Beware of the trap being set by self-serving opponents of ‘fake news’! A South African view.

Thami Ntenteni

April 19, 2017.

Against my best instincts as a journalist I am very happy that elements within the US Establishment have raised the alarm against what they have described as the phenomenon of “fake news”.

I agree completely with these US elements that the general public, in all countries, should be alerted to the dangers of this phenomenon.

The people as a whole, in all countries, depend greatly on the media to gain an understanding of the reality in their countries and the rest of the world.

In this regard, almost instinctively and historically, and for many decades, the people throughout the world have accepted that what the established print, radio and television media communicate daily represents the objective truth.

Accordingly this established print, radio and television media – which we can legitimately describe as the old media – has helped decisively to form public opinion, and therefore the way in which the public should act with regard both to national and international developments, as explained by this media.

It is also true that fortunately this same public would, in addition, also act on the basis of such interpretation of reality as would be presented by political parties and other social formations which this public trusted.

It is also particularly important to note that the establishment and sustenance of the old media required substantial capital investment.

Objectively this prescribed that essentially this old media would communicate – but fortunately not only – the overall views of the propertied Establishment, including reflecting the different views of this Establishment.

However, due to such developments as the liberalisation of the communication space and technological innovation, as a consequence of the immanent nature of capital, there has emerged new and less capital intensive print, radio and television channels, and new news media, including social media.

Currently, and globally, there is therefore a vigorous contest between the old and the new media for market shares in terms of readers and listeners.

One of the factors in this context is money, as this relates, for instance, to advertising revenues.

Yet another relates to a more strategic social matter.

This is – between the old and new media, who should inform the public mind, and therefore influence, decisively, popular views and actions with significant national and international impact?

A ‘new’ element which has been put in the public domain in the context of this struggle is the alert which has been issued by some, that the public should be aware of, and repudiate the allegedly new phenomenon of “fake news”.

The concrete reality is that this alert about the so-called “fake news” has been sounded and is vigorously advertised by the old media, especially the US Mainstream Media (MSM).

In this regard this US MSM has implicitly sought to convey the message that it is itself not guilty of the offence of propagating “fake news”.

An important manifestation of our own continuing tragedy and challenge as South Africans, of sustained subservience to ‘the West’ by some of us, is that many in our own media have slavishly and readily accepted the proposition advanced by the US MSM concerning the so-called “fake news”.

The unchallenged truth is that exactly this US MSM has, for many years, led in the propagation of “fake news” of major international significance.

In this regard I will cite only some of the more recent instances.

The US MSM propagated the eminently fake news that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which served to justify the disastrous 2003 US-led war against Iraq.

It also conveyed the fake news that the Gaddafi regime of Libya was about to massacre countless numbers of innocent civilians in Benghazi, which led to the NATO military intervention which has resulted in the criminal destruction of the State of Libya, with catastrophic results for the peoples of Libya, the African Sahel and parts of the Middle East, especially Syria.

It has also propagated the fake news that the Bashar Assad government of Syria does not enjoy the support of the majority of the Syrian people, which has resulted in the immensely destructive effort to effect regime change in Syria, after now six years of a very destructive war, sustained by inhuman and terrorist foreign military intervention.

With regard to South Africa, our own MSM conveyed fake news with regard to the political leadership in our country, which helped to create the deep and general crisis which now poisons our country.

As in the US, our own MSM will, of course, continue to deny its direct responsibility in this regard, and/or otherwise refuse publicly to confess to this crime by maintaining a guilty silence about its misdeeds.

The historic, historical and grievous crime concerning the propagation of fake news is not attributable to the new media.

It is a crime which many among the old media have repeatedly committed over a long period of time, enjoying an extraordinary level of impunity.

The new media has a responsibility to help realise objectives which could not be achieved in the past.

One of these is to continue to help the ordinary people of all countries, including our own, to intervene in the public discourse, consistent with the eminently democratic view to let the people speak freely, thus to help determine their destiny with no dictation from above!

Another is to continue to create the space for the presentation of all views so that – a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend!

The matter must rest in the hands of the people as a whole to determine what is fake news and what represents the objective truth!

Today’s progressive movement, loyal to the tradition set by its antecedents, must firmly reject the proposition and practice according to which the Establishment has monopoly over what the masses of the people know and think!

The challenge to determine what is fake or objective news – which is a present and objective imperative – means that everything must be done by all progressive and honest people to allow the people to decide!

In the end it would be immoral and therefore unacceptable to allow the continuing long-established practice to communicate fake news to prevail!


*Thami Ntenteni is the Head of Communications at the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.

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