Independent Newspapers in Breach of Press Code for ANC Centenary Supplement
Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance
7 December 2011
Yesterday my office received a letter from Independent Newspapers inviting the DA to advertise in a special feature on the ANC’s centenary celebrations.
The feature is to run in The Star, Pretoria News, Cape Argus, Daily News, Diamond Fields Advertiser and Isolezwe on 13 January 2012.
The letter, written on an Independent Newspapers letterhead alongside an ANC logo, is a glowing endorsement of the ANC. Some choice quotes from the letter include:
• “The proposed feature serves to act as a great opportunity and platform to showcase the milestones reached, challenges overcome and successes enjoyed by the African National Congress.”
• “Being able to boast existing for 100 years is a privilege reserved for a very few entities.”
• “The ANC has successfully and literally seen the world change and weathered the storms that change normally brings.”
• “Our aim is to enlighten, educate and inform our readers of all that the ANC stands for and not only from a political perspective but as a principled way of life.”
But the pick of the bunch must be:
• “...we would like to highlight the intended national celebrations planned for the Centenary year and communicate the strategy that will drive the next 100 years.”
Who is the Independent Group to confidently predict that the ANC will be around for the next 100 years - and why are they promoting the strategy?
The Independent Newspapers letter is accompanied by a letter of endorsement from ANC National Chairperson Baleka Mbete. Her letter invites advertisers to support “this historic supplement with advertising” and notes that “the supplement will be distributed nationally to 2.8 million readers.”
The ANC Chairperson closes with the promise that “a representative from Independent Newspapers will be in contact with you shortly.”
It is deeply ironic that Independent Newspapers would choose to run an advertising feature glorifying the the ANC when the very same party is attempting to shut down the free press. This is what you might call a case of feeding the hand that bites you.
But it is not hard to see what the newspaper group’s motives are when you look at the advertising rate card for the supplement. An email sent to the DA quoted the price of a full page full colour advertisement at R563,544 and a half page ad at R281,177. You can bet there will no end of ANC-run government departments willing to use public money for ANC publicity.
In fact, when my office called the Independent Group's advertising department the consultant confirmed that they have no concerns over government departments advertising in their feature. He added that there will be plenty of advertising oppurtunities because they were planning to run an ANC Centenary supplement every month for 2012. Each one is to be dedicated to one of the 12 former ANC presidents.
This one-sided endorsement by a newspaper of a political party to solicit prospective advertisers – as well as the planned supplement itself – appears to be in violation of section 3.1 of the Press Code which states:
“The press shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the press’s independence or professionalism.”
I will today lay an official complaint with the Press Ombudsman in terms of The Press Code, and I have impressed upon him the need to make a ruling before the special feature on the ANC centenary is due to appear in January.
It is crucial that a signal is sent out to all media that the one-sided promotion of a political party is not okay. It violates the very principles of independence that all media should adhere to. If this is the way that the Independent Group is framing the ANC’s centenary, I shudder to think what the SABC is planning.
Independent Newspapers do not have to wait until the Ombudsman makes a ruling. If the Independent Newspaper Group wants to live up to its name, it will withdraw the supplement immediately. I will today write to the Editor-in-Chief of Independent Newspapers, Moegsien Williams, to ask that he do so without delay.