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
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.