A meeting of civil society stakeholders on a mission to continue SABC protests against censorship and action taken against journalists protesting against the manipulation of the news agenda suggested one way of pressurising the broadcaster to change its ways would be to boycott companies that advertised on its television and radio channels.
“… the proposal to boycott the SABC comes out of a public meeting hosted by R2K, but isn’t yet adopted as an R2K position. The R2K national working group (our leadership structure) is likely to take a decision on that in the coming days”, campaigner Murray Hunter told The Media Online.
Would sanctioning the SABC this way have the right impact? Or would the cadres in charge – COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Communications Minister and the SABC board headed by Professor Mbulayeni Maguvhe – who have shown complete disregard for the ANC, the public protector and civil society at large in the past, simply ignore the ongoing crisis, financial and otherwise, to ensure their master’s voice (read: President Jacob Zuma) is heard?
Maguvhe, after the ANC’s chief whip and xxx of the portfolio committee on communications, Jackson Mthembu, told the broadcaster in no uncertain terms that it lacked professionalism and qualifications at the top (read: Motsoeneng) lashed out at the ANC and accused the party of having an alternative agenda: They want the SABC to fall, he said, because they want to pick off it’s assets.
Stephen Grootes, writing for the Daily Maverick, reckons the insanity is “just beginning” after he interviewed Maguvhe on the Midday Report. “You may want to stop for a moment. Shake your head. Roll your eyes around. Breathe in. Breathe out. And think about what he has said. That the ANC literally only said what it said, because some of its members want to buy the assets of the SABC, “they want the corporation to collapse”.
“This is a person literally taking on the might of the ANC, Luthuli House itself, and making defamatory comments while doing it.”
Mthembu is unlikely to take this on the chin. His response will be illuminating.
In the meantime, would a campaign to name and shame the SABC’s advertisers, and pressurise them to withdraw financial support of the public broadcaster, have the desired impact? The majority of the SABC’s income comes from advertising, which far outweighs income from TV licences or the government itself.
The Media Online asked media analysts, academics, activists and commentators what they thought. Comments have been edited.
DR MUSAWENKOSI NDLOVU: Senior lecturer in media studies at UCT’s Film and Media school.
The Right2Know campaign, as a significant player in the South African public sphere, has a right to campaign for its course. However, I respectfully believe that the call for advertisers to boycott the SABC should be the last resort and needs to be done with a great caution.
First, supporters of the SABC COO, for example, are of the view that there is a clandestine white capitalist monopoly agenda that intends to assert its agenda at the SABC. There is a strong likelihood that if advertisers find themselves in this hot political space might end up with more than what they bargained for.
Second, advertisers are far more interested in the maximum audience numbers a media outlet can offer other than its (political) ideological stance. As such, Right2Know campaign, for its image, may want to adopt strategies that can actually win. In this bad economy, advertisers are less likely to boycott SABC because its news is ‘bad’ and because Right2Know campaign appeals to their moral reason.
Like financial sanctions imposed on a country ruled by a dictator, an advertising boycott may hurt the ordinary SABC people and programmes, not the executive who can simply walk away with huge payouts and SA citizens can only gasp in shock and do nothing as it happened before. Also, to hurt the SABC because of one or two people may not be helpful; a financially crippled SABC will at the end become the taxpayers’ problem as the treasury will have to bail it out.
WILLIAM BIRD. Executive director of Media Monitoring Africa
The plan is simple. We have looked at key advertisers and now want them to take responsibility for advertising on the SABC. Given the crises there, it is essential that they make their stand clear as advertisers about censorship. We are targeting them for a few reasons, one of which is that they actually fund the SABC. Given that the other key bodies namely the SABC board and parliament have failed to take any meaningful action we now have to ensure that all those who have a say can make their voices heard. What does it say about any of the advertisers of we know they support censorship? Would you want to support a brand that is enabling the undermining of our democracy?
BRITTA REID. Independent media consultant and former head of Mediacom media agency
The SABC has become increasingly reliant on advertising and sponsorship. According to its Annual Report 2014/2015, 80% of its revenue came from these commercial sources, up from 75% in 2011. (Licence fees were down from 17% to 12% over the same time – perhaps an indication of viewer disaffection in certain quarters.) So there is no doubt that it could have an impact.
However, I was brought up with the idealistic belief in the “church and state divide”, and this would set a dangerous precedent. It would also be an ill-advised move, as there is already more than enough governmental distrust and suspicion of the advertising industry, which is considered to be relentlessly untransformed. For the media agencies to be seen to be meddling in the delivery of the SABC mandate would certainly provoke further vilification.
On a purely pragmatic level, I also doubt whether such action would be possible. The Advertising Media Forum (AMF) has only just begun to reconstitute itself, the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) has its hands full with issues of transformation and self-regulation, and the Marketing Association (MA(SA)) membership is not fully representative of the industry and does not seem particularly effective. Even if there were an appetite to take on such a battle, the structures are not in a position to co-ordinate and enforce such action.
Advertisers would also need broad and easy alternative means of reaching their audiences. SABC, with its radio and TV portfolio commands the mass South African audience.
Of course, advertising money follows audiences, so we can anticipate some loss of advertising revenue. The increase in local programming, and dubious objectivity in news reporting is likely to drive the last outwardly, internationally focussed viewers away from SABC. The loss of these viewers will result in some shifts in advertising support. It must, however, be remembered that the broader South African audience is highly appreciative of local content and the benefits of stimulating the local music and production industries.
The issues of fairness and objectivity are at stake. Many of the recent decisions taken at SABC are in contravention of its licence and mandate; the recourse must be through appropriate legal channels.
DR GLENDA DANIELS. Senior lecturer in media studies at Wits Journalism.
One of the big bigs vis-a-vis across the board is to get rid of the board itself. Civil society has to maintain the pressure, keep the momentum going so that something gives way. It’s the only way. This week, in fact, there are protests everyday. It has to be a variety of actions that will bring about change – vigils, demonstrations, toyi-toying and now the calls for brands to stop advertising. Let’s see how the private sector responds. It would be effective indeed.
I would imagine withdrawing advertising from the SABC would hit it where it hurts. On the other hand I am not entirely convinced as the SABC has had financial difficulties and has been loss-making for many years; they have asked constantly for bailouts. I am not sure that they care about their finances. With all the decisions they make, it does not seem financial issues are the bottom line.
It’s the right move because the SABC will begin to feel isolated and it may turn things for the better. People who are trying to get on with it, as you put it, have been depressed for years and have been waiting for change.
First, there should not be a censorship policy, the publics are not children, they want to see the violence and whatever else unpleasant is happening in society.
Second, there should be an independent board.
Icasa as well should be independent and members should not be chosen because of political party affiliation. Even now such affiliation is not working. Jackson Mthembu of the ANC has lashed out at the SABC. Is there a change of strategy by the ANC government or is this a faction of the ANC saying the SABC should not censor? Is this an election ploy? Whatever it may be, Mthembu, talking for the ANC, was on the right track here, and this should be applauded.
Third, Hlaudi or Cloudy must be removed asap; he is not fit to run the broadcaster. It must be traumatic to work in such an environment. They must reinstate all the journalists who were recently suspended.
Fourth, an editorial policy highlighting indedepence from political parties and public interest should be hung on all the walls and hallways of the SABC to remind everyone what they are there to do, and be there for.
GORDON PATTERSON. Business director at the Omnicom Media Group
As a media agency we are naturally concerned by the developments and distress within SABC but only to the extent that it affects our colleagues within SABC. As a professionals we must remain focused on a commercial agenda and in delivering on our client expectations. Should the developments within SABC however affect either audience delivery or our value expectations, only then would we re-evaluate our advertising investment.
In the same way we would take exception to SABC commenting on how we run our own agency, similarly we should leave those at the SABC in leadership positions to run their business.
If these decisions are wrong then they will impact on audience delivery and this will inform our decision making.
The choice that audiences make remains the best measure of support or not, for any media owner decision.
DIMITRI MARTINIS. Media expert in television
A very interesting week indeed. My views on this are that until there is a proper Parliamentary committee enquiry into the SABC board and a forensic investigation into the impact of the decisions made by SABC executives, no form of sanctions or punitive action is against the organisation should be considered. Apart from the fact that I doubt that advertisers would be willing to act against their clients best interests and withhold advertising. I believe that further damaging the SABC is not in the best interest of the public in the long term.
The truth of the matter is that there has been a policy failure to develop a new policy and funding model for the SABC for over 10 years and the successive SABC boards have failed to exercise effective oversight to address this matter. I place the blame squarely at the feet of the SABC board and shareholder minister.
There have also been some calls for members of the public to stop paying for their TV licences. That may be a symbolic way for people to express their displeasure, but that too could have the unintended consequence of encouraging non-payment in future. And until there is a new funding model for the SABC TV licences contribute close to R900 000 000 per annum although again this has been unsustainable and the costs of collecting this money have been close to 25% of the total collected
CHRIS MOERDYK. Marketing analyst and columnist
If one feels really strongly about the SABC, the only route is to try and shame the brands that still support them. But these brands will never withdraw their advertising. Big business supports the ANC, pretty quietly in some instances, simply because of money. Money overcomes morality. Companies rely on government business and won’t lose business by withdrawing advertising from government businesses.
Marketing and advertising has become bloodthirsty in terms of spending money in the right place. The only consideration by advertisers is whether they are reaching their mass target audience, not policies. I can’t imagine any big brand in South Africa is having the conversation of “should we boycott the SABC”. It didn’t happen during apartheid; in fact brands were coming on their knees to the SABC.
The public can boycott advertisers who are seen to support the SABC, but we have apathetic consumers in South Africa. I wouldn’t expect any kind of large outburst from the public towards brands seen to support the SABC. I doubt there will be enough public pressure for advertisers to change their minds. What is a big surprise is that the ANC is angry with the Communications Minister. The only solution to the SABC idiocy is for people in the ANC to take action. Let’s hope influential people in the ANC are serious.
SEKOETLANE PHAMODI. Save Our SABC Coalition
It’s critical we demonstrate people power on this matter. If brands are going to support the SABC we should shame them. People must shame these brands, boycott these brands. They are complicit with the policy decisions that are made and they support it.
YUSUF ABRAMJEE. Media activist
Yes, we need to use our muscle and public pressure to put pressure on the SABC. Withdrawal of advertising will force the broadcaster to reform. The censorship is an insult to our democracy. Mass action must be escalated and I support the calls to withdraw advertising. Hlaudi cannot be a law unto himself and we will not be silenced.
Yes, the SABC belongs to all of us and as much as it will hurt, we need to get them to ensure that our Constitution is respected and upheld.
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