Inside Ace’s booming media empire

2011-12-17 18:22

Free State Premier Ace Magashule is expanding his media empire.

He has offered to bail out community radio stations in exchange for profiling the provincial government.

The offer to pay the salaries of the stations’ volunteers will add to Magashule’s media empire, which already boasts a newspaper, Hlasela News, a television service, Hlasela TV, and a website for provincial departments and municipalities.

Hlasela news is distributed throughout the province and inserted in mainstream newspapers, while TVs are installed at clinics, schools, hospitals and other key buildings and broadcast government’s achievements.

While most of the ailing community stations said the offer by Magashule would not affect their editorial independence, media experts and opposition parties have questioned the intentions of the premier.

Volunteers – on-air presenters – at the stations currently receive stipends of between R200 and R800 a month, and funding from Magashule would see these figures doubled.

Karabo FM’s Dika Theswa in Sasolburg said they were in negotiations with Magashule’s office.

The offer was also confirmed by Gontse Maele from Motheo FM in Bloemfontein. He said their offer did not include everyone at the station.

“Only volunteers – the people on air – will be paid by the premier’s office in the future.”

Maele denied that this funding could have a negative impact on the station’s editorial independence.

He said: “I determine what goes on air and nothing can be said without my approval.”

Teboho Lephuthing, from Sesoto FM in Ficksburg, said the income from advertisements and donations was not enough to sustain community stations.

Lephuthing said the premier’s department has “offered the station funding for 12 months and in return it makes announcements or discusses relevant topics when it needs to”.

He said they would not be restricted in any way by the offer.

“We can call it a salary because with this agreement it will be four times what we usually get.”

Magashule’s spokesperson Wisani Ngobeni said the funding of the stations was not a new thing since the premier had made a commitment to support them through advertisements.

“This is not a hand-out. It is a commitment to consciously advertise on these stations,”

Ngobeni said, adding that there will be certain conditions attached – such as that the money should be used to buy equipment and managing the station sustainably.

But an email sent to the stations contradicts Ngobeni. It says that Magashule’s office “needs to conduct a profile of the volunteers” that work at the stations “to inform itself of the priority areas for intervention”.

The email also ask the volunteers to submit their personal details, qualifications and remuneration on a form attached to the email.

DA leader Roy Jankielsohn said Magashule was undermining press freedom and radio station managers were naive if they thought the financial hand-out would come without conditions.

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