‘The beatings will continue until morale improves’

Friday, 26 October 2007

It's 5.24am on Saturday morning in the northern suburbs of Africa's financial capital. I've just finished two hours re-editing a DVD for the big-screen display at the hottest party in town tonight. (Club Y at Carfax, Newtown, if you must know.) Now, there's the obligatory wait for the video to render. (That's geek speak for "processing the special effects".) This leaves me time to catch up on overdue reading, including the letter from the president on the ANC Today newsletter.

It's a touchy-feely column this week on eye surgery, among other things, and I smile because it's nice to be able to agree wholeheartedly with politicians occasionally.

And immediately thereafter, on the same page, there's the now customary swipe at the media: "WHAT THE MEDIA SAYS — Manufacturing usable lies".

Like many of us in the media, I get all defensive whenever anyone picks on us. The days of the Bureau for Information censors during PW's reign do not easily fade from memory — yep, blame apartheid.

This issue of ANC Today says: "In its 30 September 2007 edition, the newspaper City Press published on its front page an entirely false and deliberately manufactured story about ANC national chairperson Mosiuoa ‘Terror' Lekota." And my instinct is to say: "No way!"

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See, much as City Press editor Mathatha Tsedu and I have had arguments over a range of things over the years we have known each other, I'm not prepared to believe that he would be party to deliberate falsification. Yes, I have an inherent sense of trust in the man's integrity at that level.

But I'm quite inclined to believe that the checks and balances that would have been in place in the past are just not there any more.

Case in point: I've been running Yfm since Easter weekend this year. Three months later, my programme manager departs. And the phones start ringing. It's the dreaded media in the form of junior reporters. Their question: "Why is there a staff exodus at Yfm?"

Now, at this point, my inclination is to get someone on my news team to call Mondli Makhanya live on air and ask him: "Why is there a staff exodus at the Sunday Times?" But that's just dof. Because Mondli is probably too worried about the possibility that Essop Pahad might pull government advertising from the Sunday Times to know that a junior reporter has followed up on a drunken conversation with a disgruntled former employee by calling the CEO of a major company and asking a stupid question.

People, get this: any time there is managerial change, there are casualties. Just ask Wallace Mgoqi what Helen Zille did for his comfort zone.

But we have labour laws in this country. And by and large, they are good laws. This means that employee confidentiality is something to take seriously. So even if one of my DJs is fired for being drunk and disorderly, or a crack-head, or incompetent, or all of the above, you're not going to get this information from me — even if said person goes to the media with a tale that I have victimised him or her.

(Guys, please. I'm describing a hypothetical situation here. No similarity to any person living or dead is intended or inferred. Honest!)

So, yours truly finds himself in the classic bind of being asked: "So, do you still beat your wife?" There is no right answer. If I say there's no such thing, the report is going to read: "Pillay denies staff exodus."

The danger of this in a corporate environment is that disinformation flows back to staff. This is not good. No employee will be comfortable at the possibility that a colleague has been unfairly treated.

Hence, my new strategy. When anyone from the media asks me a question, I respond in writing by email, and copy all my staff on the response.

Take the case of Udo Carelse, Yfm's news editor who departed last month. The inevitable question came from Sunday World. Udo, being the true professional that he is, responded to Sunday World in writing and copied me on his response. Here, with Udo's permission, is what was said:

1. Why are you leaving Yfm?
I am leaving YFM to fulfil my mission. For as long as I have been in Johannesburg (five years) I've always wanted to do something to affect the lives of people in my home town of Atlantis in the Western Cape. It's something that's always been burning in me and it took the last few months to realise exactly what it is that I should be doing. It's all still at a very sensitive stage, so I wouldn't want to go into too much detail, but rest assured that I will be doing personal growth work among the young people of Atlantis.

2. Which station will you be joining?
I am returning to Primedia and more specifically to 702 (I used to be there for about three-and-a-half years, news anchoring, presenting sport and producing for Gareth Cliff). I will be doing the 4am-to-6am slot on the station. Currently the show's name is Early Breakfast. It's going to be a pacy introduction to the world as you wake up. We will engage people on the emotional issues of how we are all living our lives and it will also inform people for the day, month and year ahead.

3. Why are you joining this station?
Firstly, I will probably always be involved in the media somehow. I've already told you about my plans for Cape Town. The only way that I can do this and maintain my other business involvement in Jozi is to have a media platform that will keep me busy between Jo'burg and Cape Town. Since my new show will be simulcast down to Cape Town in addition to being on the FM frequency in Jo'burg, it made perfect sense for me to make the move.

4. Which other DJs or presenters have left Yfm this year?
I think that really is already on public record. In fact, it's been extensively covered by your newspaper, down to the names and the reasons which your paper, no doubt, has its sources for. There really is nothing more for me to add on this issue.

5. Why did they leave?
From what I've seen, everyone who's left has left to pursue opportunities which they considered to be correct at the point at which they made those decisions. I can say this for myself. I am not leaving because I am fed up with Yfm. In fact, the last three months I've spent here have been just about the best times that I've had at Y (and that's coming from a natural on-air person who has not been on air for four months). The station is really bolstering systems where it's needed; they've got some magical pioneering projects that they are working on.

There is a fresh, clear understanding among DJs of how to benchmark what they should be doing and how they should be communicating to their specific market, and it really is up to those presenters individually and collectively to take Yfm where it deserves to be. I think Yfm is a soft target for the Sunday print media because, let's face it, as black people we tend to wait for, if not craft, another black man's fall, instead of really trying to understand what is happening. One week you place someone on a pedestal; the next week that same person is the cause of a downfall, which I really have yet to see happen. But it's understandable; we all have our respective business imperatives, don't we?

6. Which radio stations did you join?
In the radio field, I worked as a news anchor/reporter for KFM for three years. I worked for 702 as anchor/producer/presenter for three years. I've now completed a three-and-a-half year stint at Yfm.

7. When did you join Yfm?
I joined Yfm about three years ago.

8. Tell me, were you a DJ or presenter?
At Yfm, I was the morning sports presenter as well as information and content editor, which basically entailed managing the news processes and also liaising with DJs about some of their informational needs.

9. Name of your show?
“Early Breakfast”.

10. It seems to me that most presenters and DJs are leaving Yfm. what is really the problem, please tell me?
Are you asking a serious question or fishing for a source? As far as I know this is a professional interview, right?

11. When are you starting at your new workplace?
Monday September 3 2007.

12. What will you be doing at your new workplace?

13. Please feel free to add any information?

14. Please provide me with contact names of any Yfm management who I can call for comment?
(011) 880 7070, Kanthan Pillay, Tamaria Motsepe — station CEO and marketing director respectively.

All rather reasonable, one might think. But no, our intrepid reporter is convinced there is some skinder, so then it was my turn.

From: Kanthan Pillay
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 18:01:59 +0200
To: Andile April
Cc: Udo Carelse
Subject: Re: List of Questions

On 29/8/07 12:36, "Andile April" wrote:

Good day Kanthan,
Why is Udo leaving Yfm?

I am puzzled. I read in the Sunday World that he was being groomed to replace Bondo Ntuli. Surely the Sunday World was not wrong? Have you asked Udo?

Who will replace him?
Udo is irreplaceable.

When will that person start?
As soon as we clone Udo.

How does Yfm feel about Udo leaving the station?
We are going to miss him. He is part of the family. We know his heart is with us wherever he goes.

Any well-known DJs and presenters joining Yfm?
Presenters and DJs become well-known after they join Yfm, not before. Everyone knows that.

Please feel free to add any information?
Monde Mabaso, aka DJ Monde, is our new music manager. Expect great things musically over the next week.

Thank you,

Andile April

My pleasure,
Kanthan.

Shortly after I emailed my response, I got an SMS from Udo: "Sunday World just called and asked seriously whether there is a link between me being cloned and u grooming me to replace Bondo."

You can't make this stuff up, really.

Two days later, on September 2, the following story leads page nine of Sunday World:

Udo joins the Yfm exodus
Yfm sports presenter Udo Carelse has quit Gauteng's youth radio station and is throwing in his lot with his former employers, Primedia's Talk Radio 702.

And it seems Yfm is going down the drain as the station's prominent DJs and presenters resign one after another.

A source says a few weeks ago the station made a frantic call to former station manager Greg Maloka to head the station again.

But Greg wasn't interested in that job. "He told them he wasn't looking for a job," says the source.

Maloka was replaced by Bondo Ntuli, who also left the station after feeling the heat of new CEO Kanthan Pillay. After Ntuli left, Carelse was effectively acting as station manager, though this was not official.

Carelse now joins the endless list of well-known DJs and presenters who have left the station as a result of "bully management". He says he was "fed up with Yfm management". He claims he had a verbal promise from Yfm's management that he would be groomed to take over from Ntuli, but says that the Yfm management reneged on the agreement.

When contacted about the reasons for Carelse's sudden move, the station's CEO, Pillay, told us in no uncertain terms to: "F**k off!" He said: "Sunday World is a s**t publication that belongs in the thrash bin [sic]. Sunday World should go sh*t itself."

Now the station does not have a station manager. Carelse left them on Friday and rejoins Talk Radio 702 tomorrow. — aprila at sundayworld.co.za

What's wrong with this picture?

I went on air briefly on the afternoon drive show two days later to field calls from some listeners who had read the article and were upset at the language. After hearing my story, they had two main questions for me.

One, why do you not sue them? Answer: I don't think it's good for the media as a whole. It adds to the ongoing loss of credibility.

Two, why not complain to the press ombudsman? Answer: the ombudsman, Joe Thloloe, is a former colleague and close friend. His integrity is unassailable. But if I ask him to rule and he rules in my favour, they will say he did so because of our friendship.

I don't want to give the impression that this is a one-off experience with Sunday World. I have similar experiences with the Sunday Times and City Press. And yes, they are documented too.

What's the solution? I don't have a clue. For my part, I just make sure that Yfm's journalists get their facts right as far as possible and don't treat rumours as being newsworthy. Oh, and I allow my DJs to poke fun at the incompetence of reporters.

I expect more of the same tomorrow. This time, it's the Sunday Sun.

From: Kanthan Pillay
Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2007 17:08:03 +0200
To: Mathawe Matsapola
Cc: "- All Staff @ Y"
Subject: Re: Comment from Yfm

On 5/10/07 16:50, "Nosiphelo Madiba" wrote:
Mathawe wants to know about the following:
What’s Dineo’s story?
Chilli’s suspension
Richards Resignation
Bondo said he resigned because of a conflict of interest between you and him — your comment on that.
The reason behind this huge resignation movement of Yfm employees
mmatsapola at sundaysun.co.za

Dear Mathawe

"The beatings will continue until morale improves."

Kind regards,
Kanthan.

I look forward to the story with great anticipation.