SA media house to ‘transform news coverage’

Paul Vecchiatto

NEWSPAPER group Independent News & Media South Africa (INMSA)‚ which owns 18 English-language titles such as the Cape Times‚ The Star and Business Report‚ will embark on a two-year strategy to transform how it reports the news and what it reports‚ said group executive editor Karima Brown this week.

Ms Brown was speaking on Thursday night at an INMSA “homecoming” celebration — a glittering event in Cape Town that featured President Jacob Zuma as the main speaker‚ along with speeches from INMSA executive chairman Iqbal Survé‚ INMSA CEO Tony Howard‚ Communications Minister Yunnis Carrim and Black Business Council chairman Sandile Zungu.

While all the speakers touched on media ownership‚ transformation and the need to tell the “South African story”‚ no mention was made at all of the importance of advertisers or the readers of newspapers.

Also present were several other Cabinet ministers‚ including Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel and Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu‚ as well as Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille‚ investors and industry stakeholders.

The event marked the R2bn purchase of INMSA by Sekunjalo Independent Media (a consortium of trade unions and commercial and civil society organisations)‚ the Public Investment Corporation and a Chinese consortium. The deal was completed in August.

For 19 years‚ Ireland-based Independent News & Media had owned INMSA.

Ms Brown‚ a former political editor of Business Day‚ said the two-year strategy would include using digital media channels such as social media and SMSes to alert readers to the news as it happened‚ while the printed newspapers would explain how and why.

She said the changes would occur slowly as many of the group’s systems had been in place for more than 100 years.

On editorial policy‚ Ms Brown said it was journalists’ task to inform readers of what was happening and how it affected them‚ and then to allow the readers to make informed decisions about the information‚ which was how it should work in a democracy.

“We (journalists) will accept our role as part of society as journalists and not as thought leaders‚” she said.

Dr Survé‚ who said a main goal of the purchase of INMSA was to report the “South African story”‚ complained about the lack of respect he had received from competitor media companies.

“There are only two people in the country who have been so vilified — myself and the president‚” he said.

In his comments‚ Mr Zungu complained that the media‚ in general‚ linked the emergence of black business with tender irregularities and corruption.

He thanked the Zuma administration for passing amendments to the laws on black economic empowerment and said the Black Business Council would persuade its members to vote for the ruling African National Congress in the May 7 national and provincial elections.

Mr Carrim said Reporters without Borders’ latest World Press Freedom Index‚ released last week‚ showed that South Africa had climbed 11 places to 42nd out of 160 countries surveyed.

“But we didn’t see that (published) in our local press‚ because it is a good-news story‚” he said.

Mr Zuma’s speech touched on the need for transformation within the print media sector. He pointed out that the sector had fallen behind in its transformation efforts and now lagged other sectors such as broadcasting in this regard.

He said amendments to the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act and the Employment Equity Act would help speed up transformation in the ownership of print media companies and their newsrooms.

Mr Zuma told an anecdote about a meeting with international investors who complained they were hesitant to invest due to the flood of bad-news stories out of South Africa.

“I said to them‚ newspapers are a business‚ you are businessmen‚ why don’t you tell them (the newspapers) that you want good-news stories?” he said.

Media commentator Chris Moerdyk told Business Day on Friday that advertisers and readers did not care who owned a newspaper.

“Advertisers and marketers don’t give a darn about who owns what and who — all they are interested in is getting the best bang for their buck‚” he said.

Mr Moerdyk said the public spat between INMSA and Times Media Group (owner of Business Day and the Sunday Times) was of no interest to marketers and most readers.

“The big challenge for newspapers today is relevance‚” he said.

Mr Moerdyk said newspapers no longer had an unchallenged market position and now had to campaign actively to attract advertising.

“It is happening‚ but not enough in South Africa‚ where newspaper editors have to impress on advertisers the quality and the content of their newspapers‚” he said. © BDlive 2014



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