Sex, lies and bo­gus head­line-grab­bers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA& MARKETING -

HAT ex­actly is pro­pa­ganda? Ask most peo­ple and they will iden­tify gov­ern­ments as be­ing the pur­vey­ors of pro­pa­ganda. This is what all gov­ern­ments do and we, the me­dia, are the ones who keep an eye on them.

Yet even as we talk about that and the loom­ing se­crecy law ( which might en­able the cor­rupt in govern­ment to hide their deeds), lit­tle or no at­ten­tion is paid to a form of pro­pa­ganda which is equally in­sid­i­ous: that gen­er­ated by pri­vate en­ter­prise.

This sort of pro­pa­ganda, like its govern­ment equiv­a­lent, is a sub­tle mix­ture of fact and fic­tion. And, I re­gret to say, in a coun­try like ours, where gulli­bil­ity is a national trait, the spin doc­tors know most jour­nal­ists don’t pause to ask any ques­tions… un­less it in­volves the govern­ment.

Add a bit of sex and you can vir­tu­ally guar­an­tee that any lie you put out there to punt your brand will be re­gur­gi­tated un­ques­tion­ingly by our me­dia.

The lat­est to swal­low some of this pro­pa­ganda, hook, line and sinker, is the Sun­day Times (re­mem­ber – the same news­pa­per that told you Transet sold the sea).

Nor­mally we journos are re­luc­tant to crit­i­cise col­leagues – it’s al­most an un­writ­ten law, per­haps be­cause we fear be­ing next in the fir­ing line. Too bad...

The Sun­day Times ran a breath­less front-page story about South Africans be­com­ing more en­thu­si­as­tic about join­ing the “mile- high club” (hav­ing sex on a plane while it is in flight).

WSup­pos­edly, more than 7 000 peo­ple took part in the sur­vey, which showed, among other things, that 6 per­cent of us be­long to that ex­clu­sive club. Ten per­cent of peo­ple sur­veyed from Lim­popo said they were mem­bers, and an amaz­ing 25 per­cent of women over the age of 75 said they had joined.

It all sounds so good. The prob­lem is, I could find no record of Trav­el­start hav­ing run such an on­line sur­vey – ei­ther on its web­site or its Face­book page.

The only sim­i­lar such “sur­vey” was a Valen­tine’s Day set of ques­tions posted in 2010. The re­sults then were markedly sim­i­lar. How­ever, in 2010, no­body was asked to give their age or their ad­dress.

The bot­tom line is I think this is cob­bled-to­gether rub­bish aimed at get­ting the site’s name into the me­dia at min­i­mal cost.

Just like the sex web­sites ash­leymadi­son. com and cougarlife. com did. (By the way, they are the same or­gan­i­sa­tion and their cooked-up pub­lic­ity is co-or­di­nated by one PR per­son, who is called Chan­tal. Al­though she uses dif­fer­ent names on her press re­leases, she doesn’t bother to change her cell num­ber.)

This is more than just a light­hearted bit of fun. Th­ese peo­ple are in­vent­ing sto­ries to get cov­er­age. And we in the me­dia are fall­ing for it. What will hap­pen next? What other piece of ap­par­ently be­liev­able non­sense will they serve up?

More than that, if or­gan­i­sa­tions are pre­pared to fake press re­leases, what else are they do­ing which is not above board?

Jour­nal­ists need to start ex­tend­ing to the busi­ness world the same sort of cyn­i­cism we reg­u­larly ac­cord to the govern­ment.

Onions to ev­ery­one in­volved in this Trav­el­start scam.

We had some in­ter­nal de­bate last week about whether to ac­cept an ad on this page for News24, which crowed about win­ning a num­ber of awards. Now, it will prob­a­bly be a freez­ing day in hell when you see it ac­cept any ads from us, but that is be­side the point.

It paid us for the ad and we can­not claim to be in favour of free speech if we try to cur­tail the rights of oth­ers to have their say in terms of com­mer­cial speech.

Be­sides which, well done guys: any awards for news­pa­pers are good news be­cause they show that pre­dic­tions of our death may have been some­what ex­ag­ger­ated.

But I would like to award News24 an Orchid for as­tute mar­ket­ing. When it wanted to an­nounce its awards, it needed a place where the peo­ple who count in the ad and me­dia in­dus­try would be pay­ing at­ten­tion.

And they came to us. Well done!

NALEDI: Tempted to sink her teeth

i-lincc : sstarorchid18

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