The ongoing Khama Billiat-Mamelodi Sundowns-Kaizer Chiefs story has been proof of just how little faith some people have in the media. Rightfully, people have to dissect the information provided to them by the media and analyse it thoroughly and critically.
When the news broke that Sundowns were interested in bringing their former employee, Khama Billiat, back to Chloorkop, all sorts of accusations started flying, with some claiming a witch-hunt that was out to destabilise the Naturena-based camp, while others felt the story was too good to be true – it was a classic of a story created behind the journalist’s desk.
The fact that the two teams kept their ‘lips sealed’, except for a few well-constructed denials here and there, also didn’t help the media’s cause.
It was until Sundowns’ acting general manager, Yogesh Singh, lifted the lid on the story, with the following short but impactful comment: “This is a sensitive matter, and we have mutual respect for Kaizer Chiefs – so I won’t be disclosing too much information. But what I can tell you is that we have been in ongoing discussions for some time now about Khama Billiat. What I can say is that the transfer window ends on August 31 and obviously all over the world players are moving during this period and it is no different here. If there’s no movement beyond that, then it is what it is. And the respect between the two clubs will remain.”
That confirmation set the cat among the pigeons and pushed the ‘opposition’ to either issue a statement of their own or risk being put under enormous pressure by their supporters demanding answers. They went for the former.
If you scrutinise Amakhosi’s official statement closely, you’ll realise that the Billiat-Sundowns-Chiefs story was not fabricated. They didn’t dismiss the authenticity of the player’s link but “are concerned that the said Sundowns official can misrepresent us in this manner, causing unnecessary confusion and uncertainty to our supporters and stakeholders”. They also dismissed being in “on-going negotiations”, although they confirmed being approached for the player’s services but “we informed them that we are not selling the player. Following that, there have not been any negotiations with the Chairman, Kaizer Motaung or anyone from Kaizer Chiefs as reported in the media”.
Now, for those who accused the media of trying to destabilise their team, you be the judge if there was never any story? The two teams have since confirmed the link and no one media house ever confirmed, for a fact, that Billiat was going back to Sundowns. All that was done was reporting on the information that was made available to the media. Unfortunately, no club wants to be beaten by the media to their own news stories. They will always try to control and manage the dissemination of the information to their stakeholders and that’s their right. However, people can’t expect the media to operate on the same level, as we have a completely different mandate and obligation to our consumers. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, the media never reported on Sundowns’ interest to bring Billiat back and that Singh didn’t go on record confirming the story. Would Chiefs have released a statement about the approach made by Sundowns for one of their star players’ services? Absolutely not! Chiefs’ supporters would never have known about it.
People leak information for different reasons, but we are duty-bound to inform, entertain and educate our readers without any fear or favour. When news happen, as long as we can prove their legitimacy, we will report it. As a matter of interest, Soccer Laduma became aware of the story during the Afcon in Egypt. About two weeks later, we were debating whether to allocate a page or two to the story, looking at the impact it might have, when one of our guys was tipped off by a different source about the Chloorkop-based club’s interest in the Zimbabwean attacker.
It was at that stage that we had to move faster with our plans and run the story in the next edition, instead of the two-week period we’d initially had in mind. In that same week, people started tweeting about the information and that was further proof that it was only a matter of time before the story became public knowledge. This also reminds me of the tip-off about Brilliant Khuzwayo’s premature retirement, which came as a huge shock to many. If I told you the news landed on our desk a few months into last season already, chances are you’d think I’m telling a bad joke. Even we couldn’t believe the story but, once again, because of the sensitive nature of the information presented to us, we had to make sure to do our homework properly. We started requesting interviews with the player, to no avail, as he was mostly injured. If we were reckless, we could have run the story last season already, but we had to exercise caution and this is something that people need to know about the media and how decisions are taken.
Back to Billiat’s story. Have you noticed how quiet he’s been about the whole situation? Not even a media statement or an interview on the club’s official website or social media platforms, distancing himself from the story. For someone who’s so active on social media, he’s only been showing pics of himself with a new car, drinking Mageu and a video of a bird that was an ‘uninvited guest’ at his apartment, among other things, and nothing about all the ongoing rumours linking him to Sundowns. You’d swear he’s so oblivious to the rumours and living under a rock. You’d expect him to “set the record straight,” right? Makes you wonder why he has not said anything. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…