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International Villain of the Year – the Daily Maverick?

Hassen Lorgat


In their attempts at participatory democracy, transparency and accountability, the Daily Maverick (DM) fails the test. I am referring to the vote rigging exercise in the matter of the Daily Maverick Readers vs its editors. This is not a real headline but it could easily be. The Daily Maverick asked their readers to vote for The Villain of the Year and, when the readers voted, the editors decided undemocratically and without precedent decided to add the name of another nominee as co-winners. Why did the Daily Maverick do this? Was such an intervention part of the rules of the game? What does it say about reader driven journalism that the Daily Maverick has so proudly championed?

Hassen Lorgat explores this further.

 On 15 November, the Daily Maverick asked its readers to “vote for Daily Maverick’s People of The Year. Unlike next year’s elections when you only get to vote for political parties and independent candidates, in this election you get to vote for a broad range of remarkable, amazing, wicked, funny and idiotic people from Mzansi and further afield. Your vote counts. Choose your best and worst candidates for 2023 by the deadline of Wednesday, 22 November, 3pm.”

 The results of the votes were made public on 29 December 2023.

 Daily Maverick readers contemplated for 45 days to decide whom to vote for and they voted overwhelmingly for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or, as a friend of mine calls him, Genocide Ben. During these days, it is estimated that over 10 187 Palestinians were killed by the IDF led by the Villain of the Year. During this time, we have heard from Israeli sources that the leader of Hamas Mohammed Deif is in hiding or on the run, and presumably has not been involved in military action of any kind, let alone outside of Gaza.

At the time of writing, I do not know of any other category where the editors interfered with the decision of its readers. We must ask WHY?


This is how the Daily Maverick tried to explain away the decision of the readers, it is like a playbook from Israeli propaganda known as hasbara.

 Rebecca Davis did the honours in an article misleadingly entitled “Israel’s Prime Minister and the commander of the military arm of Hamas stand out in the rogues’ gallery for their blood-soaked acts of inhumanity”.


The photo of the 15 November showed some of the candidates for the awards of persons / institution of the year. Above this photo, in big writing, the reader is invited to VOTE. There was no doubt that their vote would count.

In the photo of the 29 December, the DM ran the two photos of the “villains” in  equal size. This use of the photos and the headline show the calculated bias of the editorial team. After imposing Deif as co-winner, the reader is left with seeing first the photo of Mohammed Deif and, thereafter, the photo of Netanyahu. The overall winner in terms of votes I believe ought to have been differentiated; put into a larger photo / frame / and even on their unprecedented intervention, the actual winner, now co-winner. Placing the photo of Deif first and in the same size, plays to the editorial intervention that they actually believed that Deif was a worse villain than Netanyahu. This would become clearer when read along the opening of the request to vote on the 15 November.

It is critical to note that both the headline and the photographs do not reveal what the readers voted for and suggest bias and interference by the editors. The headline on 29 December 2023 simply read:



International Villain of the Year: Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammed Deif

Both the headline was written under the theme people of the year, and read alongside the photo, is misleading. It does not reflect the votes of the readers as was promised on 15 November 2023, when the voting process opened.

These votes were of their readers and not the editors. If the Press Ombud had any teeth left, they would know that this headline does not conform with the contents that I am about to reveal. It would have been better written as EDITORS DECIDE TO AWARD MOHAMMED DEIF AS CO_WINNER.

If the editors wanted their say, they could have written it as an editorial but not muddy the waters as they have done. By failing to do so, I believe they transgressed the press code by not clearly separating the editorial from other interferences. The Press Code (2.4) thus: keep editorial material clearly distinct from advertising and sponsored events.

But let us move on to the content. Davis writes that “In 2023, there was no shortage of candidates for International Villain of the Year, but two men stood head and shoulders above the rest: Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Hamas leader Mohammed Deif.

Netanyahu was the overwhelming choice of voting Daily Maverick readers, but in the interests of justice an editorial decision was taken to co-award this ignominious label to the Hamas commander believed to have been behind the 7 October attack on Israel.”

There are many questions and issues that flow from this assertion. I will list them and attempt to answer them accordingly.

– Does the editorial board have any right to do what it has done in terms of the rules of the votes as shared with the readers? The related question is this: is this not editorial interference?

– Why should we believe the DM when they assert that Deif alongside Netanyahu “stood head and shoulders above the rest”?

I will explain this by revisiting the briefs readers were given. Firstly, Netanyahu was given a boost through the not so smart underreporting on his crimes: the numbers of Palestinians he is directly responsible for killing, maiming and forcibly displacing Palestinians in the Gaza strip.

The DM wrote on the 15 November advertising that Netanyahu “is the driving force behind the bombing and destruction of Gaza, with the death toll over 10 000 after Hamas brutally attacked 1200 mostly Israeli civilians on October 7.”

There are at least two actual errors in this part of the blurb. The first one is the numbers of deaths reported. Relief Web points out the attacks on hospitals made it difficult to report on the figures of deceased on 15 November. So the figures they reported was of the 10th of November: 5 days before the DM opened its invitation to its readers to vote and then already excluded those under the rubble, suffering from thirst and hunger and a slow death… Then the death toll stood at over 11 thousand.

This is what Relief Web wrote:

“On 15 November, for the fifth consecutive day, following the collapse of services and communications at hospitals in the north, the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza did not update casualty figures. The reported fatality toll of Palestinians in Gaza as of 10 November at 14:00 (latest update provided) stood at 11,078, of whom 4,506 were said to be children and 3,027 women. Another 27,490 Palestinians have reportedly been injured.

Reuters estimated that the number of Palestinians killed was 11 320 on 15 November 2023.

The DM further presented reason / justification for the Israeli action, pointing out that the death of 10 000 took place “after Hamas brutally attacked 1200 mostly Israeli civilians on October 7.” This was the second error.

I will discuss the factors around these events briefly as they relate to two of the 3 nominated villains of the year.

For weeks after this date, the figure projected by the Israeli state was 1 400 including President Joe Biden on October 18.

These figures projected ignore the deaths of Palestinian fighters and the renewed figure is said to include, according to Israeli media, 350 troops, police, and security personnel. I will not even go into the allegations made in Haaretz that a number of people may have been killed by Israeli helicopter fighters when they eventually arrived at the scene.

Mohammed Deif, Commander of the military arm of Hamas, the DM blurb is implicated as a chief organiser. They wrote that he was the the military commander of The Qassam Brigades, and the mastermind behind¨the brutal 7 October attack against Israeli civilians which resulted in the loss of over 1,200 lives and the taking of about 240 people hostage.¨

Interestingly, the DM seems remarkably similar to that of the official IDF and Israeli view where they blame the Palestinians for their own suffering whilst Israel is left scott free and blameless. This is what was further written under the profile of Deif:

“The Hamas attack has triggered the most brutal onslaught by Israel’s IDF on Gaza, depriving residents of water, aid, electricity and communications and the bombarding of buildings and causing over 10 000 Palestinian lives to be lost.”

This paragraph rightfully belongs to the IDF and Netanyahu. This is not my view but The Guardian, a very days after the 7 October, wrote that “the energy minister, Israel Katz, wrote on social media that no “electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter” until the “abductees” were free. The United Nations experts have condemned the Israeli bombardment as “collective punishment”, which is a war crime.

Israel is preparing to launch a ground invasion in response to bloody massacres carried out in 20 Israeli communities by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas last weekend, during which dozens of hostages were also seized, in the most serious escalation in the region for 50 years.”

In addition, Human Rights Watch and a number of other reputable organisations said that it was Israel who were using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the occupied Gaza Strip, which is a war crime. They elaborated thus:

  • The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the Gaza Strip, which is a war crime.
  • Israeli officials have made public statements expressing their aim to deprive civilians in Gaza of food, water, and fuel – statements reflected in Israeli forces’ military operations.
  • The Israeli government should not attack objects necessary for the survival of the civilian population, lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, and restore electricity and water.

Nowhere is Hamas implicated in these actions. Israel is not without agency and has occupied Gaza for 17 years and controlled the diet, lives and livelihoods to the tiniest detail. The right and access to water and electricity and telecommunications is rigidly controlled and may be switched off a will. Indeed, the idea of starving Palestinians has a long history and warrants a story all of its own, suffice to say that their occupiers have for years experimented with such totalitarian forms of control.

The New Arab wrote in 2018 that after the 2007 Israel imposed land, sea and air blockade, the strip was turned into an open air prison. They argued that “for the first three years, Israel’s restrictions were dictated by a “Red Lines” document, which calculated the minimum number of calories necessary to keep Gaza residents from malnutrition. Each Gazan needed just 2,279 calories each day to avoid starvation, it said, and restricted imports based on this “daily humanitarian portion” – making food essentials such as meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables a luxury”.

Now for the second part of the scrutiny into how the DM managed this whole process. With reference to their own statistics, I cannot understand why Rebecca Davis, from DM, wrote that the two villains stood head and shoulders above Museveni. The truth is that Netanyahu stood heads and tails above all. His vote was 813 and that of Deif stood at 428. Thus Netanyahu won almost twice the number of votes as that of the Hamas commander.

Indeed, adding the votes of the two other “villains” is 661 and they could not catch up with the outright winner Netanyahu with his glorious 817. One can only conclude that the editors interfered and chose the Hamas leader for ideological reasons and thereby undermined the integrity of the paper.


As an aside, I must say that I am surprised at the conduct of the DM. On at least on two occasions, I have tried to challenge the Daily Maverick’s pro-Israel and pro-US biases. See, for instance, my complaints to the Press Council during April, and later August / September 2023 – both complaints under the same Press Council reference Number Ref 29461′.

Simply put, I asked to comment in a letter or whatever (including the right of a reply) on the use of a photo and article that was blatantly pro-Israel. This I did more than once. Not to be distracted, it was this syndicated article written by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Sinan Abu Mayzer, dated 5 April 2022, dealing with the Zionist incursions into Al Aqsa Mosque: Cross-border rockets fired from Gaza after Israeli police raid Al-Aqsa mosque.”

My complaint to the Press Ombuds Office was 21 April 2023. The Press Council ignored the arguments that the paper was, at one stage, OK with granting me a letter to the editor on the grounds that they had the right to refuse.

The DM replied that they would no longer be running opinion pieces on Palestine Israel but when I was told this – there was no policy in place nor was that assertion lived up to. At the end of the day, my arguments failed to convince the ombuds office. It is worth pointing out what the Press Council’s Adv Fanie Groenewald wrote to me in September 2023, in a subsequent matter on the same theme. He wrote thus:

I did not really see your email of 23 August 2023 as a formal complaint. You requested that “the ombud and the newspaper The Daily Maverick grant an opportunity for its readers, like myself, to present views that appear to have been hitherto suppressed”.

 In my response to you on 31 August 2023 I made it clear that “the Press Council’s complaints mechanism is about alleged breaches of the Press Code by publications that subscribe to our jurisdiction. Nothing less, nothing more.”

 I also stated that the “Press Council cannot interfere/intervene with the editorial decisions of a publication, that is, about which opinion pieces, written by whom, they will publish or not publish.” And also: “One might agree or disagree with a publication’s decision not to publish opinion pieces on certain topics (and to later change that decision…). But it remains the publication’s right to make that decision.”

 I did not go through with this formal complaint but really wanted the Press Council to present opportunities to debate, mediate, and I felt then as I do now, that the Daily Maverick were merely going through the formal processes that were dressed up as reader empowerment and democracy but, in reality, were not that.

I wrote informally about my frustrations with the paper and it is only a few community radio stations and media outlets (Radio 786, Salaamedia, Channel Islam, Al Ansaar and a few other outlets including the Media Review Network) that picked up the story. The Media Review wrote about these ethical lapses and lack of respect for the readers that I was concerned about.

Before ending, it is worth reflecting on how the International Villian of the Year (2022) was adjudicated by the Editors. The 2022 nominees for the International Villain of the Year (IVOTY) were Vladimir Putin, Justice Samuel Alito and the conservative judges (Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett) and Elon Musk. During December 2022 the paper announced its winner Vladimir Putin and, at the end of the article announcing the winner, they explained their reasons for their choice.

In addition, there was a full article on the Justices of the US Supreme Court who took away the right of women to abortions. These judges were spared from being chosen as co-winners. The note reads “How we chose the People of the Year winners” which I quote in full hereunder: “In the past, Daily Maverick journalists decided who they thought warranted the title of Person of the Year, but for the second year running we have asked readers to vote for their preferred choice, with the proviso that we still have the final say. Choosing the annual winners is a labour of love because that’s what it takes to get a bunch of DM editors to decide whether they agree or disagree with the choices of 13,000 readers. Over the next few days we will republish online all the results in various categories. – Heather Robertson, DM168” Editor

I did not see this argument for 2023. One wonders for both 2022 and 2023 why such a health warning was not included on the same page/s as those seeking the participation of the readers to vote. It could have read something like this: Limited Democracy: your vote, but we have the final say!

If the assumption is that there was a health warning (i.e. the editors will intervene, whatever you say) for 2023 International Villain of the Year and other categories, it begs the question: why is or was it not stated upfront and on the same page that was asking the readers to vote?

In 2023 we find the post facto justification for their decision. It was explained by the concept of Interest of Justice? This concept is difficult to define and, depending on your worldview, it could be either too narrowly or too widely defined. It is a misplaced and legalistic intervention aimed at undermining the vote of its readers. It seems that the editors accorded themselves the powers inherent to judges in a court, all in an attempt to evade blaming the leader that is perpetrating genocide.

A more favourable reading of the concept reveals that it is about fairness and equity used when a judge has discretion to make a ruling in a particular situation. But by all accounts, it comes down to the subjectivity of those who preside. Yet I believe that they too have to interpret the facts at hand. In the villainous selection a.k.a IVOTY 2023, the DM editors seem to equate the events of 7 October 2023 with the ongoing genocide. Why is it for the editors that this event trumps all other violations of human rights against Palestinians that preceded it in “other wars’ ‘ or mowing the lawn exercises by the IDF?

This is a long story, suffice to say that the 2014 war on Gaza was also led by Netanyahu and hopefully this graphic explains the pain and suffering inflictd on Palestinians living under occupation.



At the beginning of this article, I asked if readers mattered in this story of villainy and how we decide to label someone a villain, terrorist and so on. When the voting game was announced on 15 November readers were told: Your vote counts. Choose your best and worst candidates for 2023…

Furthermore and looking at the voting protocols – unless I am missing something -, I do not see any rule, regulation or policy that enables the editorial staff to intervene in the events of a tie or whatever.

What readers were given were the criteria of how they should vote ending with Cast your vote below or click here. When the votes were done and the polls closed, the readers were simply told by an automated response that: Thank you for your votes! The winning candidates will be revealed in the upcoming DM168 newspaper bumper edition.

Thus, I can conclude that I do not believe that the editors had the right to do what they did. Maybe they had an escape clause hidden somewhere which the readers could not know but, as in my case, this was never published. In the last section, I will continue digging for it.

It reminds me of Brecht’s poem “Die Lösung” or the Solution, about the East German uprising of 17 June 1953. There was uncertainty how to respond to the demands of the workers and Brecht rejected the suggestion of the leaders of the union that they “write a manifesto as a declaration of loyalty to the government and a contribution to the restoration of order.”

Written in mid-1953. Brecht was critical of the government and the union in this matter, who were merely a transmission belt for the party elites. Through their actions the people voted against the wishes of their leaders. This poem was the result – as  critical commentary. I think it is applicable to the Daily Maverick in this instance.

“Some party hack decreed that the people

had lost the government’s confidence

and could only regain it with redoubled effort.

If that is the case, would it not be be simpler,

If the government simply dissolved the people

And elected another?”


One has to go to the Reader Covenant to hear the lofty values about reader involvement in the newspaper: Reader Covenant (written in 2009). A Covenant, as I understand it, is an accord or an agreement. The DM writes about it as “our promises to you, and what we expect from you in return.” I will only hone in on what is relevant to this argument. They write that “We don’t let algorithms decide what is important and what is not. Our journalists and editors are humans and some of the best and most experienced ones around at that. They’ve spent decades refining the craft and, by now, they’re pretty good at it.

The result is a service that will tell you what happened yesterday, what’s happening now and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow – and what it all means.” After some other ramblings of social currency and the seeing the light or being enlightened readers, they end with these words:

“We will always be serious about you being a knowledgeable and fun person.

We’ll do all of that for you, day in and day out, and we’ll do it with the greatest of integrity. Nobody will ever pay for our opinions, no matter the size of the chequebook. We will never sell your private information, let somebody else dictate our agenda, or conspire behind your back.”

You, dear reader, are at the very centre of the Daily Maverick universe.

I have highlighted those words: knowledgeable, integrity and no one will pay for our opinions and the readers are the centre of the DM universe. Really? Does it make it any better for being in the service of the state of Israel for free? The Daily Maverick has let down journalism and the trust of its readers. Maybe they conspire behind our backs or they do it blatantly in our faces. Like the day when they informed us openly that Rowan Polovin is Daily Maverick’s Head of Technology. His views expressed in the paper when he came “out” was to criticise Minister Pandor for the recall of South African ambassador from Israel. There it was spelt out that he was there as an employee of DM and not as spokesperson of the South African Zionist Federation (of which Polovin is the National Chairperson). Thinking of all the readers’ data in the possession of DM, leaves me with more questions than answers.

Hassen Lorgat
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