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All CEOs should read this

Corporates should include another ‘p’ in their marketing plans, to support proper journalism.
Image: Getty Images

The current nosedive in economic activity in South Africa has hit many sectors with a sledgehammer. One of these is the media sector.

Several media owners, including major players such as Caxton, Media24 and Arena have announced the closure of long-standing household publications and the retrenchment of large numbers of staff. These retrenchments include a large number of journalists.

Unfortunately, this is happening in a period where the media plays a critical role to hold corrupt government officials and their private sector participants to account. If not for journalists and committed South African publishers, these individuals and companies will never be held accountable, even if it is only in the court of public opinion.

There is no capacity, or perhaps political will, to investigate or prosecute these individuals. Admittedly, the Zuma administration destroyed the capability of prosecuting authorities to hold corrupt officials to account, but after more than two years under a new administration virtually nothing has changed.

If it were not for the independent and mainstream media, the current looting would be exponentially higher.

This weak and inadequate prosecuting performance also opened the doors of unprecedented levels of corporate fraud, as there is little fear of prosecution.

The reality is that unprosecuted corruption has brought the South Africa economy to its knees and government finances to the edge of a fiscal cliff, from which the country cannot retreat without strong, decisive leadership and strong institutions reflective of a properly functioning constitutional democracy. We do not see this.

On the contrary, many of the alleged corrupt individuals hold senior positions in the ruling party. This caused the economy almost terminal damage. The result is record-low business confidence and investment, record-high unemployment, inequality and poverty.

However disheartening this may be, I firmly believe that journalists and publishers have played a pivotal role over the past decade in limiting the downward trajectory of the ethical and economic carnage we see today.

Without journalists South Africa would not have known about the arms deal scandal, Nkandla; ‘travelgate’; state capture; the Guptas; corruption at Transnet, Eskom, SAA, PetroSA, Prasa, Sars and the Public Investment Corporation; allegations against Ace Magashule; Covid-19 tender fraud; VBS; Bank of Baroda; Bosasa; the Estina dairy farm; the Life Healthcare Esidimeni tragedy; fraud at Steinhoff and Tongaat; the ongoings at Sharemax/Nova and Picvest; EOH; or Krion. The list is long.

In this context, the forced restructuring of media institutions, the introduction of paywalls which will limit mass access to investigative articles, and the imminent layoff of many experienced journalists will have a much more significant impact on society than their loss of income.

Media institutions usually retrench the most ‘expensive’ journalists first, most notably investigative journalists.

The reference to expensive does not relate to these journalists’ salaries, but to the trade of investigative journalism. It is the most costly form of journalism. The complexity of the investigations means some journalists take weeks and months to do the necessary research and investigations before revelations are made. Such individual articles do not earn publishers any meaningful revenue and in most cases, are loss-making. Hence, such journalists are replaced with ‘more affordable’ young journalists, if they are replaced at all.

During a recent (virtual) social gathering of a group of experienced journalists and editors, I asked the participants to name the investigative journalists who are making a difference. These journalists and editors could not even name 20 individuals.

I have also put this scenario to many CEOs of listed companies over the past few months and every single one agreed with the importance of a strong, independent media and the role it plays to protect our constitutional democracy. The CEOs also generally appreciate the role advertising plays to allow journalists to execute this mandate.

It is also evident in the fact that many institutions financially support(ed) the South African National Editors’ Forum relief fund for journalists who have already lost their jobs – a decision most certainly taken by CEOs themselves.

But unfortunately, there is a structural problem in most companies decision-making structures which limits the CEOs ‘appreciation’ to flow through to media spend.

Most companies’ advertising decisions lay with marketing managers, and these decisions are often purely based on the pillars of traditional marketing strategies to increase sales. If I can remember from my first-year marketing course, these pillars are the traditional five Ps of marketing: product, price, place, people and promotion.

I believe corporate South Africa should add another P to their marketing strategies: to support proper journalism. It is not a philanthropic pillar. The watchdog role journalists play in South Africa contributes to the protection of our constitutional democracy and per definition the economy, and this is the economy all businesses operate in.

Without a growing economy, virtually no marketing strategy based on Ps will succeed.

It is a disgrace and demeaning that some of the most experienced journalists need handouts to survive.

It is also a disgrace that some of South Africa’s best financial journalists are financially supported by international philanthropic institutions, and that some local companies have decided to exclusively advertise via Google and Facebook as it is cheaper. (These campaigns leave publishers with crumbs as the bulk of the revenue goes to the American giants.)

Corporate South Africa should support mainstream publications, to allow these journalists to earn their keep through their skills and to contribute to a stronger constitutional democracy.

This may well be the most effective way to protect our economy and corporate profits.

Please discuss this column at your next board meeting.

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COMMENTS   10

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Ryk, what about the numeric ”illetarate” Ceo’s – I can name a few!

….and some illiterate ones too!

We need more citizen journalism and whistleblowers in South Africa with more non profit newspapers like groundup. The problem with corporate media is that they don’t like to criticize their advertisers i.e. they have a conflict of interest. The media should not be in anyone’s pocket.

BEE automatically puts any corporate that subscribes to it into the ANC’s pockets.

It has been planned that way for decades. Part of the communist plan that the ANC is following.

Hallo Yanni
I have been an editor for 19 years and I can only recall two or three occasions where advertisers questioned or tried to influence editorial decisions. In all cases I have been involved in, advertisers withdrew.
I accept that advertisers may influence editorial decisions at some publishers. The question is whether 10% is giving 90% a bad name, or does 90% give 10% a bad name. I think it is the former.
The reality is that all publications, including publications such as Groundup and Daily Maverick, play a critical role in free media. However, it would be dangerous if the sustainability of a country’s mainstream media is dependent on philanthropic contributions as it would greatly reduce the number of publishers.
SA needs as many publishers and experienced journalists to protect our constitutional democracy.
PS… Ironically, the state is a large (if not the largest) advertiser at many publications who are extremely critical of the government. Some would argue that publishers should refuse such advertisements… Interesting debate.

Hi Ryk,
Did you manage to see an email from Lloyd Takuba with a practical example of how to advance your idea

Unfortunately many media and journalists have dug their own graves with Covid. The lockdown is, quite literally for some people, suicide and yet the vast majority of media have been forcing misinformation and fear down the throat of the public. Far from investigate journalism, they’ve been backing the government and broader global socialist agenda, which is to strangle private equity through an economic shutdown and then swoop in as the saviour of the people with minimum wages, NHI, EWC, grandiose infrastructure projects, blah, blah, blah, etc; which are of course all simply fraudulent income streams for politicians and their ilk.

It’s therefore entirely logical that the media who continue to support the distorted truth/fearmongering agenda instead of investigating and questioning it, cannot be immune from the consequences of their own contributions to the death of business and individuals through increased starvation, crime, etc, etc. Media houses will suffer losses to greater or lesser degrees like the rest of us. However, when the people begin to wake up (most likely on the international stage rather than domestic) it would not be surprising to see the journalists involved facing the full wrath of their local communities in retribution.

So yes, in the local context there may be a few journalists who might still champion their investigative trade, but like the rest of SA taxpayers, they cannot hold back the tide and look set to drown with the rest of us unless they have prepared their life jacket.

They NEED Financial Fitness Training!! Now more than ever.
LET’S WORK TOGETHER AND REBUILD THIS COUNTRY !!!

The issue is that no one wants to pay for news.

With so many free sources of ‘news’, the public is not willing to pay for news. News is seen as info you ‘find’ on the internet with not even a thought for the work that goes into it.

Free news sites are popular regardless the poor quality of articles and the fact that much is simply rewritten articles the writers found at other free sites.

Very pleased see that the Daily Maverick is producing a weekly hard copy to keep up with the enormous quantity of interesting and factual stories that are needed to be independently told. Good luck DM

End of comments.

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