Conspiracy of silence

Despite journalists' efforts, some of the juiciest news stories can never be told.
Read time 3min 30sec

Getting the opportunity to meet and talk to many different and interesting people in the ICT industry is no guarantee of getting the best news stories. Far from it.

In fact, it can be extremely frustrating because some of the most exciting things journalists hear never get published. A case in point is something I heard during an informal discussion with a network technology vendor this week.

He told me many big South African companies were getting ripped off by their networking solution providers. Instead of optimising networks to get the most out of available bandwidth, he said solution providers were simply keeping networks running just well enough to meet KPIs in the hope of selling more (unnecessary) capacity.

Sniffing a potential story, I began to probe and coax. Yes, he could name prominent company names and cite impressive sums of money wasted by over-provisioning. Wonderful! But just as it was getting really interesting, he added the three words no journalist likes to hear: "off the record". In an instant, my hopes of a sexy headline were dashed.

Big fish stories

Although this conspiracy of silence is by no means an uncommon obstacle or unique to the ICT sector, what really bothers me is that technology is getting a bum rap.

Warwick Ashford, portals managing editor, ITWeb

Later, when lamenting that another potentially good story had been stopped in its tracks by someone who was unwilling to go on record, several colleagues were quick to commiserate. Each had several "big fish" stories to tell like the one about the importation of cheap skills at the expense of local training, or the one about fraudulent claims by companies for training never undertaken. Then there were also the countless examples of acquisitions, restructuring exercises, dismissals and appointments no one will confirm or deny.

In short, many stories of the worst corruption and abuses in the ICT sector are kept out of the public domain because few are willing to stick out their necks. It's all "off the record".

Although this conspiracy of silence is by no means an uncommon obstacle or unique to the ICT sector, what really bothers me is that technology is getting a bum rap. The fact that unscrupulous vendors are getting away with murder by using false claims of technology limitations is more of a concern than the fact that unsuspecting customers are getting fleeced.

Scapegoating technology

To return to the networking example: Instead of the market being educated about the latest technology advances that have enabled greater compression, flow control, security and application availability, solution providers emphasise the limitations of technology. Customers are kept in the dark about more cost-effective solutions technology enables.

Thanks to the conspiracy of silence, most of them will remain in the dark. But why wasn't my networking contact willing to go on record? Surely it's the right thing to do? Where was the man's sense of rectitude? Besides, I needed him to blow the whistle to get a good story.

Sadly, the answer is quite simple: He didn't want to risk upsetting his resellers, clients, potential clients or anyone else with a stake in networking. In other words, commercial interest is the single biggest reason for anyone refusing to go on record to expose fraud.

Caveat emptor

Being an IT journalist means getting real about the fact that making money is the reason most people are in business. It's hardly ever about the technology itself or about using technological advances to improve lifestyles, user experiences, business processes and so on.

These kinds of goals belong to the world of marketing. They are the tools that vendors use to sell technology-based solutions, gadgets and gizmos. The only real goal is money. Something no journalist or customer can ever really afford to forget.

In an industry where there are few players who are willing to put exposing the truth ahead of commercial considerations, technology gets the blame for most problems and the juiciest stories remain strictly off the record.

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