The systematic propaganda of Daily Maverick – a front for liberal facism?

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 11, 2024


By Gillian Schutte

Daily Maverick, acclaimed for its progressive façade and ‘commitment to ethical journalism’ is a veritable testament to the convolutions and contradictions inherent in the modern media landscape.

While it presents itself as a bastion of progressiveness and inclusive discourse, a closer examination reveals a publication that is deeply entrenched in neoliberal orthodoxy, catering to the interests of the elite while marginalising dissenting voices. In this way it perpetuates the interests of systems of power and privilege. This is clearly seen in their unabashed promotional ‘blurbing’, most of which is open to critical (if not incredulous) analysis.

Their readership description alone succinctly encapsulates its problematic stance. It reads:

“Daily Maverick readers comprises industry leaders, political heavyweights, and bright young minds. The readers are influential, well-read, and well-travelled. To the Daily Maverick reader, ethics matter and they enjoy the unexpected view that the publication provides.”

Here I stand aghast at the sheer superciliousness of the publication's delineating composition as comprising industry leaders, political heavyweights, and bright young minds. It positions its readers as influential, well-read, and well-travelled individuals, underscoring their purported commitment to “ethical considerations” and partiality to the publication's unconventional viewpoints. Ironically, while the description attempts to underscore the publication's appeal to a discerning and intellectually engaged audience it fails to reflect on the obvious pitfalls inherent within the lexis.

Firstly, the description adopts a shamelessly elitist tone, glorifying the readership's social status and intellectual prowess while clearly implicitly ostracising those outside this coveted elite circle. In addition to this distasteful inference, the emphasis on ethical considerations is tokenistic and lacks substantive engagement with the complexities of ethical discourse, potentially serving as a rhetorical device to enhance the readership's perceived moral standing. While the description exalts the readership's claimed ethical consciousness, it fails to reveal against whom this moral superiority is asserted. This omission underscores their superiority complex, and suggests an implicitly biased hierarchy of moral rectitude wherein Daily Maverick readers occupy a privileged position.

This portrayal has the rank stank of moral posturing. It utterly neglects the nuanced and multifaceted nature of ethical engagement. Do they really expect us to believe that their readers genuinely champion ethical principles, or is their professed moral compass merely a performative display that serves to bolster their perceived intellectual and moral superiority?

Surely this uninterrogated assumption of ethical ascendancy reveals a troubling undercurrent of self-congratulatory elitism within the readership? And does the rendering of the publication's viewpoints as "unexpected" not raise suspicion regarding the extent to which Daily Maverick's perspectives truly challenge prevailing norms - or do they merely cater to the readership's desire for sensationalist novelty? This uncritical veneration of elitism and moral posturing is downright cringeworthy.

Through this strategic amplifying of the voices of the privileged few, the publication unmistakably reinforces existing power hierarchies while marginalising the experiences and concerns of the majority. It's evident that their primary objective is to cater to their financial backers by effectively stifling dissent and preserving the status quo. This agenda is glaringly evident in their persistent targeting of Julius Malema, seemingly part of a calculated effort to vilify him and instil fear and animosity around his pro-poor leftist politics. Writers like Herman Largardien appear to have been granted free rein to vigorously propagate this distorted narrative, drawing absurd parallels between Malema and historical tyrants like Hitler and Mussolini.

Headlines such as "With echoes of Adolf Hitler, Julius Malema makes his move to establish an African reich" 18, December 2019, exemplify this narrative manipulation. How can a South African politician, who has never advocated for the genocide of whites or other minority groups nor expressed intentions of invading other countries, be likened to Hitler?

It is this selectivist ethos that permeates every aspect of the Daily Maverick, right from its editorial decisions to its carefully picked choice of mostly white, liberal contributors.

What they aim to do is create a veritable echo chamber of elitism where nonconforming voices are unwelcome and alternative or radical perspectives are dismissed as inconsequential or decimated as dangerous, if not downright evil.

It has always baffled me that so many have not recognised that Daily Maverick’s editorial agenda reflects an unyielding commitment to prioritising market forces and corporate interests over social welfare and equality. Through its selective coverage and editorial framing the publication perpetuates a narrative that preferences privatisation, deregulation, and austerity while demonising government intervention and collective action. Any endeavours to challenge this neoliberal hegemony are met with swift defence, condemnation and dismissal.

This assertion becomes clearer when one delves into the meticulous investigations of figures such as Roscoe Palm, Phillip Dexter, and Ajit Singh. In their article titled "Hiding in Plain Sight: The Capture of Independent Media by US and Big Capital," they adeptly expose the intricate network of US-based donors and big capital funnelling funds to endorse this narrative. Through their research, they shed light on the influence wielded by big capital, reaffirming the claim of undue external influence on media narratives.

In addition and as witnessed over the years, while the publication quickly resorts to character assassinations and smear campaigns to silence dissenting voices they somehow maintain the illusion of a balanced discourse to the average mainstream consumer of media. This disguised disregard of alternative viewpoints is designed to undermine genuine revolutionary efforts for social change, making its support of systems of oppression and inequality clear. It is clear in its servitude to the interests of its own corporate sponsors and political elites, at the expense of the people’s will.

The Daily Maverick has not been criticised enough for its apparent bias in favour of neoliberal principles, often targeting politicians and activists advocating for social and economic justice, land reparations, and racial equality. One notable instance was Rebecca Davis's extensive negative coverage of Lindiwe Sisulu during her 2022 presidential campaign. Davis's piece, "Lindiwe Sisulu’s F-you to Ramaphosa should come as no surprise and here is why," published in the Daily Maverick January 21, 2022, exemplifies this trend. This article rubbished Sisulu's bold challenge to the judiciary, referencing her viral piece "Hi Mzansi, have we seen justice?" published in the Independent Press on January 6, 2022. Subsequent headlines portrayed Sisulu as a caricature—a woman scorned, selfishly leveraging her family name, portrayed as undisciplined and reckless, an autocrat seemingly posing a threat to all decent South Africans.

Through framing these individuals as autocrats, dangerous radicals or Hitlerian fascists, the publication seeks to discredit their ideas while again attempting to maintain the illusion of a balanced discourse. This is a vicious and calculated strategy to undermine leftist ideology, no doubt mandated by their financial backers, those industry captains that they so proudly flaunt in their company blurb.

The Daily Maverick's inclination toward perpetuating entrenched systems of power and privilege is also glaringly evident in its marginalisation of Black consciousness ideologies. Despite South Africa's legacy of resistance against apartheid and colonialism, the publication conspicuously sidelines the voices of Black decolonialists, activist-writers, and intellectuals, opting instead for perspectives aligned with white, aspirant whitist, and liberal elites. The critique extends to the treatment of Andile Mngxitama and his BLF movement. In an article titled "#GuptaLeaks: Gupta spin machine commissioned BLF’s Andile Mngxitama," 24, Jul 2017, the publication alleges that Mngxitama not only met with the Guptas but also received instructions to write an article about BizNews editor Alec Hogg on their behalf. This assertion is remarkable given the likelihood that the Daily Maverick itself operates under the influence of its backers and editorial captains. The question arises: why are different standards applied to those who advocate for radical left and Black consciousness ideologies?

The systematic distortion and erasure of Black emancipatory discourse, as well as the dismissal of working-class Black experiences, serve to reinforce entrenched power dynamics and undermine efforts to confront systemic racism and inequality in the country. It's apparent that such actions are taken to avoid unsettling their predominantly white donor readership. Moreover, occasional progressive articles do little to conceal this conservative trend.

By now it should be clear to many that Daily Maverick’s purported commitment to ethical journalism and progressive ideals is nothing more than a charade—a thinly veiled attempt to mask its allegiance to Interests aligned with corporate-driven policies and those benefiting the privileged segments of society. We all know that true progressivism requires more than token gestures and empty rhetoric; it demands genuine engagement with marginalised voices and a willingness to challenge entrenched power structures.

As far as I can tell Daily Maverick does not embrace any genuinely progressive principles. It openly serves as a mouthpiece for the ruling class, perpetuating systems of oppression and inequality under the guise of journalistic excellence.

As media critic Noam Chomsky has written: “The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda.”

The Daily Maverick, in particular, appears to embody this paradigm with notable precision.

* 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.