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Yearbook Jan 2019

5 no institution was impervious to the insidious creep of corruption, it was the media that fought to bring the truth out. Together with the judiciary, it was the media that ensured the centre held. It was the media that exposed the shocking extent of corruption, through phenomena like the #GuptaLeaks and phenomenal investigative work into Eskom, Transnet, SAA and many government departments, that allowed us to gain insight into the reality of corruption. Interestingly, however, a new business model arose as the battles waged. The phenomenon of the independent, non-profit, investigative journalism outfit first came to South Africa with amaBhungane, the impressive group of journalists who have been at the forefront of much of the reporting during the state capture nightmare. It broke away from the Mail & Guardian in March 2016 and has flourished as an independent outfit. Its revenue in the year ending March 2018 from grants and donations was R9.0 million, up from R7.5 million, a 19% climb, in the year ending March 2016. The growth has been driven largely by a surge in public donations, which last year totalled R2.3 million. AmaBhungane works alongside various traditional publications, effectively giving them content, often exclusive, for free. This allows those publications to attract readers at a low cost, which in turn protects their advertising franchise, arguably at the cost of their own brand for investigative work. Daily Maverick and its Scorpio investigative unit have adopted something similar, though Daily Maverick remains a for-profit company. The public can make donations to support this media entity, though it provides little transparency on its financial information or its ownership structure. Other publishing houses have also considered establishing investigative teams within foundations or some other non-profit structure, through which their costs can be supported by the public. Such was the climate during the Zuma years, when the public was willing to open their wallets to support journalists, one of the key institutions in the fight against corruption. Media wil play a crucial role in the elections Media professionals have obviously noted the implications for the economics of their industry. If the public is willing to fund investigative journalism, let them. It has the added benefit of providing a layer of independence to those journalists who would report to a set of non-profit trustees that can prioritise quality journalism over commercial needs. Though I am not convinced the trend will hold. With the fall of Zuma, many people may have thought the job was done and the need to fund journalists was over. I have noticed an increase in calls for donations on Twitter, which suggests that their volumes have declined. Perhaps it is the commercial model of news that is more sustainable. We have a general election coming up in May. The media will play a crucial role, and already parties are contesting media coverage and demanding it be done in ways that suit their electioneering. This will increase pressure on journalists and media owners, as politicians will be impossible to please. Given the highly fractious political environment we are in, public criticism of journalists will be commonplace. For commercial media houses, this may represent an opportunity to return to something of a norm, when the public appetite for news increases and audiences can be built and sold to advertisers. The battle will be to convince those advertisers to spend, and to choose traditional media outlets when doing so. The competition from social media giants like Facebook and Google for advertising spend is intense, even though advertising on those mediums means money is flowing out of South Africa. Commercial media thrives when the economy is growing and consumers are confident and spending. That is at least in part a function of politics. A good election outcome could well set the scene for a more positive economic outlook. The Ramaphoria bump in consumer confidence in the first quarter shows how politics can have a rapid impact. Let’s all hope the election provides another one, though this time more sustainable. The batle will be to convince advertisers to spend, and to choose traditional media outlets over digital ones, like Facebook and Google, when doing so MEDIA IN SOUTH AFRICA


Yearbook Jan 2019
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