There is said to be pending ‘government legislation’ suggesting that five percent of community media’s ad spend must be committed to a predetermined list of media. Tanya Farber sifts fact from fiction.
Affirmative action, quotas in the rugby team, tokenism and talks about talks… Ever since the demon of apartheid was vanquished, we’ve been left trying to navigate our way through the tangled mess left in its wake. The biggest challenge – for just about every sphere of life – has been levelling the playing field without the use of discrimination, and asserting all the principles of our Constitution in ways that are practical.
And so it goes for the media, a sphere of life where large conglomerates and small community outfits exist side by side.
With advertising holding the purse strings behind all media, there is little wonder it has found itself at the centre of a potential controversy. Since June 2011, the issue of ad spend has been bubbling hotly. That month, the Portfolio Committee on Communications (PPC) held a briefing session with stakeholders from the advertising sector to discuss transformation within the industry. The Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA), the Advertising Standard Authority of South Africa (ASA) and the National Consumer Commission (NCC) made presentations.
Two of the recommendations that arose from this meeting were:
• Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) would “commit and implement a percentage of its ad spend to community media – as defined by the MDDA Act – and small commercial media”; and
• To “ensure messages reached the target communities”, all government organs and state-owned entities should be “encouraged to also use community and small commercial media as defined by the MDDA Act”.
Since then, the challenges of putting transformation into practice have become apparent.
The three main points of contention are that of a fixed percentage, a predetermined list of community media who would benefit from it and actual legislation that would enforce those two principles.
In November last year, Advertising Media Association of South Africa (AMASA) sent out a newsletter inviting its members to a debate on “the pending change in legislation with regards to community advertising”. It said “government is suggesting that 5% of ad spend on community media must go to a predetermined list of community media”.
Three months later, nobody seems clear where this ballpark percentage came from.
Lyn Jones, chairperson at AMASA, says, “At this stage my understanding is that all government and state-owned companies will be required to spend a certain percentage of their campaigns targeted to communities using new community media owners who have been given financial assistance to start up businesses by the MDDA. This will be channelled through the GCIS. The percentage ad spend that will be required to be booked with these media owners is not yet certain.”
However, the MDDA’s Nkopane Maphiri, in his presentation to AMASA, confirmed that IMC (Brand South Africa) and the South African Post Office “have (already) committed some of their ad spend to community (grassroots) media and small commercial media. These commitments are effective in the 2011/12 financial year”.
Jones says: “We [AMASA] believe that the industry needs to know of the pending legislation and be allowed to comment.”
But, says Lumko Mtimde, CEO of the MDDA, whether it is “30% or 5% is not the issue.” He also vehemently denies that there is any ‘pending legislation’ regarding either the percentage or a predetermined list. What he does say, however, is that there is indeed a drive to avoid mismatching the target audience of a message with the actual audience of a newspaper. When this happens, the message falls on deaf ears because it has been placed in the wrong ‘space’.
“Community and small commercial media – as defined by the MDDA Act – clearly serves the kind of communities targeted by government services. These are often rural, peri-urban and in some cases, urban communities. Therefore, it does not make sense to have these communities excluded in the ad spend.”
An example he gives is that of delivering a message about social grants for the poor.
“If your ad spend goes on media not consumed by the target beneficiaries, that is clearly wasteful expenditure,” he says.
He says that the problem has also arisen from confusion around the very definition of the term ‘community media’, and explains how the media powerhouses have ended up benefitting from the ad spend instead of their smaller cousins.
“It has come to our attention that the exclusion is not necessarily deliberate,” he says, “but is a result of the advertising agents confusing community and small commercial media with the big conglomerates like Caxton, Media24, Independent Newspapers Limited and Avusa.”
He says the conglomerates do have small independent media enterprises that are run for personal gain as micro businesses, but that these are not the same as community media that are defined in the MDDA Act of 2002 as “any media project that is owned and controlled by a community where any financial surplus generated is reinvested in the media project”.
Jones sees it differently. “If an MDDA community media exists in Pofadder, it will take preference over one that is already established with verified circulation and readership patterns. This will impact on the success of campaigns and might then force media planners to ‘double-up’ in certain areas of their plans, which in the long run increases the cost per thousand to reach a target market,” she says.
These are the nuts-and-bolts of the business side of things and they don’t always sit easily with the idea of transformation.
Eve Pennington, head of human experience at Starcom MediaVest Group, says that although community media is very important, the commercial interest has to be met to make it sustainable.
“While the debate as to whether spending money with true community based media has merit, it will always be resisted by business, and seen as a hand out if the media is a ‘poor cousin’ to its commercial counterparts,” she says. “I think that a long term solution to this conundrum is to make it beneficial through policy and tax laws for business to pass on their knowledge to these community enterprises.”
William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa, says he believes it’s time to change the attitude towards community and small commercial media operations. “Clearly there is a reluctance – and unfairly in some instances – to place advertising in smaller newspapers. I think they should be strongly incentivised to place advertising in smaller media, and MDDA is well placed to do this.
“What is concerning is the potential for abuse if it is true that it will be limited to a specific list of media. Questions arise, such as who that list would be determined by, and on what basis media would be included or excluded. It cannot simply be turnover.”
And, he adds, “My sense is that we should be looking to incentivise advertisers to smaller media, with MDDA playing a key role in this regard. Perhaps we could look at supporting smaller community media as a means of meeting some of the advertising charter components.”
At the AMASA gathering, Maphiri said that the “lack of support for community media is as a result of lack of understanding by the advertising industry of the community media sector”.
He beieves “some” research has also established that the “real” reason why ads are not placed with the grassroots media “is that the lower segments of the market have too little disposable income. But the question is, disposable for what?” he asks.
Maphiri argues that the assertion that LSM 1-6 [target market of most community media] has no buying power and that community media is no credible audience delivery platform is a misnomer. “To illustrate the point further we have looked at the SAARF RAMS figures to trend community radio audience patterns since 1999 and the conclusion is one that says there is steady growth in the sector and one that shows no signs of back-pedalling,” says Maphiri.
Aluta continua…and like many things in post-apartheid South Africa, the ‘aluta’ is not for freedom, but how to shape that freedom in a way that is comfortable for all.
PHOTO: AMASA chairperson, Lyn Jones
This story was first published in the March issue of The Media magazine.