Corrupt Journalism In South Africa (And Beyond)

Did Agrizzi Make The Biggest Mistake Of His Life? - Part 1

Media corruption is a sensitive issue; a holy grail. You dare not. I repeat: you dare not! Attempting to address (or undress) corrupt journalism in public is equivalent to inviting ZCC members to a pork festival. It is both insulting and pejorative, what my street commentators would call a Wrong Turn. Yes, the movie, gorged out eyes and all.

Isn’t it a tad funny that we, media practitioners – journalists, editors and news publishers – have a tendency to play the Holier-Than-Thou card with pristine hypocrisy? When did we arrive at the mafia level where you dare not accuse a journalist of taking the brown envelope, even if it is a matter of public interest? This reminds me of the late Tupac Shakur’s hit soundtrack, Made Niggaz, where the rapper and his protégés are arrested for gun and drug possession, only for the police boss to instruct the unit to let them go. His reason, “They are made Niggaz.”

The same thing happens when you mess with the media mafia. You mess with one top journalist you WILL regret the day you were born. You WILL wish you had known better. The entire media fraternity WILL chase you down to the pits of Hoboken, where a forked goat-looking Satan will be waiting to grill your stupid ass for your unforgivable peccadillo. Damn, how I relish the bloody oxymoron!

But I digress. The point is that you dare accuse a journalist of corruption, o tlo bona mashago a noga. The same media that often goes to print without the facts (or evidence), will demand that you prove your claims on the spot, or go to the gallows.

This is what happened when star whistle-blower Angelo Agrizzi testified before the daunting State Capture Commission in Parktown, Johannesburg. Agrizzi’s testimony was like a blockbuster on steroids. If like me, you had never had your jaw dropping before, Agrizzi guaranteed you the experience.

Agrizzi was not in the mood to take prisoners. His first salvo was testifying against the commission’s secretary, Dr. Khotso De Wee, accusing him of receiving bribes while he was the chief operations officer at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. The damning testimony, as captured in Agrizzi’s affidavit, forced commission chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to approach De Wee. The commission’s secretary then apparently volunteered to go on special leave until the allegations levelled against him were fully investigated.

In short, the commission’s own secretary was the first ‘casualty’ in Agrizzi’s reckless rendition of the whistle-blower solo. As the commission delved deeper, Agrizzi touched the ever-pounding nerve of the South African Editors Forum. The infamous witness sent the cat spinning amongst well-respected pigeons of our society.

Viewers unfamiliar with the world of journalism could not believe allegations that journalists allegedly received the so-called monopoly money from Agrizzi and his alleged cabal. Agrizzi was a soap star, with his episodes flighted across the country on a daily basis, a la Imbewu and Isibaya style. What this TV star did not grasp, in his whistle-blowing medulla oblongata, was that you don’t touch the media and survive. You don’t.

  1. Journalists are trained thinkers who specialise in asking difficult questions and undressing lies.
  2. Journalists are the spin experts who have years of experience in creating story angles that shock nations.
  3. Once a journalist is unleashed on you, he or she is bound to find a dead rat in your closet.

I repeat! You don’t mess with journalists and live to tell the tale. Where would you tell your tale? Journalists have access to the controlled platform that people use to tell their stories. Once you piss them off they write you off and write whatever they want about you and there’s nothing you can do about it. You will kick and scream, demanding to clean your good name, but just like it happens in the National Assembly, the presiding officer will always squash the matter by promising to check Hansard.

That’s what happened when poor Agrizzi got too excited and started accusing journalists of corruption. The next day a tape was released to the commission. Not only did this spy tape paint Agrizzi as a creative and vengeful liar, but it exposed him as a racist as well. The man began to choke and stutter, his bile of confusion discombobulating the commission’s evidence leaders and the commissioner himself.

It was the most embarrassing moment for a man who was being hailed a hero and an honourable whistle-blower who set out to cleanse his conscience. Sections of society were visibly divided over his credibility as a witness, especially on social media platforms and drinking spots (that I frequent personally for juicy gossip and uncensored political analysis). Agrizzi the star had fallen, and the accused journos definitely made a successful wish upon the dimming luminous ball of gas. In Tupac’s words, “Let them go, they are made ‘journos.”

Never mess with the media, I promise you.

About two weeks ago or so, I developed a cautionary fear for Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, when he launched an unrelenting attack on Karima Brown. My fear was based on the fact that for a while now Malema and the EFF had been enjoying media attention. With Karima Brown in the fold, I felt that perhaps the fighters were coming to an end of basking under the sunshine that the media has been providing. I, however, do not want to conclude on their fate as media darlings, but will only say that they can get away with this only if indeed, as they so boldly assert, Karima Brown is not a journalist. But what if she is? What happens to the divinely gifted party of admirable demagoguery?

Before I stray deeper, may we humbly revert to the Agrizzi matter? With the racist whistle-blower taking a much-needed break from the commission, many amongst my acquaintances ask me whether Corrupt Journalism exists or not. My answer is an emphatic yes. Unfortunately, just like good police who protect their bad colleagues, journalists rarely rat out their own. I know this because I once burned my fingers trying to give my opinion on the evils of corrupt journalism around Mpumalanga’s capital city, Nelspruit.

My opinion arose from tangible evidence that had emerged implicating a well-respected journalist who allegedly received beer and whiskey bottles in exchange of faking stories to favour certain politicians and paint their opponents as weak. This was beyond Brown Envelope Journalism. We laughingly labelled it Brown Bottle Journalism.

However, we never anticipated the backlash from our colleagues. As a result, I regretted ever penning a lengthy opinion piece on corrupt journalists in our town. The piece was published in Ziwaphi, an investigative journalism newspaper in the inner city. It is therefore not surprising that even today whenever people ask if corrupt journalism exists, I answer with a pinch of salt. But the truth is, corrupt journalism does exist. Unfortunately, it often involves the biggest names in the industry. Yet, I must make it clear that I’m not here to mention any names; I’m only here to share my little knowledge of corrupt journalism; and I can only but summarise it this way: Let them go, they are made niggaz!



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