South Africa’s eNews Channel has been flighting an advertisement on why resistance to the ANC-led government’s proposed Protection of Information Bill is so important. Using a ‘naïve’ creative approach, with an animated stick figure as the hero – the informed citizen – of the ad, it hammers home the message that without access to information, civil society’s constitutional rights would not be worth the paper they’re written on.
Access to information, writes Melissa Moore on the Free Speech Express website, “is fundamental to the realisation of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. For example, access to information is crucial to the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media and freedom to receive or impart information or ideas’.”
It was after the South African National Editors Forum’s (SANEF) annual general meeting last year that eTV’s head of news, Patrick Conroy, conceptualised the idea. There, editors aired their concerns over the Info Bill and the government’s idea for a Media Appeals Tribunal.
“SANEF members were urged to highlight the dangers of censorship and secrecy laws with their respective audiences, but it was left up to the individual organisation about how they would approach this,” Conroy told TheMediaOnline. “The Mail&Guardian ran several print ads and eNews developed the ‘stick figure’ character. Most newspapers opted to run editorial content or opinion pieces rather than resort to any kind of marketing. We chose to do both.”
Conroy said he was “looking for a way to portray to South Africans the importance of news and information in their daily lives without being overtly political. Stick figures are pretty neutral, and cannot be classified by race or gender. They represent everyone and critics of the advert would have a hard time calling a stick figure a racist”.
He added: “They’re forced to debate the issues at hand rather than try and shift the argument with false accusations. It is the most dangerous legislation proposed since the birth of the new and democratic South Africa. Those who fought for freedom now actually want to silence and jail journalists (or anybody) if they make public classified information that is in the public interest, even if that information proves criminal acts by the State.”
With the eNews Channel broadcasting on DStv, the advert reaches an upper LSM market. Conroy said an updated version of the ad was in production, and that would be flighted on e.tv and would target a wider audience.
“The eNews Channel talks mostly to a black middle class audience on DStv, but also provides a news service to e.tv in for the form of African language news, eNews Prime Time at 7pm and Late Edition. The issue is the main driver [behind the ad]; we are very concerned about the impact the Info Bill will have on our country and democracy.”
It has been endorsed by SANEF and “well received by the public”, Conroy said. “We’ve been encouraged to follow up on the ad, which we are working on, and other media outlets may follow with messages of their own that are not strictly editorial only.”
The ad will be uploaded onto our YouTube Channel as soon as part two is completed.