In Parliament

State extends grip on media

9 January 2015

Among the slew of questions in parliament which were answered during the Christmas season were a number relating to what government departments had paid for (self-) promotional magazines and advertising in the last few years.

A certain CD Matsepe, a DA MP asked Pravin Gordhan, Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs what amount his department had spent on promotional magazines in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 financial years. The answer gives us a clue to the ideological intentions of government.

Basically a promotions company is paid by the state for “kuchy-koo” advertorials about a department.

In 2012 about R110 000 (half the cooperative governance department's total year’s budget of R222 000) was paid to Black Moon Advertising. This appears to be a reputable graphic design below-the-line advertising company. It may have been worth the bucks, who knows? But then in 2013 the less-well known TNA Media gets more than four times that amount – R486 255 of the total promotional magazine budget of R631 263. In the same year the considerably more widely known Media 24 was paid a mere R76 744 and Avusa (now Times Media Group, publishers of the Sunday Times and Business Day) was paid just R68 263. TNA stands for The New Age - the creature of the infamous Gupta family which just happened to have had that now infamous fly-in wedding in April 2013. It does rather reek of “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. (The wedding, if you have forgotten, is the one that President Jacob Zuma knew nothing about although the Gupta’s family and friends were flown in from India in a private Boeing that was allowed to land at the Waterkloof airforce base in Pretoria).

In 2014 the bulk of Gordhan's department's R770 526 budget was given to the Public Sector Manager, a government communications department in-house monthly magazine, which I would be my bottom dollar hardly anyone reads. It was paid R364 800 for promotional propaganda. Gordhan took care to point out in his reply that he was advised “that my predecessor paid for the promotional magazines before my term of office”, which began in May 2014.

The SA Police Service printed 200 000 copies of its in-house Journal each month of the financial years 2012 and 2013 at a cost of R759 000 a month or R9.1 million a year, according to the Minister of Police.

Gavin Davis, a DA MP, asked the communications department what the government’s total advertising budget was for the financial year 2014. The Communications Minister Faith Muthambi said the total budget that it managed “on behalf of other departments” was R380 million for the year. She noted this did not include departments that did their own advertising. The largest amount – R90 million – went to print. Radio came next at R54 million, “outdoor” advertising got R41 million, and TV got least at R34 million. [On SATV the government gets plenty of advertising free of charge. – Ed.] Online (Internet) adspend was just R3 million in this financial year.

In December the Mail & Guardian, one of the few independent – read non-partisan – newspapers left in the English language media, reported that certain newspapers were to be punished for insulting President Jacob Zuma. It said that government intended to “starve” the Sunday Times (part of the TMG group), the Mail & Guardian (independently owned) and City Press (part of Media24) of advertising worth millions of rands. It cited an unnamed government official as saying the newspapers had carried out an “anti-ANC and anti-government onslaught” on the “democratic state”.

The M&G reported that the biggest beneficiary of the switch in advertising would be Independent Newspapers, which has fallen under the control of government lackey Iqbal Surve. Surve has himself regularly alluded to the unfairness that the bulk of advertising had been going to rival - and to his mind anti-government - media groups.

Although Zizi Kodwa, the ANC spokesman, has poo-poo-ed the story as “wrong and mischievous”, the switched flow of promotion and adspend to pro-government - and, indeed, also in-house - media is obvious. Kodwa did acknowledge that government was cutting back on media buying although he did not acknowledge any switch.

Some readers will remember that the Information Scandal toppled the government of BJ Vorster in the 1970s. The current government’s manipulation of the media using state funds - rewarding those who play the government tune - is much more of a scandal, but somehow it has not provoked the sense of outrage that it deserves.

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Submitted by : Andreas Stelzer on 2015-03-12 07:40:06
Here's an idea: "Independent" Media gets all government advertising, and the really independent media gets everything else. We would soon see who delivers editorial content worth reading.


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