SA’S ME­DIA MOGULS

Af­ter a fairly long pe­riod of sta­sis, the lo­cal me­dia land­scape is shift­ing, with the an­nounce­ment that Sekun­jalo’s Iqbal Survé is bring­ing own­er­ship of South Africa’s In­de­pen­dent back home from the Ir­ish, while print trans­for­ma­tion is un­der re­view, and t

Finweek English Edition - - COVER STORY - BY MANDY DE WAAL

AWAY FROM THE MAIN­STREAM

Eti­enne Ngoy, a refugee from the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, who now lives in Cape Town, is an un­likely me­dia en­tre­pre­neur. By day Ngoy works as a ho­tel cleaner and puts in a full 10-hour shift or longer, be­fore mak­ing his way back home and pen­ning his thoughts as a writer. “I start work­ing at the ho­tel at five in the morn­ing and fin­ish at about three or later in the af­ter­noon. Af­ter I get home, that is when I start with my re­port­ing and us­ing my phone and the In­ter­net to get in­ter­views and sto­ries,” he says.

Like most other refugees who made their way from the DRC to this coun­try, Ngoy is cut off from his fam­ily and feels dis­con­nected from his coun­try of birth. He also feels that SA’s main­stream me­dia don’t ad­e­quately cover the is­sues that uniquely af­fect him and his fel­low refugees.

This is why, to­gether with a hand­ful of other DRC na­tion­als, Ngoy started a monthly news­pa­per called the Congo Square News, a tabloid that digs up the dirt on SA Home Af­fairs, Joseph Ka­bila, the Kin­shasa elite and an oil baron named Khu­lubuse Zuma, op­er­at­ing in a cen­tral African coun­try. He’s the no­to­ri­ous nephew of our own Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

“We are us­ing this news­pa­per to speak out about the hor­rors back home but also to ed­u­cate peo­ple about the strug­gles we are hav­ing right here in South Africa. We have sto­ries about how we are treated by Home Af­fairs and how we have to hide our­selves be­cause our pa­pers are de­layed,” Ngoy ex­plains. Launched last year, the pa­per has a small, niche cir­cu­la­tion of about 500, but the read­er­ship is much higher, and de­mand – says Ngoy – is grow­ing.

An on­go­ing story cov­ered by the pa­per is about Khu­lubuse Zuma’s involvement in the oil sec­tor in the DRC, where he’s called ‘The Prince of Kon­golese Oil’. The pres­i­dent’s nephew (he has no ex­pe­ri­ence in the crude oil in­dus­try) got two oil ex­plo­ration blocks sit­u­ated on Lake Al­bert from DRC Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila in 2010.

Ngoy wants to ex­pose Zuma’s oil deal­ings in the DRC, which is why he helps pro­duce and dis­trib­ute the pa­per – cur­rently some­thing of a loss-mak­ing ven­ture. “A friend pays for the news­pa­per to be printed, but we are not sure how long he will man­age to do this. We dis­trib­ute the news­pa­per through the com­mu­nity and work­places where there are Con­golese na­tion­als, but we are now cre­at­ing a net­work of agents to help us sell the news­pa­per to make it more vi­able,” says Ngoy.

The refugee wants the world to know about the vi­o­lence and cor­rup­tion de­stroy­ing his coun­try of birth and says he is un­afraid to speak out about what’s hap­pen­ing. “We must speak out to the world – that is why I work long into the night. This can­not go by un­no­ticed,” says Ngoy.

The refugee from the DRC has be­come a part-time me­dia en­tre­pre­neur be­cause he be­lieves that SA’s main­stream me­dia don’t ref lect his world, and he’s not alone. Jane Dun­can, High­way Africa Chair of Me­dia and In­for­ma­tion So­ci­ety in the School of Jour­nal­ism and Me­dia Stud­ies at Rhodes Univer­sity says that while great gains have been made in SA me­dia since democ­racy, the sec­tor still doesn’t ref lect the so­ci­ety it serves.

“The pos­i­tives for the past 19 years are the greater plu­ral­ity of the South African me­dia and the fact that there is less State con­trol, although this hasn’t been re­moved com­pletely,” says Dun­can. “Our me­dia is a lot more ref lec­tive of the so­ci­ety that they op­er­ate in than it used to be, but the big­gest neg­a­tive is the overly com­mer­cial na­ture of me­dia and the com­mer­cial trans­for­ma­tion of the me­dia sys­tem, which has repli­cated the so­cial in­equal­ity that per­vades this coun­try,” she says.

Dun­can de­scribes this coun­try’s broad­cast and pub­lish­ing sec­tor as hav­ing more me­dia plu­ral­ity in its higher de­mo­graph­ics, but much less plu­ral­ity among the more marginalised sec­tors of so­ci­ety. “The me­dia have led to a very frag­mented pub­lic sphere where the dif­fer­ent classes talk to each other in the pub­lic dis­course, and this has cre­ated a so­ci­ety that’s un­able to fully see it­self and all its chal­lenges,” Dun­can ex­plains and adds that this is why so­cial en­vi­ron­ments in­evitably ex­plode be­fore so­ci­ety can see the broader so­cial weak­ness that ex­ists. Dun­can of­fers the min­ing tragedy at Marikana in North West and the farm labour ri­ots at De Doorns as ex­am­ples of this.

“There have been huge move­ments in the broad­cast­ing land­scape since democ­racy that have cre­ated a pub­lic broad­caster and the es­tab­lish­ment of some in­de­pen­dence, but th­ese gains have been mit­i­gated by the im­plo­sion that’s tak­ing place at the SABC be­cause of the ANC’s fac­tion fight­ing. As a re­sult, what we are see­ing is un­due pres­sure on the press to play a devel­op­men­tal role to com­pen­sate for the in­ef­fi­ciency of the SABC as a pub­lic broad­caster,” Dun­can says and ex­plains that the press is be­ing urged to cover the dy­nam­ics of ru­ral ar­eas be­cause the pub­lic broad­caster has proved it­self struc­turally in­ca­pable.

A NOT-SO-IM­PAR­TIAL PUB­LIC BROAD­CASTER

As Fin­week was go­ing to press, yet an­other drama was un­fold­ing at the em­bat­tled pub­lic broad­caster. The ANC was ev­i­dently med­dling at the SABC once more, which led to the res­ig­na­tion of the broad­cast­ing cor­po­ra­tion’s chair­per­son Ben Ngubane and his deputy, Thami ka Plaatjie.

At the end of Fe­bru­ary 2013, the SABC an­nounced that Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng, t he act­ing chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, had been let go and t hat veteran news­man, Mike Siluma, had been ap­pointed in his place. The state­ment was no sooner out t ha n Ngubane an­nounced t hat Ka Plaatjie had re­called the de­ci­sion, and t hat Mot­soe­neng (who doesn’t have a ma­tric cer­tif icate and who has had a heavy hand on ed­i­to­rial is­sues) was stay­ing put. The re­main­der of the SABC board ral­lied against the uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion mak­ing, and

Dina Pule, the com- mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter with an ex­pen­sive taste in shoes urged par­lia­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the cor­por-ation’s board.

Po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence and ANC crony­ism have been on­go­ing features of the pub­lic broad­caster, which has lost close to 10 board mem­bers in the past two years or so. This time, the cadre de­ploy­ment prob­lem was com­pounded by the fact that in late De­cem­ber, Mot­soe­neng awarded salary in­creases to SABC em­ploy­ees, which Mail

& Guardian re­ports added about R45m to the broad­caster’s wage bill. Th­ese in­creases were made with f lagrant dis­re­gard for a loan guar­an­tee made by Trea­sury with Ned­bank in 2009, when the pub­lic broad­caster bor­rowed R1bn to keep it af loat. The SABC is now look­ing to re­verse the in­creases, but the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers’ Union of South Africa won’t hear of it and is threat­en­ing strike ac­tion.

The po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing and fac­tion­al­ism at the SABC have un­cov­ered a peren­nial prob­lem with the board mem­bers who can’t seem to work to­gether, be­cause of the con­stant ten­sions be­tween in­de­pen­dent and pro-ANC mem­bers. The SABC is now lead­er­less, which will only serve to com­pound its op­er­a­tional chal­lenges, f inan­cial in­sta­bil­ity, the role it needs to play in the run-up to the 2014 elec­tions, as well as the im­mi­nent roll-out of dig­i­tal ter­res­trial tele­vi­sion. What’s cer­tain is that the power strug­gles at the broad­caster are likely to in­ten­sify as the elec­tions get closer.

But what this means is that the pub­lic broad­caster is fail­ing in its key man­date, which is to em­power SA’s cit­i­zenry. “The pub­lic broad­caster’s man­date is be­ing trans­ferred to the press, and this is hap­pen­ing at a time when the Me­dia Devel­op­ment and Di­ver­sity Agency (MDDA) con­tin­ues to es­cape scru­tiny. South Africa doesn’t have a clear sense of how the MDDA is per­form­ing, be­cause there hasn’t been a com­pre­hen­sive ap­praisal of the me­dia devel­op­ment agency’s per­for­mance. The think­ing was that the press should be left to its own de­vices and that the MDDA would sub­sidise those ar­eas that mar­ket forces failed to rep­re­sent, but the MDDA sub­si­dies haven’t been nearly suf­fi­cient to grow grass­roots me­dia and the com­mu­nity

press, which have mas­sive po­ten­tial,” Dun­can says.

The MDDA was es­tab­lished by Government just over 10 years ago to pro­mote me­dia di­ver­sity and to de­velop the me­dia sec­tor in or­der to re­dress “the ex­clu­sion and marginal­i­sa­tion of dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties and per­sons from ac­cess to the me­dia and the me­dia in­dus­try”. The idea was to do this by sup­port­ing small-scale com­mer­cial me­dia projects and com­mu­nity me­dia.

The broad­cast­ing sec­tor con­trib­utes about 0.2% of its turnover to the devel­op­ment agency, while the pub­lish­ing sec­tor’s con­tri­bu­tion is by agree­ment and is cur­rently set at about R4m a year. The Government has contributed some R20m for the cur­rent f inan­cial year. For the 2011/2012 year the MDDA spent al­most R32.5m on re­search and train­ing, as well

as sup­port­ing com­mu­nity and small com­mer­cial projects.

But while the devel­op­ment agency has sup­ported ven­tures like Isi­bani News,

Khany­isa News, Emonti Ex­press and Zi­thethele News, the long-term chal­lenges for print ti­tles re­main ac­cess to print­ing works and ad­ver­tis­ing. Ma­jor pub­lish­ing houses like Caxton and Me­dia24* own their own print­ing com­pa­nies, and the emerg­ing press must rely on th­ese or out­side providers to take their prod­ucts to mar­ket. Con­sol­i­dated ad­ver­tis­ing ef­forts at big play­ers like Me­dia24 and Times Me­dia Group have ma­jor ben­e­fits for ad­ver­tis­ers, but smaller play­ers say the mar­ket is largely “sewn up” and com­plain bit­terly that they are mostly ex­cluded from na­tional com­mer­cial bud­gets and have to ex­ist on the crumbs left over from lo­cal and re­gional me­dia spend.

Speak­ing to Jour­nal­ism.co.za’s Gill Moodie, the head of the As­so­ci­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Pub­lish­ers, Louise Vale, says that the or­gan­i­sa­tion she rep­re­sents has about 230 in­de­pen­dent lo­cal pub­lish­ers and that this num­ber is woe­fully in­ad­e­quate. “We can’t be the voice of me­dia di­ver­sity in South Africa. There should be three news­pa­pers per town­ship. There should be 3 000 of th­ese pa­pers out there but the prob­lem here is their eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity.”

Vale says that the jour­nal­ists who run th­ese in­die me­dia are passionate, but fer­vour doesn’t pay the print­ing bills, nor does it make a small-scale op­er­a­tion sus­tain­able. “I think there’s a lot of skills devel­op­ment re­quired but that is some­thing that we are work­ing on quite hard,” says Moodie, guessti­mat­ing that her as­so­ci­a­tion’s mem­bers t urn, on av­er­age, about R300m a year and em­ploy up to 5 000 peo­ple, mostly on a part-time ba­sis.

The big ques­tion here is why the Government is pump­ing funds into an op­er­a­tion l ike The New

Age, which is owned by the Gupta fam­ily, who are known to be friends with Pres­i­dent Zuma and who are in busi­ness with mem­bers of his fam­ily. If Government ad­ver­tis­ing was chan­nelled to th­ese me­dia it would go a long way to mak­ing them a lot more sus­tain­able.

But the is­sue could be that very of­ten po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion or so­cial cir­cum­stance is the rea­son for in­vest­ing in the me­dia, and many in­de­pen­dent me­dia would likely be crit­i­cal of lo­cal government ser­vicedel i ver y. This would, un­for­tu­nately, alien­ate them from Government’s me­dia spend.

Khu­lubuse Zuma

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