Media paranoia is a constant source of fascination for me, says Chris Moerdyk.
Newspapers, particularly, are the most sensitive of all, demonstrated so clearly these past few weeks in the way they have all ganged up against Helen Zille for requesting her staff not renew their subscriptions to Cape Times.
Among themselves, of course, they fight like Kilkenny cats and more often than not sink to the level of kindergarten squabbling in their constant game of one-upmanship.
Ironic isn’t it, that newspapers, which are the first in line to dish our biting criticism of politicians, business and society in general, are the first to throw their toys when they suffer even the mildest criticism.
But, while Zille has every right to ask her bureaucrats to not renew their subscriptions to the Cape Times, it was actually a silly thing to do.
Just as silly as all those African National Congress ministers and cadres who from time to time insist that government departments stop advertising in the Sunday Times.
In the middle 1960s, when the then Rhodesian government embarked on a unilateral declaration of independence, the first thing they did was to ban all citizens from listening to BBC radio stations. Then, in their paranoid wisdom, they put government censors into every newspaper office in the country to delete any content that might show the Rhodesian administration in a bad light.
All of the then South African Argus Group of newspapers in the country responded by leaving blank gaps in the pages where the censors had banned articles.
Not too much later, the Salisbury (now Harare) bureau of United Press International received a request from the prime minister’s office asking if he could call on them.
I remember that meeting well.
Ian Smith arrived at our office almost apologetically and explained rather sheepishly that his decision to ban outside radio and newspaper article had left him with pretty much no idea of what was happening in the outside world with regard to Rhodesian issues.
This gave my UPI colleagues and I the opportunity to have a weekly interview with Smith and to be able to report on our conversations without being censored as part of the deal for him to come in and look through our Teletype news stream.
I would like to believe that we finally convinced him that censorship was counter-productive because in the absence of factual reporting, society tended to rely on rumour-mills and hearsay.
So, my advice to Zille would be to continue to allow relevant DA staff to subscribe to and as part of their jobs to read every inch of any newspaper they wish no matter what its political stance.
Because that is the only way the DA will get an idea of what threats and opportunities they are facing.
And for similar reasons government would be ill-advised to withhold departmental advertising from newspapers such as the Sunday Times simply because, from a marketing point of view, they are obliged to get the best reach possible. In fact, it would amount to fraud to purposely reduce the efficiency of their advertising for purely political reasons.
Talking about the Sunday Times, a friend of mine in Cape Town recently decided not to renew his subscription to the Cape Times and chose instead to call in at the local Times Media Group offices in Cape Town to enquire about a Sunday Times Weekly/Daily subscription package.
He said there was quite a long queue of former Cape Times subscribers wanting to switch allegiance.
However, I will continue to read the Cape Times and any other newspaper that is accused of being biased towards the ANC or any other party, simply because it is the only possible way I can get a balanced idea of current editorial and social opinion.
People and politicians only reading newspapers, listening to radio stations and watching TV channels that fall directly into their comfort zones will not solve South Africa’s problems.
In many other countries, such as the United Kingdom for example, newspapers are pretty much open about their political affiliations.
I have no doubt that political parties there read them all. South African politicians should do likewise.
Otherwise they should also stop taking their roadshows into areas that are not mostly populated by their supporters.
And newspapers should stop their petty bickering and start seriously trying to work out why their sales over the past decade have taken such a nasty nosedive.
For years now, the print media have had the annoying habit of responding to criticism of their content by trotting out chapter and verse of their latest readership surveys.
What I cannot understand is if their readership surveys were any good why on earth are their circulations still falling?
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk
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