The truth is that in spite of a barrage of anti e-tolling editorials this past year, South Africa’s mass media, in particular Gauteng-based newspapers, openly support e-tolling.
I have received a tsunami of witheringly critical e-mails this past week from irate consumers complaining about the fact that newspapers such as The Star and Sunday Times carry Sanral e-toll advertising. If the mass media were serious about their editorial objections to e-tolling, they should, I was told, refuse to carry Sanral’s messages.
I don’t think so.
First of all, newspapers are businesses as are most mass media and technically the business side of media and the editorial function are by logical deduction, mutually exclusive.
Even during the apartheid era all of our mass media carried all sorts if advertisements placed by government and even political parties
In short, if our mass media had to allow morality to dominate money, then they would all go bust. The majority of movies would not be shown on TV and newspapers and magazines would have pretty much nothing to write about.
In my opinion, the media industry is doing precisely what just about every other company in Gauteng is doing and that is either registering for e-tolling or profiting from it. The car hire business has registered; the motor industry has registered all the cars it provides to the motoring media for testing and business is generally registering because that’s what business does. They’d rather pay than have the hassle and they also don’t want to be blacklisted from government contracts.
And, after all, they just pass on the additional costs to the consumers.
But where the media is slipping up on its coverage of e-tolling is on the question of false number plates. Traffic court prosecutors and municipal traffic departments have accurate records of just how many vehicles photographed at speed traps that actually have false number plates.
A traffic official in Pretoria told me some time ago that the number runs into thousands.
I suspect that the advent of e-tolling will generate an increase is false number plates in spite of new regulations making it harder to buy a fake set.
So, the only people who seem to have the will to fight back against e-tolling by refusing to register are ordinary motorists. And I have serious reservations how successful they will be given South Africa’s history of consumer apathy.
In terms of whether they would be morally righteous in refusing to buy an e-tag in spite of these being completely legal, one cannot help recalling that the great Gandhi said when governments imposed laws that adversely affected the poor, then the citizens of the country had a moral obligation not to comply.
So, it all boils down to the old issue of money and morality. And unfortunately these days, money seems to be winning by a massively wide margin.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk