Chris Roper’s Daily Maverick Op-Ed exploits women’s issues and is a fine example of harmful agenda driven mainstream propaganda

Gillian Schutte is a well-known social justice and race-justice activist and public intellectual. Picture: Supplied

Gillian Schutte is a well-known social justice and race-justice activist and public intellectual. Picture: Supplied

Published May 3, 2024


By Gillian Schutte

The piece by Roper titled: "Sad world when media moguls like Iqbal Survé become profound enemies of press freedom" published on Daily Maverick in February this year, falls short of providing any substantive analysis and instead resorts to tabloid-style fabrication and personal attacks.

A mere glance at the headline and it is evident that the article fails to uphold the principles of rigorous intellectual inquiry and instead serves as a platform for propagandistic rhetoric and agenda-driven bias.

The hackneyed hallmark of Daily Maverick's increasingly expedient approach to journalism is seen in its use of sensational headlines and attention-grabbing opening paragraphs that leave little room for doubt about the guilt or wrongdoing of the subject. By framing accusations as established facts from the outset, readers are immediately drawn into a narrative that portrays the individual in question in a negative light, regardless of the veracity of the claims.

The Daily Maverick does not disappoint when Roper’s opening blurb reads: “Attacks on women journalists like News24’s Karyn Maughan by the likes of Iqbal Survé’s Independent Media take a terrible toll on the women being vilified. They also have a chilling effect on the ability of news organisations to do their job as democracy watchdogs.”

These few lines are designed to create moral outrage in the ranks of their largely privileged and white readership. It is a tactic that serves to hook readers in, capitalising on their curiosity and desire for sensationalism, while also shaping their initial perceptions of the subject as guilty or morally compromised. However, upon closer inspection, readers often find that the substance of the article does not match the certainty conveyed in the headline and opening paragraphs. Buried deeper in the article, amidst qualifiers and caveats, are phrases like "alleged," "suspected", or "reportedly", which introduce a degree of ambiguity and uncertainty into the narrative.

This bait-and-switch technique allows Daily Maverick to walk a fine line between propagandised hype and journalistic integrity. While the initial impression created by the headline and opening paragraphs may be one of unequivocal guilt or wrongdoing, the subsequent nuances and qualifications provide a flimsy veneer of balance and objectivity, allowing the publication to avoid accusations of defamation or libel.

Critics argue that this approach to journalism is disingenuous and manipulative, exploiting readers' cognitive biases and emotional responses to shape their perceptions and opinions. By capitalising on the human tendency to form judgments quickly based on initial information, Daily Maverick is able to shape the narrative in a way that aligns with its editorial agenda or biases, without necessarily providing a fair and balanced portrayal of the facts.

Roper’s article is a veritable case-study on this slippery technique. It is no mistake that he has framed his argument within women’s issues, especially a white woman ostensibly being abused by Black men.

This is the shock/horror morality hook that keeps on hooking.

It is what mainstream media is well-known for amongst leftist social critics. It's an old trick, and the fact that Roper performs it so brazenly is perhaps not as surprising as it should be. Mainstream media outlets frequently employ the rhetoric of women's rights to reputationally annihilate individuals perceived as competitors or ideological antagonists, perpetuating a narrative that exploits gender dynamics for political gain. 21st Century journalism has witnessed a seismic upsurge of this trend, with journalists and commentators resorting to selective outrage and double standards in their coverage of women in the public eye.

There is little concern that this use of women's rights as a tool for character assassination is a deeply troubling phenomenon that has far-reaching implications for gender equality and media ethics. By weaponising issues such as sexism and misogyny, mostly with a focus on Black men, mainstream media outlets not only undermine the legitimacy of genuine feminist movements but also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce patriarchal power structures.

In addition Roper’s selective focus on attacks against Karyn Maughan while ignoring similar assaults on other women in the public eye by outlets such as Daily Maverick reveals a glaring inconsistency and bias. This Machiavellian approach to journalism not only undermines the credibility of the author but also highlights their pursuit of covert agendas couched in mainstream media narratives.

By singling out examples to fit a predetermined narrative, mainstream media outlets perpetuate a false dichotomy that pits women's rights against broader social justice movements, thereby undermining solidarity and collective action.

Yet another glaring omission in Roper’s piece is its failure to critically scrutinise the role of Karyn Maughan in attacks on individuals and organisations, particularly those targeted by the Daily Maverick and News24. While the article laments attacks on press freedom, it conveniently overlooks Maughan's own history of engaging in sensationalist and biased reporting, often at the expense of marginalised communities and progressive causes.

By failing to acknowledge Maughan's complicity in perpetuating the very issues the article purports to decry, the author exposes his complicity in mainstream media’s agenda-driven bias.

Furthermore, Roper's selective outrage and hypocrisy are evident in his critique of sensationalist journalism while conveniently overlooking similar problematic reporting within the Daily Maverick. While Roper may believe in his moral duty to criticise the article targeting Karyn Maughan, he fails to acknowledge or address the equally egregious comparison made by a Daily Maverick writer, Ismail Lagardien, who likened Julius Malema to Hitler and Mussolini.

This glaring inconsistency highlights Roper's bias and once again undermines the credibility of his argument. By singling out one instance of sensationalism while ignoring another within a mainstream publication, Roper reveals a lack of integrity and objectivity in his critique.

His failure to hold the Daily Maverick accountable for its own problematic reporting calls into question the sincerity of his concern for journalistic standards and ethics as well as women’s rights.

As if to further exemplify this argument himself, Roper's use of the phrase "digging through the dirt" clearly evokes memories of Marianne Thamm's much-heckled article about "digging through the trash cans of EFF". Thamm's piece, published in the Daily Maverick, faced criticism for its sensationalist and trashy intent which left no doubt that she intended to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and its supporters.

Similarly, Roper's use of this phrase in the context of investigations into social media activity surrounding Iqbal Survé and Independent Media carries similar connotations. It suggests a voyeuristic and demeaning approach to journalism, one that seeks to uncover scandal and melodrama at the expense of ethical reporting and responsible discourse.

In addition, his characterisation of the Black writers as "sadly incompetent hacks" and a "semi-literate PR poodle" reflects a patronising and elitist attitude that reinforces colonial-era stereotypes and undermines the agency and autonomy of Black writers. By resorting to derogatory language and dismissive rhetoric, Roper perpetuates a culture of gatekeeping and exclusion within the media industry.

In a world where media integrity is more crucial than ever, it's disheartening yet unsurprising to witness the perpetuation of agenda-driven narratives by US-funded outlets like the Daily Maverick.

But we also cannot afford to be complacent in the face of distorted and deformed “truths”. It is time for readers to demand accountability, challenge deceptive narratives, and reclaim the essence of journalism from the clutches of sensationalism and bias. Our collective vigilance is the only antidote to the poison of manipulated information.

Gillian Schutte is a well-known social justice and race-justice activist and public intellectual. Picture: Supplied

* Gillian Schutte is a well-known social justice and race-justice activist and public intellectual. She has written extensively for newspapers across South Africa and internationally on the issues of race/racism, politics, social and gender justice. Her filmmaking includes the award winning Films Umgidi and Angels on fire. Her films and writing are used as teaching tools in universities across the globe. Gillian has also published papers in various academic journals. She is author of the cult novel “After just now” and a published poet. Her written works have created much debate in the public sphere, particularly her critical race theory writing, which she brought to newspaper columns. Anti-Hegemony is a strong theme in Schutte’s work.

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