Small black publishers complain of SA giants bullying them

2013-01-22 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s media giants came under fire from small black publishers yesterday, who complained they were being bullied out of the industry.

All the major media houses were criticised at a public hearing in Durban — even by their own staff.

The event was hosted by the Transformation Task Team of Print and Digital Media SA, an organisation representing the interests of the country’s mainstream print titles.

In an emotional presentation, Sheila Mhlongo, publisher of KwaZulu-Natal Community Newspapers, said smaller players were virtually muscled out of existence.

She said big companies opened community papers in opposition to them and, by virtue of their financial strength, charged less for advertising space.

“As a result of being unable to source enough advertising revenues, sometimes I have to depend on family assistance or opt to get part-time jobs for survival, which has proved to compromise the business in most cases,” said Mhlongo.

The companies taken to task included Caxton, Independent News and Media, Avusa and Media24, which owns The Witness.

Fraser Mtshali, editor of umAfrika, a Zulu language publication more than a century old and owned by Media24 through shares held by The Witness, said the paper’s circulation had dropped by 46% in 2012.

He criticised mainstream media for channelling resources and allocating advertising to English newspapers, which were in sharp decline.

Mtshali said umAfrika, in the Zulu language market, had massive potential if it received adequate investment.

“Our distribution is not constant … The Witness is killing the paper and Media24 does not have the best interests of umAfrika at heart.

“It looks like it was an accidental purchase,” he said.

Media24 said they would respond to the accusations today.

Eric Ndiyane, editor of Ilanga, shared similar sentiments, arguing there was plenty of favouritism towards English publications, even though they were “dying”.

“IsiZulu is dominating the industry to the extent that English papers are suffocating, but we still do not enjoy the same advertising experience,” said Ndiyane.

Ilanga is owned by Mandla-Matleng, the financial wing of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Samuel Masinga, editor and owner of Maputaland Mirror, a community newspaper based in KwaNgwanase, Zululand, called for black publishers to form co-operatives and establish an advertising agency to source advertising.

The co-operative would also need to invest in a printing press.

He added that black ownership was elusive in SA’s media landscape, particularly in print media.

“The number of media owners from the previously disadvantaged communities is still lagging behind.”

Neo Bodibe, spokesperson for the task team, said they were looking at ways of effecting transformation in the industry.

“We aim to get views from at least five black publishers in each province. Once we have completed the submissions from the small black publishers, we will engage with the Competition Commission and Media Development and Diversity Agency to map out a state of the industry.”

Tony Howard, chief executive of Independent News and Media, said the company was not big in the community newspaper market and owned no small titles in KZN.

He said they had worked with a number of smaller players in the province, providing support through distribution and printing facilities.

“I am actually surprised by this. As far as I know, these companies have never approached us for distribution or printing,” he said.

Also, advertising was a decision taken by the government or companies that decided where to publish their adverts, he added.

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