Editorial

Dear Reader: The cost of news


Shortly before writing this, I start my day, as usual, by attending to the morning’s emails. I immediately delete 72, most of them unsolicited marketing. The remaining 21 I keep for further consideration. By the end of the morning I will probably only have kept 10.

At best, that’s only 24% news with a 76% ad-load. That’s a heavy load! Still worse: in the age of newspapers, the ads were funding the news gathering. Now none of this covers to the cost of news. It’s not even such a great deal for the advertiser: most ad emails and Tweets are discarded without being opened.

The loss of advertising revenue has had dire consequences for news gatherers and consumers alike. That is quickly demonstrated when I move on to an email that interests me: from BusinessLive, the online version of Business Day. Top of its list of news offerings is headlined:

Gareth Van Onselen: Jacob Zuma’s 10 most reckless comments as president. Below that is the teaser line: “Zuma uses racial scapegoats, appeals for a patriotic press, paternalistic tribalism and Biblical threats to mask his failure and ANC’s giant patronage machine.”

Interesting. I want to read more, but all I get is a pop-up screen announcing: “This article is reserved for our subscribers.”

Never mind, I’ve gathered enough of value from those few lines not to want to actually pay for more. In fact I’ve retrieved a whole news bulletin for nothing! Even if this exercise immediately reminds me of the derelict street person who trawls our neighbourhood’s rubbish bins each Thursday for edible scraps, much of it decidedly "off". Why, he might even get lucky and find throwaway bits to sell for recycling, as I am doing here.

There’s more in this “bin”: Hilary Joffe’s piece headlined “Great show, but magic will eventually fail” and the teaser: “The dividends were a welcome windfall, but it was a windfall that should have raised red flags immediately”.  That’s a bit like finding a wrapper with a delicious smell, but absolutely nothing in it to eat. How infuriating! Particularly since it, too, is blocked from further reading; “reserved for subscribers".

Sufficiently tantalised while being deprived of any satisfaction whatsoever, I read on: “We have several subscription options to help you enjoy the best of our content every day, including exclusive Financial Times articles, Morningstar financial data and full digital access to The Wall Street Journal.” Wow.

Hunger drives me on. I click on “subscribe” and discover that to get the whole online “economy” package – a selection from all their publications, but excluding The Wall Street Journal – will cost me R120 a month. Adding The Wall Street Journal ups the cost to R349 a month. R4,200 a year; what most South Africans earn in a month.

Then the really interesting discovery: if you happen to prefer your serious news in print, on paper, the cost of getting the whole local-only package delivered to your post box is R750 a month – more than six times the cost of the online digital package! R25,000-odd a year – more than half a year’s wages for most South Africans.

So, 95% of ANC voters will not be getting the news produced by Times Media’s business publications and The Wall Street Journal. Conclusion: come voting day, what those publications have reported will be largely irrelevant.

The next bin also shows promise. Moneyweb Today’s email comes with the subject line: “Tax revolt: The frustration is growing”, followed by a still more depressing teaser: “But SARS has the upper hand.” It’s all about boycotting the taxman as a means of boycotting Zuma and the Treasury’s favourite beneficiaries, the Guptas.

But my interest in a tax revolt was triggered by something else. On the same day, also by email, I receive a surprise Payroll Taxes Notice of Assessment from SARS investigations division in Alberton. The payment “period” to which this “internal revised” assessment refers is the month of April 2006 – eleven years ago. The “assessment summary” says that Noseweek should have paid over R18,345.21 in PAYE that month, but, they allege, we only paid R6,08. Odd. We are given 21 days to pay the difference. The problem: we have kept no documentation that long. Who has? Is SARS so desperate that it’s throwing the requirement of “fair and reasonable administrative action” to the wind?

Yes, the frustration is growing.

The Editor

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Submitted by : J R Thompson on 2017-05-02 17:50:03
Oddly enough, although predictable, I was harassed weekly last year by debt collection agencies in Durban, JHB etc. for outstanding PAYE from 2008. When I told them the matter was being questioned by my book-keeper and auditor at SARS Cape Town they insisted on payment. I asked repeatedly for a reconciliation of account since we no longer have records over 5 years old. The poor girls at the call centre had no clue what a recon is. I have since read that one of the collection agencies is owned by one of SARS heavyweight's son. Funny that. I'm delighted to report that I haven't received one call this year regarding the matter. I presume that they rearranged the two word reply at last, toward the end of last year. Desperate measures to collect money for the bloated civil service et al.

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