Editor of The Media, Peta Krost Maunder, celebrates the tenth birthday of the magazine this month. She looks back in time to see what changes stand out over the last decade in The Media.
A decade ago, the South African media was so damn positive and excited about the future. No surprise as it was still the honeymoon period and the country was bathing in the afterglow of a new democracy. Thinking of this country in human terms, South Africa was still a vulnerable but untainted eight-year-old, gleaning whatever it could to learn and improve on itself. Now, it is a troubled and rebellious teenager on the verge of adulthood, having learnt all about corruption and abuse. Not so positive anymore. We are now at a stage where we can go either way – we can drop into an abyss, forsaking a good education and solid career path or we can smarten up, get with the programme and make the necessary changes and follow the good route to a healthy, prosperous adulthood.
The cover story in The Media’s first edition was an interview with Marcel Golding, e.tv’s head honcho. The first free-to-air channel, other than the national broadcaster, was only a four-year-old toddler. And Golding was still labeled a unionist rather than a businessman. Although e.tv was doing pretty well in the ratings, its place in the sun was not yet totally assured. Now, e.tv is an old hand, recently going international and about to launch an online arm that promises to be something really special.
MultiChoice’s M-Net was already hugely popular (in a certain income bracket) in 2002/3 and more and more people were moving from analogue M-Net decoders to digital DStv decoders. And at the time, Carte Blanche was in its top 10 most watched programmes and sport was the biggest drawcard. Today, MultiChoice offers high definition television, personal video recorders (PVR) and a host of phenomenal international stations on their bouquet. They have cheaper offerings for lower income groups. But, still Carte Blanche is in the top 10 and sport is pulling the viewers.
In the first edition, Professor Tawane Kupe addressed the issue of the Broadcasting Amendment Bill 2002. This was about restructuring the SABC into separate public and commercial wings. The idea was that the commercial would subsidise the public. This bill was passed and SABC was restructured into two divisions. However, it didn’t work effectively because SABC3, the commercial channel, made less money than SABC1 and SABC2, the public channels.
However, 10 years back, Peter Matlare had just taken charge of the hotseat and he managed to turn the institution around
from one that was in “more than R600 million in debt” in 1995, to one that was making profits of close to that amount by 2005. It was then that Dali Mpofu took over. Now, looking back over the many years of a mostly badly-run and sometimes mismanaged public broadcaster, it is clear that it simply wouldn’t have survived without the government’s handouts. Yes, there are some incredibly well-run radio stations, including 5FM, Metro FM and Ukhozi FM, which are hugely popular, but as a whole, the SABC is still far from being out of the dwang. While it seemed earlier this year that the new CEO was going to turn things around, it appears to be proving far harder than expected. The public broadcaster still owes around R1 billion to Nedbank that was guaranteed by the government.
In terms of newspapers, things were pretty stable back then and everyone was reading their favourite rag. Things were shaken up a bit when Media24 launched the Daily Sun in July 2002. This tabloid – the brainchild of the late newspaperman Deon du Plessis – took off, soon outdoing sales of any other publication, but still not stealing readers from the rest of the mainstream bunch. The tabloid had hit an untapped market. In The Media’s first edition, Professor Anton Harber suggested it was likely to be a threat to the mainstream dailies. But, instead, the groot gevaar was online media (more about this later).
In terms of the big commercial station, over the last 10 years, Primedia’s gross revenue has increased phenomenally and this year it has exceeded R1 billion in turnover. That is a compound annual growth rate of 18% in a decade. Primedia broadcasting has changed the face of radio in this last decade and making up-to-the-minute and live radio news and talk indispensable to consumers.
In 2003, Kagiso Media was just consolidating its radio assets and taking control over JacarandaFM and growing its market share. It has since (2008) bought a controlling share in Urban Brew Studios, one of the largest independent production houses, thereby diversifying into television. Kagiso has also moved into new media with its acquiring a controlling share of the award-winning Gloo Digital Designs and Acceleration Media, an internet sales agency.
In a first year edition of The Media, there was a story about the new owner of the Mail&Guardian, Zimbabwean media owner and entrepreneur Trevor Ncube who had recently bought an 87,5% share, reducing the Guardian’s shares to 10%. This newspaper still focuses on investigative stories and political analysis and winning many journalism awards.
Independent Newspapers is on the verge of being sold. It is a case study that provides proof positive that international investors are not all good for South Africa. Tony o’Reilly bought the Argus group in 1994 at the behest of his friend, Nelson Mandela. By 2002/3, the cracks were starting to show, making it clear there wasn’t going to be a continued investment in the improvement of the newspaper house. Ten years later, the newsrooms are quartered, the magnificent Cape Town newspaper building has been sold, the old presses are dying a natural death and the industry is waiting with bated breath to find out who will buy what is left of ‘Auntie Argus’.
Rewind 10 years or even seven, the company called Avusa didn’t exist. It was called Johnnic Communications (Johncom). In April 2004, Johncom entered into a licensing agreement with Johnnic Holdings Limited for the use of its trademark. By the end of that year, Johnnic began unbundling, creating confusion between Johnnic and Johncom. So the latter changed its name in 2007. But, what’s in a name?
It was when Prakash Desai, who was Johncom’s financial director a decade ago and then became Avusa’s CEO, caused a real stir last year when he exercised R3.69 million worth of rolled over share-based incentives granted to him in 2003/4 just before he left the group. He effectively left with a package of about R28 million. His departure followed the chairperson and two board members quitting. Mike Robertson, former Sunday Times political editor and then editor, is now running the show. Finally, a newspaperman is at the helm.
As for Caxton CTP, this company has grown in leaps and bounds from a printer who published ‘knock-and-drops’ to one of the biggest media companies in the country. And Terry Moolman, one of its two founders, is now being cited as on of the men who might buy Independent Newspapers. Having a print man of his stature in charge can’t be bad… It would also effectively make him a strong contender for the most powerful media owner in the country.
As for Naspers/Media24, now the biggest media owner in Africa and one of the largest in the world, it has grown enormously in the last 10 years. Not least of all in new publications like Daily Sun, Son, Sondag, Sunday Sun and many community newspapers. Then there are the scores of magazine titles that have come and -– in some cases – gone. Much has changed. Today Media24 – historically a white male-led organisation – has for the first time an open-minded phenomenal woman, former You/Huisgenoot and Drum editior Esmare Weideman, as its CEO and a number of powerful women editors.
In that first year of The Media, Independent Group launched a new Zulu-language daily called Isolezwe that went on sale for R1.50 a copy and was edited by Philani Mgwaba. This modern tabloid has grown and grown and keeps on growing in KwaZulu-Natal.
It was also the year that a group of Nigerian investors made their intentions of launching ThisDay newspaper in South Africa very clear. Remember that wonderful but very short-lived newspaper that took ages to get off the ground and paid very high salaries to top journos they had poached from other titles? Pity it didn’t last.
In an article in that first issue, an agency strategist commented on the many platforms for promotion and advertising there were. Well, she clearly had no idea what was coming… At the time, there was no social media. Blogging was just starting out and online media aggregators were certainly not something South Africans were aware of.
In September 2003, Herman Manson wrote that “online media was suffering from a self-esteem crisis since the internet bubble collapsed (2000) under the weight of its own hype”. Now, internet media has long since healed and grown, and is in the process of getting to the point of becoming lucrative. And consumers are more and more getting their news online.
As for cellphone media and advertising; well they spoke of it, but there was nothing close to what we have today and we are still not very advanced on this front.
Icasa, the broadcasting regulator, was in a better position 10 years ago with the exceptional Mandla Langa at its helm. In a story in the magazine in that first year, former editor Kevin Bloom wrote about how this man managed to hold together volatile elements, avoiding an explosion. And he did.
However, in a recent story, Tanya Farber explains that while Icasa had every intention of doing what it is meant to, it is simply not coming close to fulfilling its mandate. Perhaps it is time for another Mandla Langa to take the helm.
Then, finally, the Press Council and Ombudsman. In our first year, Bloom did a series on the Ombudsman and his work, clearly pointing out it was essential to good journalism and righting wrongs in print. Was it effective then? Maybe or maybe not, but the government wasn’t wanting to take control of regulating print, as it is now. While it may not have loved what was being written about some of its leaders, it wasn’t threatening to put a lid on it. It is now.
Because of this, the Press Council, under the guidance and hard work of the much-loved and respected Ombud, Joe Thloloe, underwent a review and supported Sanef and Print & Digital Media South Africa’s launch of a Press Freedom Commission (PFC). The latter came up with a comprehensive report that the ANC welcomed, but that has yet to see the light of day. Hmmm!
In the year 2002, the South African government was intent on improving diversity in the media, as well as developing community media. So much so, it legislated the establishment of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA). Its first CEO was the illustrious, hardworking Libby Lloyd who took up her position in 2003. While the MDDA has done incredible work in helping community media, over time it has become too political and its turnaround in helping people has been way too slow.
In one of the first editions, legal eagle Greg Hamburger explained the problems of the archaic laws that obstruct information access, not considering that 10 years down the line, the media would be fighting a government that is more than threatening to make those archaic laws seem fantastic…
Some things don’t change, though. David Bullard was writing on these pages and he still is. So is Tim Spira and Harry Herber. The Media always understood quality writing and a few other nuances in their writers. n
- Apologies to those whom I might not have included. It was not intended. There is only so much space and so much to write on 10 years in the media.
This story was first published in the October 2012 issue of The Media magazine.