An interview by the SABC with Independent Media’s group editorial executive, Karima Brown, ahead of the ANC’s national general council, has once again stirred debate about transformation, government-aligned media and adspend.
“If you look at the Sunday Times, for instance, which is part of the TMG (Times Media Group) you will often note that the ANC government is reflected as presiding over a failed state, as wholly corrupt, that everyone in the ruling party is corrupt or potentially corrupt. And yet the bulk of the ANC’s advertising money goes to the TMG group. So the ANC must also put its is money where its mouth is and look at supporting initiatives around media diversity,” she told the SABC.
Independent Media ran a story, headlined ‘Brown tackles ANC on media transformation’, on the interview, quoting extensive parts of Brown’s message to the ANC. Brown said she agreed with the ANC that print media takes an “oppositional stance on the ruling party on occasion” but queried if government itself had done enough to promote media diversity, suggesting the budget for the Media Development and Diversity Agency ought to be increased, for example.
But her problem lay in the fact that the ANC lumped all media together in its criticism whereas in fact Independent Media agreed with many of its sentiments.
“We are the only big commercial black-owned media company in South Africa. We are definitely focusing on bringing an alternative narrative to the media landscape. Particularly around issues related to the continent. Particularly around issues related to China, countries that are part of the Brics formation,” she told the SABC’s Vuyo Mvoko during an interview. [See video clip below.]
“So when the ANC talks about diversity, about empowerment, about telling the whole story, it’s also important that they insist that government rewards those news organisations that actually take the public mandate around empowerment further. Not just cosmetic change. So being able to read in your own language, being informed in your own language is important. So we are urging the ANC to push harder around the issue of vernacular papers, and the importance of reflecting Africa more in our coverage,” she said.
Not in favour of statutory regulation
Brown said Independent Media was not in favour of statutory regulation of the media but said media does need “checks and balances”.
“What’s important, though, is that those checks and balances are weighted in favour of those who don’t have power. Our readers, our viewers, the consumers of our products. Invariably power elites are the ones who use regulatory mechanisms to try and push their points. But we do believe there ought to be systems through which we are regulated,” said Brown.
Dr Musawenkosi W. Ndlovu, senior lecturer in media studies at the University of Cape Town, said while he agreed with Brown’s views on transformation of the media he questioned her stance on advertising.
“The question is, what is the criteria government uses for placing ads in print media? Is it on the basis of circulation and readership? Is it on the basis of ideology? Is it on the basis of ownership structure?” he asked.
(The New Age receives government advertising, but is not a member of the Audit Bureau of Circulations so its circulation and readership is not officially audited.)
“Government cannot arbitrarily decide not place ads in certain newspapers just because they are critical of it. This would be a subtle form of censorship. The money being used is (public) taxpayers’ money. It would be fair for government place ads evenly, in different newspapers, depending on the nature and target of the respective ads,” he said.
Less critical of government
Ndlovu said if government implied it would place ads with Independent on the basis of the group being “less critical” of it, “then Independent has disappointed government, and government is in for a shock”.
“Despite the ‘ideological turbulence’ at Independent, it would be stretch to say these papers, taken as a whole, are government stooges. Some stories and isolated ANC T-shirt wearing behaviour are worrying. But at the same time the Sunday Independent is only paper that named (and shamed) on the front page MPs who voted in adoption of Nkandla reports, and saved President Zuma,” he pointed out.
But, she said, media are actually in separate camps. “One that supports journalists’ independence from political parties and one that aligns itself with the ruling party project. Those who align themselves with more professional ethics – ie. steer clear from political party closeness, should not be punished through a withdrawal of advertising. The role of the media in a democracy is not to toe the ruling party’s ideological lines. Political independence from all parties is an essential for media to play its role in a democracy,” she said.
Daniels disagreed with Brown’s point about government using its advertising spend on less critical media. “I am sure Independent Newspapers is getting more than its fair share of advertising from government and state owned enterprises – in the same way that The New Age, SABC do,” she said.
She said Brown’s targeting of the Times Media Group in particular, and “oppositional” media in general wasn’t unusual, saying “… we have seen such attacks from the likes of Lumko Mtimde former head of MDDA, Jimmy Manyi, Essop Pahad, Jackson Mthembu…”
Both Ndlovu and Daniels said Brown could have been touting for (government advertising spend), but Daniels said it was also “another opportunity to make attacks against politically independent media which are uncovering corruption”.
Ndlovu said the interview with Brown, as reported by Independent Media, had a focus “on ads and business support and survival. This is touting for business. Otherwise the focus would have been somewhere else”, he reckoned.
He said he fully agreed with Brown “that we need to present a fair representation of Africa. This is already happening by the way… ”
But Daniels said transformation of media means different things, and that people tended to “conflate everything”.
“… are they talking about content diversity – of course we need more of that – diversity is always good for transformation and democracy. Or are they talking ownership? Yes we need fewer conglomerates. Are they talking race and gender –of course we need more women and blacks in management, ownership and so forth,” she said.
“No one is arguing any of these points. But transformation mustn’t mean kow-towing to ideological hegemonic voices – or His Masters Voice.”
The media discussion starts at 46.40
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