Govt needs rule change to withdraw ads from certain media - Sanef

2015-07-17 17:39
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Johannesburg - The government would have to change a lot of its own rules should it wish to withdraw advertising from media perceived to be anti-government, said SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) chairperson Mpumelelo Mkhabela on Friday.

Mkhabela was commenting on an article published in the Mail & Guardian that the administration had a new "propaganda plan" that included establishing a government television news channel, slashing government advertising to media perceived as anti-government, pushing the SABC to tell more government news as well as channel more advertising to state media entities.

"The government is multi-layered - it has many departments and many public state entities and they are bound by the law to widely circulate opportunities available in government, and the only way is through the media," said Mkhabela, adding that if there were hints the government may pull advertising, the media should not take this lightly.

"If there is wholesale withdrawal of government advertising, government will have to change a lot of rules to make it happen."

These were reportedly among the proposals of a national communications task team (NCTT) established last year by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.

According to the NCTT report, the government "might... take courage" from the Western Cape government's decision to cancel its subscription to the Cape Times.

'I don't think it is government policy'

Mkhabela said that in the current media climate, some people in government - not all - may use the threat of withdrawing advertising as a means of bargaining with the media.

"I don't think it is government policy. It looks like a debate. I get the sense that some people in government, not all, want to use their resources to bargain for certain things."

Mkhabela said in terms of the law, the government was entitled to use public resources where it thought the public stood to gain better outcomes. If, in principle, it thought it would get better value [elsewhere], there was nothing wrong.

"The problem is that under this climate, where the media is attacked, it becomes difficult to distinguish whether resources are channeled with the intention to punish people."

He said his publication had not been threatened with the withdrawal of advertising over a story they wrote.

The newspaper City Press has often been threatened with boycotts over its stories - the most recent was its "jobs for sale in the teaching sector" report, which resulted in the KwaZulu-Natal branch of the SA Democratic Teachers Union calling for a boycott.

In May 2012, then-ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu also called for a boycott of City Press over its publication of a Brett Murray painting which showed President Jacob Zuma's genitals.

'Educate, entertain and inform'

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the public broadcaster had not discussed starting a channel dedicated to government news and did not feel it was its responsibility to run pro-government news.

''Our channels are not there to do that. None of our channels are created for that. We are a very different public service broadcaster, we are also commercial and we have got to make sure that the public watch our channels.

"Our channels are there to educate, entertain and inform."

In response to a similar Sunday Times article on the issue, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) issued a statement earlier this week saying it was not true that it was planning to cut its job advertisements from mainstream media.

"It is worth noting that government departments advertise in all newspapers that carry recruitment and careers sections to fill their recruitment needs, regardless of their editorial coverage of government," said Donald Liphoko, acting director general of GCIS.

But the government would still put money into recruitment advertising in its own publication Vuk'uzenzele as the cover price of some mainstream newspapers was too high for some people to afford.

"It is a free newspaper which is published in all official languages and Braille. The newspaper fills a critical information gap in our rural and peri-urban communities, which have traditionally been shunned by mainstream publications."

The government already has its own online radio service Ubuntu Radio, which live streams on the internet, and plays on DStv.

According to the Mail & Guardian, the task team put government ad spend in mainstream media at about R1bn.

Read more on:    sanef  |  sabc  |  media

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