The Democratic Alliance has approached the Press Ombudsman over a story in The New Age on Monday. The party’s spokesman on communications, Gavin Davis, said the newspaper “contravened the Press Code in at least four ways”.
He said it failed to reflect a multiplicity of voices on the issue, the reporter did not solicit the views of the subject of the critical reportage, the headline presented the opinion of communications minister Faith Muthambi as fact and that the reporting was slanted due to political and commercial considerations.
The DA recently received a reply from Muthambi to a question it posed in parliament. In it, the minister confirmed that The New Age received 11.2% of government’s newspaper ad spend, amounting to R10.2-million. Davis contended that this was inflated considering that this was similar expenditure to that received by the Sowetan, which has a readership of 1.6 million readers as opposed to The New Age’s 153 000.
Muthambi then issued a statement in which she denied government was “rewarding” The New Age for its perceived loyalty to the ANC and President Jacob Zuma, who is a close friend of the Gupta family, owners of TNA Media. Muthambi said The New Age is a national newspaper and should not be compared to regions papers such as The Herald, The Mercury or the Pretoria News. “If we followed Hon. Davis MP’s argument, government would need to advertise in a greater number of metropolitan newspapers in all provinces to match the footprint of The New Age, at a greater cost than that of advertising in The New Age,” she said.
“It’s clear that Hon. Davis MP has a shallow understanding of advertising communication at best and is being disingenuous in his attempt to shoe-horn his obvious prejudice against the black owned media into a false argument to further his own agenda. A passing knowledge of newspaper distribution footprints, reader demographics and editorial content would have prevented the obvious flaws in the honourable member’s allegations,” she added.
She also conflated The New Age’s television audience numbers, those who watch its Eskom-funded business breakfast series, with its newspaper readership, saying, “Its readership of 153 000 excludes the additional 621 000 viewers measured by AMPS for its TNA Briefings, a live broadcast event that combines stakeholder interaction, its print readership and social media following with national television coverage”.
In a story reporting on Muthambi’s response, The New Age quoted the minister as well as Nazeem Howa, CEO of TNA Media. Davis says that despite the newspaper having statements in their possession from the DA, the newspaper chose not to balance their story with Davis’ comment.
“It is worth noting that, to our knowledge, The New Age did not cover the revelation that government spent a disproportionate amount on advertising when the DA broke the story on Thursday 29 September. This means that, to date, The New Age has not covered the DA’s side of this story at all,” he said in his complaint.
Howa said it wasn’t the first or last time that the DA had attacked the newspaper. “ Since the ANC’s overwhelming victory in the past election, the DA has been on a consistent drive to delegitimise the ANC-led government, with strong support from certain quarters in the media,” he said.
“It would seem that the DA does not support the drive for media diversity and would prefer that the government does not change spending patterns in any way or form so that the DA’s narrative remains the dominant one in the mainstream media,” Howa said.
Howa said The New Age was on a “growth trajectory”. “It is no secret that government revenue is the largest source of income for newspapers right now, so the DA’s moves to denigrate a new alternate voice fits in with the drive from our competitors to ensure that The New Age does not survive,” he said.
But Davis contends Howa was protecting the newspaper’s commercial interests. He said it was in The New Age’s interest to publish a one-side story that “reflects positively on the Minister’s decision to spend a disproportionate amount on The New Age can only increase the likelihood of more government money flowing to the newspaper in future”.
He also accused Howa of slanting the story due to political considerations. “It is common cause that the owners of The New Age are close friends of President Zuma. It is also common cause that The New Age’s editorial policy is to put a positive gloss on the performance of the ANC government.”