ruth First, Donald Woods, and Nat Nakasa.

They were detained, harassed, or killed for their efforts in exposing the apartheid establishment. Publishing Google maps of my potential whereabouts or locations sends chills down my spine.

The attempts to intimidate and silence opinion writers like myself are a direct threat to media freedom and the democratic principles upon which our society is built.

To paraphrase Mandela, for me, media freedom and a fight against the subjugation of black people is “an ideal which I hope to live for. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

I will keep on writing despite the intimidation and terror tactics applied by News24.

* Edmond Phiri is an independent writer and commentator.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

Sunday Independent