Poirot at 100: the refugee detective who stole Britain’s heart

David Suchet as Poirot

Christopher Pittard, University of Portsmouth

A hundred years ago, Agatha Christie introduced British readers to a small man with an impeccably maintained moustache who, with the help of his “little grey cells”, was very good at solving crimes. That man, of course, was Hercule Poirot, who made his debut in Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1921.

Though potentially the second most famous detective in British culture (after Sherlock Holmes), Poirot is not British at all, but a refugee. Coming to England as part of a group of Belgians displaced by the first world war, his origins lie in Brussels. Writing about this retired Belgian police officer solving cases around the UK and across the globe, Christie was able to explore (and at times poke fun at) the complexities of Englishness and its relationship to continental Europe.

European flair

On the surface, Christie’s novels resemble a nostalgic retreat to the pastoral and to the English stately home. They can be read as a possible turning-inwards thanks to an emphasis on closed rooms and detailed floor plans of grand buildings. But such appearances are deceptive.

The opening of borders, both literal and intellectual, shapes Christie’s England. It was her understanding of the work of European thinkers that gives her detective an edge. Where an English detective, like Sherlock Holmes, looks for external pieces of evidence that can be analysed, Poirot solves the case by realising the hidden implications of people’s behaviour – including his own. Poirot’s Freudian focus on the psychology of suspects enables him to see that simple mistakes and slips of the tongue can hide deeper meanings. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, a crucial clue is revealed when Poirot realises the importance of his own, almost unconscious, instinct to tidy.

In Christie’s world, the typically English common sense of policemen is not enough to solve the mystery. Instead, a dash of continental theory sheds light on what lies beneath the surface.

Another of Poirot’s trademarks is his occasional struggle to find the correct English word or idiom. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, he even misquotes Hamlet. Yet it would be a mistake to read these moments as simple errors. Instead, Poirot knowingly plays into the trope of the “funny foreigner”, using difficulties with language to disarm suspects and allay fears of suspicion (how could such a comic figure be so great a detective?). In the famous scenes where Poirot explains the truth, his English becomes markedly more fluent. In this, Poirot represents the outsider perfectly placed to see through English deceptions.

Little England

The success of the “funny foreigner” schtick with unsuspecting English plays into Christie’s larger exploration of Englishness in her books.

Poirot is an enthusiastic devotee of England. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd he comments that England is “very beautiful, is it not?” But this enthusiasm is not always returned. A running joke of the Poirot novels and adaptations is that he is often mistaken as French. In Ackroyd, he is described as looking “just like a comic Frenchman in a revue”. But in a genre that demands close attention to detail, the joke here is at the expense of a particularly inward-looking type of Englishness, those who cannot tell the difference between the French and the Belgian.

Likewise, as literary scholar Alison Light notes, Poirot’s popularity coincides with the expansion in travel, as the English increasingly saw themselves as tourists abroad. Several of Poirot’s most famous cases occur on modes of transport and in exotic locations, like Death on the Nile. However, while the English in these stories might be abroad, class relations from home still manage to play out wherever they might be. England follows them, and that inward-looking Englishness runs deep.

While Christie might have poked fun at England and Englishness, she managed to capture the hearts of British readers with her small, smart Belgian. Poirot was so loved by readers that Christie wrote 33 novels, two plays, and more than 50 short stories about him between 1921 and 1975. ITV’s adaptation of many of these stories, Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet, ran for 25 years (1989-2013) and is now considered a classic of British TV. Few fictional detectives have had their complete adventures adapted for the screen. In this regard, Poirot makes a strong claim to being Britain’s most loved detective.

Christopher Pittard, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Portsmouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vaccine production in South Africa: how an industry in its infancy can be developed

South Africa does not have large-scale vaccine manufacturing capability. Shutterstock

By Jeffrey Dorfman and Frank Kirstein

Generally, vaccines are produced by private companies who sell the vaccine under contracts. In some cases, producers will make provisions for access in particular markets. This is sometimes as a condition for receiving early development funding or for allowing parts of production to occur in a particular country. Some middle-income countries, particularly India, Argentina and Mexico, have sufficient production capacity to be partly indispensable. These countries have strategic leverage to get vaccines because of their own vaccine manufacturing capacity.

India illustrates this well. The Serum Institute of India, a privately owned pharmaceutical company, is manufacturing large quantities of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines. The company scheduled to reach 100 million doses produced a month by March 2021. In return, India will keep a portion of the vaccines it manufactures – reportedly 100 million doses in the first instance.

What about South Africa’s own capacity to produce vaccines? What can the country do?

South Africa does not have large-scale vaccine manufacturing capability. The Biovac Institute – a public-private partnership between the South African government and a consortium of South African healthcare companies – is beginning to get into vaccine manufacture with an eye on more secure and accessible childhood vaccine supplies for southern Africa. But this capability is still in its infancy. It’s small compared to the COVID-19 vaccine market.

In addition, a publicly traded South African-owned global pharmaceutical company, Aspen Pharmaceuticals operates four pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging plants in the country. The company is also moving into the vaccine packaging market.

We see a clear disconnect between what would be needed to make the Biovac Institute a strategic vaccine asset going forward and what is planned for Biovac.

If South Africa is serious about supplying anti-pandemic vaccines in the future, it needs to rethink the scale of financial, technical and strategic investment into vaccine production. This investment must be made not only into the private sector, but also, critically, into publicly accountable institutions such as the Biovac Institute. Only if investment is increased, sustained, and backed by political commitment, will the country have sufficient vaccine production capacity to use as a lever to get national and regional access to future anti-pandemic vaccines.

Vaccine production capacity

The Biovac Institute’s primary remit is to make childhood vaccines available for the southern African market, mostly for the public sector.

For its part, Aspen’s existing pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity is about 10 billion tablets a year. It produces generic drugs (including analgesics, a proton pump inhibitor and sleeping aids), nutritional supplements (notably iron supplements) and hormones for local African markets and other middle income markets, such as Turkey.

Aspen is scheduled to start producing the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in March or April of 2021 at these facilities. It will be filling and packaging vials with vaccine product manufactured in bulk outside of South Africa.

Most of the vials will be shipped back to Johnson & Johnson for international distribution. A recent announcement indicates that 9 million doses will remain in South Africa for local use. The original packaging deal between Aspen and Johnson & Johnson was announced more than two months prior. There had been no mention of a procurement deal for South Africa until pressure began to mount recently on all parties.

Unlike Aspen, Biovac’s remit is to provide vaccines in the public interest. Part of its mission is to provide in the long term, capacity for the development and introduction of novel vaccines, focusing on the development of vaccines relevant to South Africa and Africa’s particular needs.

Biovac’s main activity is to import, label and distribute vaccines to the South African market. For example, it has supplied six vaccines made by international vaccine manufacturers for South Africa’s childhood immunisation programme. It also supplies other countries in the region.

Biovac’s crowning achievement has been the local production (filling and packaging) of Hexaxim, a combination of six childhood vaccines from Sanofi, the French multinational pharmaceutical company. Production started very recently, in November 2020.

Biovac is the first external company with which Sanofi has partnered to fill and package Hexaxim.

Biovac is also planning to manufacture Prevnar-13, a vaccine made by Pfizer, the US multinational pharmaceutical company. The vaccine prevents pneumococcal disease and death. Biovac will formulate the product using components provided by Pfizer before filling and packaging the bulk vaccine. Production is due to start in the next six months.

The development of local capacity for formulation of a complex vaccine marks another important step towards the establishment of vaccine manufacturing capacity in South Africa.

How to be more prepared next time

To be in a better position to procure anti-pandemic vaccines South Africa will need to have greater vaccine manufacturing capacity. And the country would need to be more willing to use that capacity as leverage.

Scale is a key consideration. Biovac is planning to fill 4 million doses of hexaxim in 2021. This is tiny compared to Serum Institute of India’s huge capacity and to Aspen’s reported capacity of 300 million vaccine doses a year.

Beyond scale, two other conditions need to be met.

The first is simply more experience. The technology transfer for each vaccine that Biovac produces would give the company experience and technical capacity in re-tooling for formulation, filling and testing of each particular vaccine. The second is that a more savvy entrepreneurial risk-taking environment needs to be developed. This needs to be backed by political commitment in government.

The Aspen example shows that the development of local manufacturing capacity is possible if enough capital is available, and if the right strategic partnerships are established. Private facilities like Aspen clearly can become leverage for local access; but that does not seem to be well assured.

If Biovac’s current trajectory is maintained and supported, it should be able to supply other vaccines (childhood vaccines, mostly) in the future. The strategic value of this assured supply should not be underestimated.

In addition, Biovac could be one of the answers to this problem because it is a publicly accountable institution and because it can point to its remit to make vaccines accessible locally when making any production deals. But in its current incarnation and scale, Biovac won’t be able to provide anti-pandemic vaccines for southern Africa. Nor can it act as a strategic asset in the way that Serum Institute of India has been for India.

South Africa has about one twentieth the population of India. This means it will need its public vaccine production capacity to grow to a more modest size to be a strategic asset.

Jeffrey Dorfman is Associate Professor in Medical Virology, Stellenbosch University and Frank Kirstein is Honorary Research Associate / Lecturer; Division of Immunology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Review: The Powerful and the Dammed. Private Diaries in Turbulent Times, by Lionel Barber

By John Fraser

It wasn’t a bad job, but it had its challenges. Lionel Barber served as FT editor through some turbulent times, and this diary of his experiences from 2005 to 2020 provides fascinating insights into his experiences.

Given the number of encounters he chronicles, he may be criticised for name dropping, but – wow – there was no shortage of names to drop.

Presidents, Prime Ministers, Royalty and an A-list of movers and shakers from the pinnacle of the business world.

It’s not so much who he knows, has met, and has written about, but who he hasn’t. There are annoyingly few gaps.

Lionel may appear from this catalogue of encounters to be a bit full of himself, but very few journalists can boast of having a contacts book like his. It must be worth a small fortune.

I knew Lionel a bit when both of us were doing very different tasks in the Brussels press corpse (pun intended).

We weren’t chums, pursuing different goals. The FT had red (pink?) carpet access to the great and the occasionally good, while my role as a stirrer of shit for assorted British tabloids meant I was invited to few ambassadorial garden parties.

The man from the FT had private sessions with ministers and Commissioners, while I was given the task of escorting a troupe of busty Sun Page-3 beauties into the European Commission press room, with the express intention of annoying the then bogeyman of Brussels Jacques Delors.

However, Lionel was always kind to me. Approachable and helpful, he would occasionally explain some of the intricacies of the Euro-jumble to me, steer me straight, lend a hand.

And with Lionel leading the charge, the FT was rightly regarded as the newspaper of record by Eurocrats and commoners alike.

Unlike the Brussels Daily Telegraph correspondent with whom we both overlapped in Euroland – the repellent Boris Johnson – to whom I took an instant dislike, Lionel struck me as both an excellent journalist and an agreeable person.

I didn’t know him very well, but I liked what I saw. I wish I had got to know him better.

Scroll forward a few years, and Lionel is upgraded to editor of the FT with a major challenge on his hands – steering the ship through the digital revolution – taking over from another Brussels veteran, Andrew Gowers.

This diary of Lionel’s is an ideal lavatory read. Not because of its content but because of its format. Short sections, short snippets, almost all featuring someone most of us have heard of but few have got to meet or are ever likely to.

The book combines insight, humour and tons of anecdotes. Well written, it is an easy and enjoyable read.

Of course, it may be argued that there should have been space for a more thorough and detailed telling of the tales, less flitting and more focus.

I prefer the way he chose to tackle the task, however, making his editorial exploits accessible and digestible.

It speaks volumes for his grasp of strategy, commitment and hard work that he did an impressive job as editor.

An achievement which cannot be underestimated.

While other publications have stumbled and fallen, the FT has survived, because he successfully understood the need to go for quality, in-depth content and to embrace its presence online.

In navigating the transition, Lionel needed grit and a ruthless quality.

And in his journalism, surrounded by powerful corporate and political bullies who were used to getting their way, there were times when he needed to stand firm.

It seems that he almost always succeeded. Clocking up an impressive stash of air miles along the way.

It has been quite a journey and we are lucky to have these chronicles to amuse, entertain and inform us.

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A Pinotage Podcast: Beyerskloof in a Box.

A box wine upgrade

By John Fraser

Typical. I chair a podcast where I rant about brainless lockdown restrictions on booze sales. Then Cyril rushes onto national TV to relax the restrictions.

So ignore that bit.

But do please listen in to our thoughts on an excellent wine in a Woolworths box – the Beyerskloof pinotage.

Wine writer Michael Olivier joins former café owner Duane Newman and former restaurateur Mike Schussler (both now have proper jobs) for our tasting.

Those with intelligence and refinement may listen in by clicking below:

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Do also check out:  http://www.michaelolivier.co.za

We taste a Woolworths white wine in a (leaking) box

The box? I would rather take the money.

by John Fraser

The wine was great, but the post-tasting was a disaster.

Soon after we finished recording a podcast discussion on a premium wine in a box from Woolworths, it became clear my box was not premium. It was crap. It started leaking.

Bear this in mind when you hear the doubts raised in the discussion about the whole concept.

The lovely wine was the Pierre Jourdan Tranquille Blush. The tasters were Michael Olivier, Duane Newman and Mike Schussler.

While you click below to give it a listen, I must head off to Woolworths to get my money back….

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SA treading water on Cyril’s investment drive

Minister Ebrahim Patel. Unmasked at last.

By John Fraser

It won’t be a non-event, but ‘SA Investment Conference 3’ – with a masked hero in the form of our beloved President – will see little fresh flow of dosh into Cyril’s begging bowl.

Through no fault of our government – although I still have my doubts about their bosom buddies in Beijing – the world is a very different place with the Covid-19 epidemic sweeping through global boardrooms.   More cash for a new factory in SA may not be front of mind of many CEOs at the moment.   

Despite this, the Minister for Conferences Ebrahim Patel gave a performance which was more plucky than plucked when this Covid veteran met the media in the flesh today for the first time in many, many months.  Many, many, many, many months.

Ok, there were only about three of we hacks in the room with him, with most following it from their bedrooms, bureaux or brothels – but at least he was there.  I was able to go up to him and shout for a while afterwards about his department’s communications failings.  It felt good.  And we both practiced safe Covid.

His message is that with a cumulative R664bn having been pledged at the previous two conferences, out of a total target to R1.2trillion, we have been ahead of target.  So less pressure this time, and expectations can be lowered without the whole project being derailed.

There will be some fresh pledges this time round, the President can rub elbows with some corporate fat cats.  But the main focus will be on moving previous pledges into actual projects. 

Patel said R170bn of the already-pledged investment is already “flowing through the pipeline”.   The main task this month is to ensure the investment tide does not go out again.    Not allowing all the other precious pledges to vanish down the Presidential plug-hole.

Patel says there have been no cancellations – and we must take him at his word – that the imminent AfCFTA continental clone of the EU will bring wealth and investment opportunities, and that the 2-day Investment Conference will allow SA to show the world that the door is open.  We want your investment.  A lot.

Just wash your hands, wear a mask, and give your cheques a good spray of sanitiser before you hand them over.   

Patel and Cyril will be gratefully, gleefully grinning behind their masks.   We promise.

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Mini budget unpacked

By John Fraser

Join legendary economist Mike Schussler from economists.co.za and tax specialist Duane Newman from Cova Advisory for an expert analysis of the mini-budget.

Watch us on YouTube here.

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Tito raids the national vaults to bail out SAA

Toto the Taxer

By John Fraser

Were anyone to ever refer to it fondly, the Medium-Term Budgetary Policy Statement (MTBPS) would be fondly known as the Mini-Budget.

If you are sitting in the executive cock(up)pit of SAA, today’s Mini-Budget represented yet another budget bonanza for the ultra-profligate.

Already in recession, the SA economy has been booted into deep depression by the C-19 pandemic. 

The economy is expected to contract by 7.8% this year, while unemployment shoots up. 

In global terms, economic despair is the one thing we are really, really good at.

Yet the budget contains another massive cash injection for parasitic parastatal SAA:  R6.5bn to pay its debts and interest – plus a further R10.5bn to implement its business rescue plan.

It is, of course, an open secret that the SAA barmy bonuses reflect a defeat for Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, who failed to stop the fools in the ANC from allowing him to just kick the national disgrace of a national airline into a remote hanger, lock the door and throw away the key.

Instead, money which could be so, so, so better spent elsewhere – cash which we don’t really have in the first place – is being tossed into the flaming jet engines of SAA, to keep thing fuelled until they next demand a bailout.

And they will.

I am not sure whether they are running any flights.  But why should an airline have to transport people or goods to deserve R17b? 

This is, after all, an Alice in Wonderland world.

If you replace “an Alice in Wonderland world” with “a shit-storm of note”.

One positive note – if you are a true believer in an Alice in Wonderland world – is a determination by Tito the Tax Tyrant to cut the state’s terminally-obese wage bill by freezing the wages of public servants.

I will believe he can succeed at that as soon as I see pigs fly.  (Or SAA planes.)

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Why a coronavirus vaccine is politically valuable to China

Inside the packaging plant at Chinese vaccine maker, Sinovac Biotech. Wu Hong/EPA

William Wang, Beijing Normal University and Holly Snape, University of Glasgow

Hundreds of people have been queueing in the city of Yiwu in eastern China in recent days to get an experimental vaccine for COVID-19. Although the vaccine is yet to complete its clinical trials, it was reportedly given to hundreds of thousands of people in the past few months, and is now being offered under an emergency use licence to the general public.

Around the world, as first waves pass and new waves close in, a coronavirus vaccine has become a focus of hope. For China, quick progress on the vaccine is a matter of both domestic and international politics.

In early October, the Chinese government announced it would join the WHO Covax initiative for global cooperation on developing, producing and distributing a vaccine.

This was not simply a public relations move in a game of one-upmanship with the US – which refused to join Covax. Instead, it forms part of the Chinese authorities’ overall approach to the vaccine, which is informed by the need to tread a path between managing international tensions and presenting the strength of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-led system domestically.

Despite a new flare-up of COVID-19 in the eastern port city of Qingdao, China’s official line is that the country has already achieved “strategic success” in beating the virus. There is some truth to that. China’s proactive, stringent control measures have received significant praise, including from the World Health Organization (WHO).

And yet, suspicion and doubt remain over the early days of China’s response to the epidemic.

Early focus on vaccine

From a public administration perspective, Chinese authorities have been taking action toward developing a vaccine since the start of the epidemic. In January, they set up a top-level response task force which, among its at least seven internal groups, included a Research Front Team that brought together at least 12 ministries and departments. Vaccine research and development was among the team’s key assignments.

Our own ongoing research, which has been systematically collecting and analysing Chinese government and CCP policies responding to COVID-19, found that the Research Front Team was among one of the few internal groups which actively made policy documents publicly available. From the start of China’s response, the vaccine was visibly high on the agenda.

In August, China’s National Medical Products Administration issued five policy documents highlighting concrete principles and standards for vaccine development. This was another display of the speed of public administrators in pushing ahead with a vaccine by addressing the need for a balance between acting fast and ensuring scientific ethical standards.

‘Full victory’ hangs on a vaccine

From a political perspective, China’s vaccine progress has both domestic and international dimensions. The CCP’s official line is that it has made “major strategic achievements” against COVID-19 – a term used consistently across official Chinese communications. A vaccine would top off this triumph.

This clear message of success is combined with a discursive technique commonly adopted by the CCP: time-based cognitive framing, in which periods or points in time are used to develop a favourable narrative while smoothing away inconvenient details.

At a ceremony in September to commend people who had contributed to the pandemic response, CCP general secretary, Xi Jinping, set out milestones that form the contours of the official account. He said China took: “One month or so to initially contain (the virus) … around two months to keep new daily domestic cases within single digits,” and “about three months to achieve decisive gains in the battle for Wuhan and Hubei.”

China has left the emergency phase of its response and entered a “normalising prevention and control” phase. At events such as the commendation ceremony and an exhibition in October organised by the CCP Propaganda Department, this shift in phases is portrayed as evidence of the “strength” of the Chinese system. Logically, the vaccine is the next step.

Drowning out critics

Such domestic policy and political considerations are tied up with international ones. The Trump administration has promoted a sharp change in US policy toward China and rejected elements of the current global governance system, including the WHO.

Meanwhile, despite an ongoing inquiry by the WHO into the global response to the pandemic, some countries including Australia continue to call for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, keeping the spotlight on China.

Faced with this challenge, the CCP seems to be trying to drown out rather than engage with difficult discussions. The vaccine is a useful theme to focus on while squeezing out room to discuss China’s initial response.

The US rejection of the WHO’s attempts at international vaccine cooperation offers the CCP a valuable source of rhetorical righteousness. It can use loud platitudes about China’s support for the current institutions of global governance and back up its claims with money and technology. By focusing on its willingness to cooperate on a vaccine, the CCP gains twofold. It can shield itself from accusations of culpability – and win praise for its global-spiritedness for being willing to step up, contribute and collaborate internationally while the US refuses to do so.

The CCP is all too aware that as the pandemic continues, it sits at the crux of potential controversy – all while international animosity towards China grows.

Instead of seeking to lock horns with views that challenge its narrative, it is trying to remain entirely aloof from them and focus squarely on projecting an image of international cooperation.

William Wang, PhD Candidate, School of Social Development and Public Policy, Beijing Normal University and Holly Snape, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Glasgow

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Journalism makes blunders but still feeds democracy: an insider’s view

The Sunday Times, South Africa’s largest weekend newspaper, was used to spread disinformation. Gianluigi Guercia/AFP via Getty Images

Anton Harber, University of the Witwatersrand

Anton Harber, the veteran South African journalist, editor and journalism professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, has a new book out. So, For the Record: Behind the Headlines in an Era of State Capture is a deep dive into the conduct of the media as mega corruption and state capture engulfed and eventually brought down President Jacob Zuma’s administration. Politics editor Thabo Leshilo asked the author to provide the highlights.

What prompted you to write the book?

For one thing, it is a great story to tell, complete with all the ingredients of a thriller: brothels, spies, brown envelopes and honeypots, all laced with intrigue, deceit and backstabbing. My interest, though, came from a concern that our community of journalists was not dealing properly with the series of journalistic fiascos at the Sunday Times, the country’s biggest and most powerful newspaper.

I was on a panel commissioned to conduct an internal investigation at the paper in 2007, after a similar series of journalistic disasters. Our far-reaching recommendations were not implemented. And so, perhaps inevitably, the paper went off the rails again in 2011-6 with another series of stories that boosted those trying to capture state institutions for corrupt purposes. The paper had to retract and apologise for these disastrous stories.

As journalists, we hold those in power to account and demand full transparency from them. But we also wield public power, so I think it is crucial that we hold ourselves to account when we mess up. If we don’t, the politicians will step in and that would be a disaster.

Media self-criticism is not just important to improve our journalism, it is a political, professional and moral imperative. That is why I thought it important to take a deep dive into what happened at the Sunday Times.

The other reason is that this same period saw some of finest and most effective investigative journalism in this country. The #GuptaLeaks exposé in particular contributed to bringing down a president. The email leaks provided the evidence of the extraordinary and malign influence the Gupta brothers– who stand accused of having captured the South African state for their enrichment – had over the president and his family.

Taken together, I thought these parallel tales would provide insight into the highs and lows of journalism, showing its importance and value, but also its limitations and problems. I hope to enable a better public understanding of the work of journalists and the media, as I think that there is confusion over what we do and don’t do in our newsrooms.

Read more: Jürgen Schadeberg: chronicler of life across apartheid’s divides

This was not just a Sunday Times issue, but it was about the nature and state of our media, and hopefully I offer some insight into that.

As someone who was involved in the 2007 report, knew all the characters well, and who had been part of judging panels for the Taco Kuiper Award for investigative journalism, which recognised the Sunday Times for one of these stories and then withdrew that recognition, I had a rare personal perspective on events.

In a way, the book is a personal account from an insider, and I hope I bring to bear an understanding of journalism derived from 40 years of practice, including my own fair share of journalistic blunders.

Why do your findings matter?

I hope that I show how good journalism nourishes and feeds citizenship and democracy, but also that it is an imperfect profession working in imperfect structures in an imperfect society – and we need to face up to the reality of what this means.

Journalism can do some good, and it can do a lot of harm, and it usually does both. We have to try and understand how to try and do more good and less harm. This is particularly important at a time when the work we do is facing the triple onslaught of political, financial and disinformation storms.

An important element of the story is how state structures, such as the State Security Agency and Police Crime Intelligence, deliberately and malevolently interfered to distort and harm our journalism for their own purposes. The question to ask is:

what was it about the Sunday Times that made this newsroom fall for these tricks, when others didn’t?

We have a lot to fix in this country, and as journalists we can start by trying to fix our journalism and our media.

What are the implications for the media?

What I highlight is that this is not a problem affecting one newspaper. The problem runs deep in the structure and history of our media. Hopefully, those reading my book will get a better understanding of this and be better equipped for a discussion about what needs to be done to make our media and our democracy work better.

We are facing an onslaught of disinformation, enabled by social media, and we cannot counter it unless we rebuild journalism so that it is a valued and trusted part of our society.

How can media houses and journalists fix the problems you identify?

First we need to understand the problem and its causes. That is what I explore in the book. Part of this is to see that this is not a problem for media houses or journalists alone. This is a social, political and economic problem that can’t be solved by the media industry on its own. We have to work with the private sector, the public sector, the philanthropic sector, civil society and the state to ensure we have a media that meets our society’s needs.

We cannot deal with the issues of professionalism and accountability without solving the problems of the fundamental economic structure of the industry. To be a quality industry, we need to be a strong one, and to do this, we need to find a new way to restore its financial foundation.

Read more: Journalism of Drum’s heyday remains cause for celebration — 70 years later

We are in the extraordinary position where philanthropically funded journalism appears to be more sustainable than the traditional advertising-driven model. This is an inversion of what we always accepted as reality. We are caught in a bind: we need citizens to value us enough to pay for our services in some form, but we don’t have the resources to produce the journalism that would show that value. We first have to recognise that this is a national and societal problem, not just a media one, and then we can tackle it.

Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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