The good, the bad and the not-so-funny of #MbekiOnPower

Media Coup: Given Mkhari speaks to President Thabo Mbeki

Much has been spoken, written and whispered about last Thursday’s epic #MbekiOnPower – the Inaugural Chairman’s Conversation with President Thabo Mbeki conducted by PowerFM’s chairman Given Mkhari.

Let me start at the top: this was a huge media and marketing coup by Given and Power FM. It will be hard to find anyone in the media who was not envious of the concept.

Well done to everyone involved.

But as we all know, the feedback has been mixed. And so it should be. We are a diverse people. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

The two biggest gripes I picked up (if social media is anything to go by) is that Given did not ask Mbeki tough and pertinent questions (and that he did not press him hard where he was perceived to be elusive) and that this was more about Given than about Mbeki.

These criticisms are legitimate.

But let us step back. Given framed this as a conversation, not an interview. Methinks he did this exactly to cover himself against any criticism that he knew would later come, as it did.

In a conversation, we have to presume that unlike an interview, there is no particular agenda or even desired outcome. Just a chat. Fair enough.

And to this end, it was indeed a conversation. You could even swear these two were friends or peers. Such was the relaxed nature of the conversation.

Unfortunately though, this was a media event. And there are things people expect from the media. If you are a radio host, and you have the privilege to interview a person of the stature of Mbeki, people are going to expect some semblance of an interview: hard and robust questions.

I personally had no problem with a harmless non-confrontational conversation. But to mitigate this, I think Given could have done one of two things.

One, he could have invited top anchors on PowerFM (in my view JJ Tabane and Thabiso Tema) to join him. He could have played good cop, and the two anchors bad cop.

Two, he could have taken more questions from the floor. He only took two in two hours. Of course it goes without saying that some of the questions Given asked were from the listeners who had sent them up front.

These two options would have also buried the criticism that the conversation was an ego trip by Given. Yet, we should not be quick to point fingers. Anchors are stars of their shows.

Given is also accused of long-winded questions that were laden with commentary. Again, fair enough.

But if we go back to the “conversation” disclaimer, he could just get a get-out-of-jail-free card. We all do the same when we are just having a leisurely chat.

Yet, as I have already said, this was a media event. People’s expectations of basic rules of interviews are not necessarily misplaced. In fact such expectations are justified.

This was his first as he said. I hope, and dare I say, I know Given will clean up on this act when he does more conversations in the future.

When it comes the views of Mbeki and how he answered some of Given’s (long) questions, I choose to “take the fifth” except to repeat what I posted on social media on the night: You lose nothing by accepting that “in hindsight I was wrong and could/should have done better”.

In fact, I hope Given takes from this comment too. Not to apologise to anyone, but to do better next time.

All said and done, well done Given. Anyone who doubted your business and media savvy should be thinking differently now.

But of course I could be wrong myself. And if that is the case, I will take my own advice and accept in hindsight, when that time comes, that I could/should have done better.

[Follow me on twitter @ramsbythehorns]

  • David Maimela

    ONE

    Understandably and naturally, people hold very strong feelings for or against President Mbeki; just as they do about many other leaders of his generation and calibre. I just hope we all keep our subjectivity in check.

    TWO

    Is there some objective test we can think of? Yes, I think so.

    Here is an attempt:

    Does he think his views and policies of the ANC were correct? The answer is YES, he largely thinks so.

    Second, has he shifted over the years; logically, it follows from the first question: NO, he has not shifted largely.

    Did Given deal with the major issues of his tenure? YES, largely!

    Finally, the show was about the President more than Given. And the President spoke and spoke and spoke! This I think is a somewhat sound objective test.

    THREE

    One of the great achievements of Mkhari was avoidance of sinking or reducing the whole democratic experience into an ANC experience or conversation. That was a monumental achievement. Many people fail at that.

    Secondly, he did not make it narrowly about Mbeki settling scores or attacking the current dominant faction in the ANC. It was about policy and issues.

    Again, many people fail at that. The ANC is not S.A. and vice versa.

    FOUR

    Did Mkhari, handle one or two things badly, I’m sure he did, naturally. Again a subjective question. But Mkhari was excellent 8 out of 10. Was he vintage Mkhari of MetroFM Talk? No.

    But here’s what. On the three major government policies of the time, he asked:

    Your macro economic stability programme GEAR, produced “jobless growth”.

    Your AIDS policy caused us to lose many lives!

    Your stance on Zimbabwe was based on friendship, historical ties and fear for elderly people!

    What more damning can you do? He did the same on ANC questions. He even asked: do you listen?

    FIVE

    The big issue here, is that it is some of us who are disappointed not that the interview was disappointing. Some of us are disappointed that President responded the same way he did back then to the same old questions.

    And it is possible that we think he may have shifted. And hey, surprise surprise, he stuck to his guns. That’s conviction, right or wrong.

    We are probably disappointed with our own expectations and perceptions!

    FINALLY

    I have one criticism against Mkhari, he cast the critical questions in the same way that mainstream narratives always have since 1996. And thus, President Mbeki could not but restate his established views. And we lost out on new thinking or rethinking. But to his credit, he tried to say; with HINDSIGHT, would you think, see or act differently as ANC then? President said NO!

    It seems to me that nobody would get a different answer.

    PARTING SHOT

    On land and WMC, well, time did not allow and he came at it in half measures. But in truth, I’m actually more harsher I think. Or so I think.

    And oh, interruption? What interruption? That’s how a natural conversation goes between two or more people. And can a President be interrupted? Oh YES! Besides, the President did not lose his chain of thought, he kept going back to complete his argument.