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SANEF condemns government’s plan to bribe newspapers to be its propagandists

09 June 2011

The SA National Editors’ Forum condemns a Cabinet plan announced by government spokesman Jimmy Manyi at a briefing on June 9 that government allocation of its R1-bn a year advertising budget will favour newspapers which “assist government in getting its message across” and which “told the truth about service delivery”.

This incredible plan which was approved by the Cabinet on June 8 means that the government wishes to bribe newspapers to become its propagandists or even its mouthpieces by publishing only the government’s view of news and affairs.

This would be a serious offence against the freedom of the media clause in the Constitution which the government has sworn to uphold. Freedom means liberty and particularly conduct where financial inducement or threat plays no part.

Manyi announced that the government is to centralise the conduct of government advertising operations in his department, the Government Communications and Information System, to achieve economies of scale – getting “more bang for its buck”—and to get its message across.

Apart from the abhorrence with which journalists and newspaper managements will view this attempt to coerce the press – and which in particular will contravene the Press Code of Conduct as well as the rules of the Advertising Standards Authority – the consequences for the government’s reputation overseas, especially among investors, and that of the news media which enjoys high regard internationally are being ignored.

Another result overlooked is the effect on the European Union which is steadfast in upholding media freedom and would reject government bribery of the press as unacceptable. That would mean the end of any prospect that Planning Minister Trevor Manuel would become a senior officer of the International Monetary Fund.

Sanef reminds the government that several attempts to use the threat to withdraw advertising as a means of punishing newspapers for being outspoken and critical of official malpractice and corruption in South Africa have failed while in Botswana the Supreme Court has forced the government to abandon such practices.

Sanef calls on the government to drop this scheme immediately and to revert to accepted professional principles in the placing of advertising before further harm is done. It is also urged to refrain from persisting with its hostility towards the press.

Issued by SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF)