POLITICS

Manyi's ANN7 Briefing Was All Spectacle And Zero Substance

Inside the former Gupta spin machine.

31/08/2017 05:58 SAST | Updated 31/08/2017 05:58 SAST

Mzwanele Manyi's media briefing was a spectacle of bloated vanity -- a parade of his newly captured media project from the Gupta family's firm grip.

"One of the reasons I brought you here is [so] that you can see the world class facilities we have here...None of you here has [sic] got these kinds of facilities. I wanted you to see this," Manyi told other media houses.

So, we looked.

If nothing else, Manyi's unconventional media briefing gave a rare insight into the inner workings of the cog that is still widely considered as the Gupta's spin machine.

HuffPost SA arrived at ANN7's offices situated in an office park in Midrand -- which is within walking distance from the Gupta's computer giant company, Sahara -- about half an hour before the briefing was set to start.

From the narrow road outside the gate -- the site mirrors a large industrial warehouse – the only resemblance to a national broadcaster are the multiple satellites planted just behind the fence.

Two security guards stood at the shut gate alongside an ANN7 staff member holding a clipboard with a stacked register listing journalists who were set to attend the event. Journalists were not allowed into the compound until a certain time and only after their names were ticked off the list.

Walking down the long driveway to the entrance, it became clear that the broadcaster's branding was important. The palisade fencing was painted in segments of red and black -- the colours of the network -- and the vehicle awnings matched.

Before entering the building, journalists were warmly welcomed by a team of smartly-dressed staff, beaming as they handed over a second register where visitors were to add their contact details.

Tagged with a name badge, it was onward to the entrance.

One guard pulled the main door open while another two loitered in the double-garage-sized entrance hall. At the bottom of the stairway, another smiling staff member waited, urging journalists in her direction.

She led the way up the stairs and came to a quick stop at the top where she spun around and stuck her hand out to the right, pointing in the direction of the canteen and also blocking any further passage.

On her left, a glass frame wrapped around ANN7's vast newsroom, where, from a quick glance, about two dozen employees work in cubicles. Some looked away from their computers, offered a slight stare to those passing, and turned back towards their work desk.

In the canteen stood another two members of ANN7's security personnel -- both presenting a rigid posture -- and a member of the kitchen staff. Journalists were ushered through to a small, yet elegant, lounge at the corner of the canteen which overlooked the broadcaster's studios.

Marc Davies

White leather couches filled the lounge, with a single table in the middle where four freshly-printed copies of The New Age were neatly stacked in two rows.

Inside, The New Age's editor-In-chief himself, Moegsien Williams, officially welcomed journalists to the broadcaster with a handshake, offering up a variety of muffins, sandwiches and cooldrinks.

Williams was quick to announce that media houses would not be allowed to set up their own cameras and that "unedited" footage of the briefing, which ANN7 broadcasted live, would be made available afterwards.

Journalists were then led by a staff member downstairs to the studio, where they were seated on bleachers in front of the main stage. Manyi entered minutes later, his presence noted by his signature laugh.

He took to the stage confidently, spinning his pitch and calling his venture a new dawn in the era of South African media.

Marc Davies

Most bizarre though -- and a reflection of the spectacle he intended to create -- Manyi called up to the stage Mail & Guardian associate editor Phillip de Wet and Daily Maverick's Pauli Van Wyk to peruse documents which outline his shareholdings in the company.

It was a strategic move to push his rhetoric of complete transparency.

He went on to say that he is the sole shareholder of the companies he acquired from the Guptas, but dodged questions on how he would finance the R450 million transaction which was done via vendor financing.

After the hour-long briefing, journalists were given time for a quick meet-and-greet with ANN7's new owner before being urged back into the upstairs lounge.

Again, a staff member at the bottom of the stairs, and other at the top, both happily pointing in the direction one should go.

Even on the way out, a staff member led journalists from the lounge, down into the reception area, and out the door.

The briefing revealed very little about the Manyi-Gupta transaction, information which could have easily been shared via a press release. Instead, he opted for unbridled spectacle over substance.

On ANN7's admittedly slick and sexy stage, the message may have been one of transparency and media transformation, but the real test of Manyi's commitment to both is still forthcoming. Beyond the corridors of Manyi's new media haven, the project of state capture remains in (relative) full swing.

The sincerity of his message, then, depends on more than a 'grand reveal' of his innocence on live television in true ANN7 style. Whether his new media network remains complicit in state capture or an affront to it, in coming months or years will reveal if Manyi means what he says.