The issue of political alignment within South Africa’s mass media is a highly emotive and sensitive subject.
Not only because of the sour aftertaste caused by the right wing political leanings of some papers during the apartheid years but nowadays it’s not so much about media morality but pretty much all about competing media getting their knickers in a knot about perceiving their ANC-aligned counterparts getting all the government advertising cream.
And it is going to become even more emotional with the imminent purchase of Independent News & Media SA by Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo Media Consortium.
The minute news broke about the possibility of Sekunjalo being the successful bidder, the issue of political alignment raised its head.
Of course, Survé has vociferously quashed any such notion.
In an interview with him written by Mandy de Waal in the Daily Maverick this week, it was put to him that the “markets could read this as a political move”.
Survé responded by saying that the decision of what goes into the newspapers would not be his but that of an independent editorial advisory board.
He added, “Anyone who suggests otherwise clearly doesn’t know who I am. It is ironic that this is being said while the people I was competing against have very strong political affiliations.”
Of course, The New Age newspaper has been weathering a storm of protest about its links to the ANC via the Gupta family and also its lucrative sponsorships by parastatals of its business breakfasts.
Frankly, there is a lot of media jealousy out there, fuelled by tough market conditions, a slowdown in ad spend, competition from what is commonly called the ‘new media’ sector and a lack of media marketing skills.
What is clearly also frustrating The New Age and the Sekunjalo competitors is the fact that both these companies deny any form of political alignment.
Which is certainly not unusual because even in countries such as the United Kingdom and the USA, where there are countless examples of blatant political alignment among mainstream media, those media also vehemently deny any such alignment.
This is part of the basics of any media operation that is all about not giving away contacts, informants or advertising relationships, under any circumstances.
The very fundamentals that underpin any business.
Morality is not a factor unless of course, bribery or corruption is involved.
My feeling is that if The New Age sales team are clever enough to persuade parastatals to sponsor their breakfast’s then good luck to them. And if those sponsorships are questionable in any way with regard to spending taxpayer’s money or not achieving reasonable returns on investment, then with the best will in the world, that is certainly not The New Age’s problem. As I have said before, show me a newspaper, magazine, radio or TV station that refuses to accept money from an advertiser because the advertising in question might not produce results and I will show you the fastest route bankruptcy known to mankind
Survé has been quick to counter the political alignment issue but I am not sure whether he will be successful in convincing any of his competitors or anyone who is not in the ANC camp because as it is in life, perception is what prevails overwhelmingly in all aspects of the media world with reality taking a very distant back seat.
What will fuel or dispel the notion of political alignment will be the makeup of his editorial advisory board.
With the mass media environment being extremely bloody in South Africa right now – one could actually call it a struggle for survival – the war of words among competing media is bound to hot up.
And, as I have said before, when competing media have a go at each other, does the public really care? Frankly I don’t think they do.
Right now the Oscar Pistorius saga is demonstrating that the public will go for the media that is giving them as many of the gory details as possible no matter whether that is fact, fiction, conjecture or sub-judice.
So, to all those newspapers with their noses out of joint over The New Age and shortly The Star, Cape Times, Argus and all the rest of the INM SA titles, get used to it, get over it and concentrate on providing quality content to your readers and marketing your titles properly. Trashing competitors has been proven time and time again to be a pointless marketing exercise.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk