INDABA Newsletter | April 2017

Annual General Meeting – 3 May 2017

Members are encouraged to join us for the club’s Annual General Meeting.

Date: Wednesday, 3 May 2017 @ 18:30
Venue: Court Classique Hotel, Corner Francis Baard & Beckett Street, Arcadia, Pretoria

The meeting will be followed by a networking forum hosted by pharmaceutical company Sanofi Aventis.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Who may comment?

One of the most frustrating things for a journalist is the widespread practice of government departments, agencies and private institutions to enforce media policies that prohibit employees from speaking to the media – especially if the designated spokesperson is uncooperative or even obstructive.

However, the flipside of the coin is also true. The entrenched practice of spokespeople being the only people allowed to comment has created a habit where us journalists only ask spokespeople for comment.

It happens frequently that individuals are identified for their wrong-doing, but a request for comment is directed only to their employer.

Obtaining comment from parties subjected to critical reportage is a crucial part of good journalism. It is integral to the successful mounting of a ‘reasonableness’ defence in a defamation claim and is also required by the codes of conduct of the Press Council and Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA (BCCSA).

The practical implication of spokespeople and the individual is fleshed out in a recent judgment of the BCCSA. Mr Hart, the principal of the Kaapmuiden Primary School in Mpumalanga, took on Ligwalagwala FM (SABC) about a news report where financial irregularities at the school were alleged.

Although the station approached the school governing body as the legal entity responsible for the running of the school’s affairs, it did not contact Mr Hart. The SABC argued that it was bound by the media policy of the department of basic education prohibiting employees such as Mr Hart from interacting with the media.

The BCCSA didn’t entertain this argument.

“…There are some worrying aspects about this policy, should it be applied blindly and unnuanced. It is understandable that on matters affecting the department, like for instance the failure of the department to have school books delivered timeously, the department would insist that only one spokesperson for the department would be allowed to speak to the media.

“But in the matter at hand we are dealing with the right of the individual not to be impaired in his dignity. The need to get the Complainant’s side of the story…cannot fairly be channelled through the spokesperson of the department. He or she is not in a position to explain the Complainant’s side of the story. We therefore find that the Broadcaster violated clause 11(1) of the Code.”

The BCCSA’s denotes several pointers to journalists who routinely deal with similar situations. In my opinion, the following guidelines should be followed:

  1. If you mention an individual, you have to show that you tried to obtain comment from the individual.
  2. It is not always possible to obtain personal numbers of employees, but you should phone their work number at the very least and attempt to speak to them more than once. Leave messages and take down details of the messenger if you cannot get hold of them.
  3. Don’t decide automatically that an individual does not wish to comment. Let him or her tell you that he or she is not allowed to comment and reflect this in your report.
  4. Ask the official spokesperson explicitly to obtain comment from the individual or to direct you to the individual.

The individual’s actions are often less important than the actions of the employer or institution as a collective. If you cannot show that you honestly tried to give the individual a right of reply, the BCCSA’s ruling shows that it is advisable to err on the side of caution.

Herman (BCom LLM, BPhil Journalism) is legal advisor to the National Press Club and national news editor of Rapport. General questions pertaining to media law may be forwarded to to be dealt with in this column.

State of the Newsroom: Retrenchments continue
Though at a slower pace – Wits Journalism

Antoinette Slabbert

Newsroom retrenchments have continued in 2015 and 2016 as print circulation declines and media houses suffer the effects of economic pressure, Wits Journalism’s State of the Newsroom report shows.

The third report of its kind was recently published. The previous one was published in 2014, therefore the latest edition covers the two calendar years since.

Following a jobs blood bath with almost 600 jobs lost in 2014, retrenchments continued in 2015 and 2016, although at a slower pace, the report states. It quotes reports of over 100 jobs lost at Times Media Group, downsizing at eTV/eNCA in Cape Town and two rounds of retrenchments at Independent Media, the last affecting 70 journalists.

The report also makes reference to journalists being fired at ANN7 and the SABC, with the eight affected SABC journalists being reinstated following an order by the Labour Court.

The report points out that the decline in newspaper circulation continues, with those distributed free of charge being affected for the first time.

On the other hand, in 2015 alone, 38 new community radio stations were licensed, bringing the total number of community stations to almost 300.

The report also deals with the closure of SAPA, calling it “the end of an era”.

It points to increased political pressure on journalists and shifts in the political allegiance of media houses. It states that the bugling of digital terrestrial television, the collapse of governance at the SABC and the drafting of new legislation that impact on media freedom show an increased effort by government to control the media.

Ironically, government at the same time shows an inability to manage its media resources responsibly, the report states.

The media nevertheless shows resilience with journalists breaking important stories despite government pressure. They are being supported by a vocal South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and re-invigorated Press Council, the report states.

The 74-page report looks at the newsroom from inside and outside and also analyses the impact of social media on the newsroom using the #FeesMustFall campaign as a case study.

Read the full report

Guide: How to stop falling for fake news

Think of the most horrible or weird thing that could happen to people in the news or in your country. A petrol bomb thrown in the Oscar Pistorius judge’s car? South African universities now offering a B.Sc degree in Witchcraft?

Write it down, post it to your website and voila! You have now joined the ranks of the fake news websites that are mushrooming across South Africa.

These websites exist to make money from the ads they display, media attorney Nicholas Hall explained to Cape Talk radio. The more outrageous the story, the higher the traffic to their sites and the more money they can make.

So what’s the harm in fooling people and making a buck from that? Besides causing pain and suffering to people mentioned in these fake stories, they can harden stereotypes and lead people to make poor health decisions, among other reasons.

Facebook is the most important weapon in these websites’ arsenal. You may have heard about the social media network’s “algorithm”. That’s just a fancy word for the calculations that Facebook does to work out which posts are the most popular.

The more people click on a post, comment on or share it, the more people Facebook shows it to – and that is how a post can go viral.

How do I recognise a fake news story?

Read the Guide on how to stop falling for fake news

Source: Africa Check
Africa Check a non-partisan organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate and the media. Twitter @AfricaCheck and

In 10 years, magazine sales have halved

Written by Chris Brewer, published on

What does this mean? Well, lots of things, but it’s certainly not the catastrophe many would have you believe.

There has always been a lot of hoo-ha about circulation and, perhaps more importantly, numbers of readers.

Whilst many astute planners and strategists have grasped the nettle and understand what declining circulations mean, many others, sadly, have not.

I still see publishers (and broadcasters for that matter) desperately chasing after, and promoting, total readers/listeners/viewers. This amazes me.

I remember once, a few years back, Saarf adjusted its criteria for evaluating readers. Among some of the results was that one particular publication had its readership numbers recalculated by about 200,000. His reaction was to wail, “where are my 200,000 readers? You’ve stolen them!”

I called him an idiot at the time and patiently explained that he had the same number of readers today as he did yesterday. He’d lost nothing. His advertisers had lost nothing. The previous numbers were simply wrong – that’s all. But he wouldn’t have it and insisted he was being mugged.

That kind of reaction was, maybe, one of the first cracks in industry-supported research. But remember, the Audit Bureau of Circulations is close to in-viable and readership/listeners/viewers has always been a second runner to that.

There have always been surveys produced by media houses (some good, some awful) but whilst we had Amps around they were overshadowed. Spurious “research” was given a wide berth by the smart money.

In the meantime, total magazine circulation fell 11.7% in the fourth quarter of 2016 from the same period in 2015. On the other hand, custom magazines (retail publications, for example) increased by 2.2%. (Sunday Times‘ interpretation of ABC reports) This is important, so read on.

Now Saarf and Amps have gone, this proliferation of “surveys” will, in my view, mushroom. In doing so it’s going to take some wily experts to sort out the exaggerations from the truth.

And the reason for these surveys is the total obsession with chasing the “total number of readers” which, as many will agree, is akin to absolute nonsense.

The question is not how many readers you have but how much of a given market your publication influences.

For example. I recently moved away from an upmarket Cape Town estate (to move to the winelands, but that’s another story). So all my neighbours were, by definition I suppose, “rich”.

That’s okay.

But if you want to market a product that appeals to those who have high disposable income, then it certainly is not okay to concentrate on that estate. Many living there don’t have much disposable income.

I often used to ponder this as I walked my dog around. I knew that about half the houses were rented. These tenants were paying between R25,000 and R50,000 monthly. Let’s average that out at, say, R35,000.

Outside each house, invariably, were two cars and, perhaps, a boat or a Harley. My guess is that the cars, at least, were leased and, at a guess, the payments would have been around R10,000 each. So that’s another R20,000.

Then there are school fees (some of them huge amounts) and, of course, golf club memberships, holidays etc. The list is a long one and many of those residents must have had harrowing month-ends trying to balance some kind of budget.

You can do the maths yourself but I reckon the average total of “debt” (including rent) was probably around R100,000, which had to be found out of after tax money.

Those kinds of consumers are not “high-disposable incomes” so advertising to them is rather a waste. However, if you’re advertising products attached to more debt then you may be on to something. Oh, but hold on, it’s going to get very tough to qualify for credit these days (and in the foreseeable future) so perhaps selling on credit is going to lose some of its cache.

Publishers should push the quality of their readers. Not the quantity. And “quality” does not equal “rich”.

By the way, quality of content is also vital – but I’ll save that for another time.

All this supports the theory that to reach your market you should think carefully about who is reading your message (hence “retailer club magazines” which have grown – so readers aren’t stupid).

The best form of research, as the late John Farquhar would say, is to get out there to meet and understand your consumer (which, in the publishers market, is readers – who they are and what they do). Then, and only then, can you go to the more obvious advertisers and do your thing.

Until then, you really don’t have a clue what your circulation numbers mean at all, do you?

Circulations are falling and that’s not all bad news. Really.


Please send any news, suggestions or information for this newsletter to Martin van Niekerk at the secretariat on, 082 257 0305. Website | Facebook | Twitter