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ANC to vote on support for media diversity

By Donwald Pressly.

Fundamental transformation of the communications sector is sought in recommendations which go to next week’s Mangaung national conference of the ANC – including the “transformation” of the advertising industry to ensure its contribution to media diversity.

In documents released by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe after the policy conference in June, the communications commission suggested that there should be an increase in funding “for diversity” in community newspapers, community radio stations and community television stations.

It said the public broadcaster should remain in state hands “in order to facilitate access to broadcasting… by all”.

However, it did say that corporate governance and human resources should be strengthened at the SABC.

Although the policy conference recommendations did not spell it out that the government should support friendly media through advertising, the cabinet announced in June this year that media that put a positive spin on the government would be rewarded when the state doled out shares of the R1 billion advertising budget that falls under the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS).

Then-chief government communicator Jimmy Manyi announced that the cabinet had agreed to centralise the advertising budget under the GCIS. He said: “Government has got a truth to communicate. Government has got programmes of action… this government has been busy doing good work, and so now this government would like the citizens to know the truth.”

Manyi’s contract was not extended and his shoes have been filled, in an acting capacity, by deputy GCIS chief Phumla Williams, who denied there was any political plot involved in the way that state advertising spend was dispensed.

She said that the GCIS had been “buying” media advertising space on behalf of government departments right back to 1998 when she joined the GCIS.

Until 2009 the GCIS had hired an agency to do the placing of advertisements. The only thing that was new now, was that the GCIS had hired staff to carry out the job themselves.

Advertising was therefore placed in terms of the appropriateness of the message being conveyed and the audience sought.

Thus, for example, Soweto-based media might be deemed the most appropriate if the Health Department wanted to relay a message about tuberculosis, she explained.

To suggest that there was a political plot involved “is not a fair comment”, she said.

Manyi, however, said at the time that he would focus on media “where I have a base to reinforce my message. How can I advertise in a media that doesn’t carry my message?”

The ANC’s communications policy proposals suggested that community media offered a “potentially progressive opportunity for the ANC”.

The government, it proposed, needed to “pay attention” to ensuring adequate funding of this sector of the media.

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