The print media industry has taken what it calls an “unflinching” look at the state of the industry as it stands today in terms of black economic empowerment and transformation.
The research, in the form of a report called the BEE Strategic Review of Print Media Industry, comes in the wake of increasing tensions between government and the media, particularly with the broadsheet print media that the ANC terms “the opposition”. And with relations between government spokesperson, Jimmy Manyi, and editors and the parliamentary press corps at an all time low, the print media is under enormous pressure.
Print Media South Africa (PMSA), which issued a statement on the research late last week, said the research was part on an “internal review”. PMSA CEO, Ingrid Louw, told TheMediaOnline that the review was to “get a consolidated full look at what the current scorecards of the major companies were. The report is currently being updated as scorecards have changed since the last report”.
Louw said the Review had looked at transformation in terms of ownership and control and skills development as well as the standards of compliance with the Department of Trade and Industry’s broad based black economic empowerment codes of good practice.
“The four main media players [Avusa, Independent Newspapers, Caxton and Media24] commissioned the review with the understanding that whilst they were complying individually with the BEE Code of Good Practice, there was a need to create an industry position on transformation. This also presupposes the ‘industry will’ to adopt the findings and use it as a tool moving forward,” she said.
The Review acknowledges that the print media is in competition with itself for everything from advertising revenue to staff, stories to sales and that it is unsurprising then, that there is a lack of “common vision”.
“The lack of common vision stemmed from the fact that the media houses were dealing with transformation within silos. This review document allows us to now deal with it on a collective level, which implies collective setting of targets and commensurate support,” Louw said.
One of the most visible elements of challenges confronting the print media is the often-hostile relationship with the ruling party, the ANC, and government. The review refers to that “difficult” state of affairs. But what of the latest issues around government spokesman, Jimmy Manyi, and his threat about using government’s adspend to harness media.
“Although the relationship with government has been challenging at times we acknowledge that this is necessary in a young and healthy democracy. This is not the first instance that the print media industry has been threatened with the withholding of government advertising expenditure,” said Louw.
“In 2007, the then Minister in the Presidency [Essop Pahad] attempted to stop advertising in one of the print media publications. After consideration, the PMSA led a delegation of its executives to meet with Minister Pahad and the then CEO, Themba Maseko. The meeting was constructive and both parties agreed on a resolution. Similarly, the PMSA and SANEF engages with government regularly,” she said.
The media statement issued by PMSA refers to the fact that government and the ANC appear particularly concerned with ownership and control of South Africa’s print media. But it points out that government – the form of the SABC – is in fact the biggest media owner in South Africa.
“The print media reality is that the space between owners and management is one jealously guarded by editors who continue to uphold the independence of the newsroom.
“In terms of ownership, it is a global fact that the business model of print media, with its high print and distribution costs, is difficult for new entrants without incredibly deep pockets. Breaking even can take between five to seven years. And that doesn’t take into account the tough conditions in which the newspaper industry is currently operating,” the statement said.
But, it said, the “current print media status on transformation is encouraging with, one listed entity at level 3 (125% recognition level), another at level 4 (100% BBEE recognition) and two have level 5 recognition.
Prakash Desai, chairman of PMSA, said in the statement, “Avusa has now more than 50% black ownership when it introduced, in November 2010, a new 16.5% black shareholder. Ownership in print media is a mixed bag with three of the four majors being listed entities.”
But what of skills development? ‘Juniorisation’ of newsrooms is often blamed for what is perceived to be shoddy reporting.
“The print media industry via the PMSA Board have agreed an audit on total spend on skills development and training given that millions are spent annually on an individual company level as well as collectively on both formal and informal skills development programmes and on their journalism academies,” said Louw.
“The intention is to review how the current industry training spend can be better utilised to achieve more effective and impactful initiatives on industry skills development and training and consequently improve their performance in terms of the industry scorecard.“
At the moment, said Louw, PMSA is “updating the collective industry BEE scorecard. The report which will be completed within the next few weeks will inform the discussions at the PMSA to enable the industry to agree goals, targets and timeframes”.
The statement refers to the Review as providing for the print industry “a roadmap – from which concerns are to be addressed and provides a measurement of what has been achieved to date”.
So where is that road leading now? Louw said: “In the short term this action will include agreeing an industry level of compliance on the BEE Code of Good Practice which will allow for all the media houses to move from their current level of compliance to the agreed industry level.”
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