Firstly, I want to congratulate not only the winners but also all the finalists in delivering excellence to newspaper journalism. We are indeed in debt to you for ensuring the democracy flame glows brighter each year. There are however, storm clouds over our bright flame which could threaten the survival of our industry.
Let’s start with the obvious.
The print media business model is sustainable only with the support of advertising. The lifeblood of print media is advertising. We compete for the very same advertising with television, radio, outdoor, direct mail and the internet.
It is also regularly trumpeted by all industry players, informing of an increase in advertising market share and providing convincing reasons for a fall in print media circulation. Players in the daily market highlight the woes of entities strong in weekend titles and vice versa. Similarly, free newspapers cite the woes of paid newspapers and vice versa.
The reality is that the newspaper percentage of the advertising pie has been shrinking in recent years; add to this is the advancement of the Digital Age.
Finally, as democracy matures, our commitment to editorial independency in print is losing us more friends than gaining them, even those who shout about democracy at every turn.
The digital solution in a print media company that is envied on the JSE media sector by our stakeholders is a financial investment in an offshore entity where one does not have management control. To meet new digital challenges, print is advised to invest in brands, right-size the business model, cut costs for profits and improve the quality of our editorial offerings – in short, to shrink.
Advertising will grow in print media if it is allowed a level playing field whilst competing in the internet age. What are the hurdles?
Firstly, let’s look at the regulatory environment. Our cross-media ownership restrictions that were intended to create diversity of voice, simply entrench the few that are allowed to operate in the highly regulated broadcast market.
The increasing fragmentation of media into the internet and mobile platforms amplifies the situation. The competition law was designed to prevent collusive practices of entities acting in concert. The state broadcaster, with a lifeline for annual losses, competes unfairly with print, chasing the same Rand of advertising.
Quite simply, the regulatory environment around media is archaic and outdated.
The good intention to create diversity of voice in rural and under-served markets has led to the MDDA subsidising new entrants to compete with established players. This model of a single-title charity fails with larger print and distribution costs in print media. Using the airspace to get messages to faraway places is the only solution for social and noble intentions. Regrettably, disruption and blame are placed at the doorstep of established print media for the lack of success of chasing a flawed model of a single-title print enterprise.
The internet age is boundary-less with global giants who have no restrictions from regulatory hurdles around content distribution and advertising procurement.
In conclusion, the excellence of content in print media can secure that rich advertising lifeblood if regulators nurture a level playing field and support local established players in the interest of protecting and promoting democracy.
We should be encouraged to grow print media enterprises to multi-media businesses that compete with the global enterprises on a level playing field.
Chairman of the Newspaper Association of South Africa (NASA)