The analysis conducted by the M&G Data Desk looked at employment equity data from ten of the country’s biggest and most influential media houses, analysed ownership and funding structures, and collated press and broadcasting complaints.
The media is not unlike many companies in the country; it’s run mostly by white people. An analysis of ownership structures, demographics and funding models shows that the boards of media houses comprise 41% white, 24% African, 17% coloured, 16% Indian and 2% of people from elsewhere.
Race and the media was the subject of debate in 2018. In line with global trends of growing institutional mistrust, some of South Africa’s renowned media institutions have come under fire, with accusations mostly of protecting the interests of the elite or, more specifically, “white monopoly capital”.
Of the 10 media houses analysed, four of them have no Africans on their boards. This includes M&G Media Limited, Media24, Independent Media and Daily Maverick.
Exceptions to this trend are Primedia and radio station Power FM owner the MSG Afrika Group. More than two-thirds of the board members of Primedia, which owns Radio 702 and Eyewitness News, is made up of Africans and the MSG Afrika Group is 100% African.
Overall, there are more men (64%) than women (36%) at board level.
The second rung of decision-makers — top management — has a higher number of white people (51%) than at board level. The department of labour describes top management as those controlling the functioning of the business, determining the overall strategy and directing the company into the future. The Mail & Guardian’s analysis looked at employment equity data, ownership and funding structures, and collated press and broadcasting complaints.
The 10 publishers include M&G Media Limited, Media24, Daily Maverick, the Independent Media Group, Caxton Publishers, Tiso Blackstar, amaBhungane, eMedia Holdings, Primedia and MSG Afrika Broadcasting.
Employee demographics data was gathered from the labour department, which keeps a record of each registered company’s employment information. These records were verified by each media group individually, except for eMedia Holdings and the Daily Maverick, which said it does not discuss its finances and wouldn’t verify its employment details. However, eMedia Holdings’ data was cross-referenced with the company’s 2018 annual report.
Though it seems media management resides in the hands of mostly white people, the analysis found that, overall, the media is a large employer of mainly African people (45%), followed by white (28%), coloured (19%) and Indian (7%) peers.
In terms of gender, female (55%) employees outstrip those of their male counterparts (45%), though mostly in the lower rungs of media houses.
Declining circulation and advertising revenue have posed serious challenges for many media houses, leading to the closure of, among others, The Times daily print edition, the online Huffington Post SA, ANN7 (Afro Media) and The New Age and, most recently Ndalo Media.
Murmurs of restructuring within established groups such as Associated Media Publishing, which publishes Cosmopolitan and House and Leisure, and Naspers-owned Media24 are plentiful.
From the M&G analysis, most of the media houses are dependent on advertising revenue, which is still dependent on circulation figures that have steadily declined. Advertising has followed suit - mostly making way for digital news delivery.
Of the ten publications analysed, amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, which comprises of 12 employees, is mostly financed by donors, including crowd-funding. According to co-founder Stefaans Brummer, they do not receive any funds through advertising.
“Our only sources of revenue are grant funders, donations in response to our crowd-funding campaign. Interestingly, crowd-funding was our single biggest source of revenue last year (28% of operating expenditure) and is on course to be so again in the current year (at 25%),” he said.
Their biggest donors include the Raith Foundation which donated R1 million in the past financial year, and amongst other the Bertha Foundation, Claude Leon Foundation and Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.
Larger media houses such as Tiso Blackstar and Media24 employ over 1 000 and 3 000 South Africans, respectively, and revenue is generated by advertising and sales.
The Public Investment Corporation is also a big investor in the media space, with equity or shareholding in at least five of the media houses that were analysed including Tiso Blackstar, Primedia through a Private Equity Fund, Caxton, Naspers and Independent Media.
Other funders include the New York-based Media Development Investment Fund which has majority shares in Mail & Guardian Media Limited.
For seven years, 28 media company’s have been investigated for colluding on offering discounts and payment terms to advertising agencies, by the Competition Commission.
In 2011 the Commission found that the media houses’ practices restricted competition as they did not independently determine the discounts and thereby fixed the price and trading terms in contravention of the Competition Act.
By June last year (2018) Caxton had agreed to pay a fine of over R5.8 million and Independent Media would pay R2.2 million, Mediamark has agreed to a penalty of over R1.013 million and United Stations will pay a fine over R420 000.
Media24 had agreed to a settlement of R13.8 million, which also included that the company would contribute R4.9 million to the Economic Development Fund over a three year period and also provide 25% bonus advertising space for every rand of advertising space bought by qualifying small agencies, over three years.
The 28 media companies found to have colluded included the state broadcaster, SABC, Mail & Guardian, Avusa (Tiso Blackstar), Carpe Diem Media and Primedia.
In terms of public mistrust, Tiso Blackstar’s flagship brand, the Sunday Times, in particular, has come under intense criticism, with allegations of distributing false information and biased reporting. The newspaper apologised earlier this year for the publication of a series of stories which were ultimately admitted to being false. The stories included the so-called SARS rogue unit, the Cato Manor hit squad and renditions of Zimbabwean nationals.
The Economic Freedom Fighters, along with Black First Land First, and many on social media, have called for a boycott of the titles owned by the group. Last year, the SA National Editors’ Forum even urged the Zion Christian Church to withdraw a call upon its congregants to stop buying newspaper titles owned by Tiso Blackstar. This came after the Sunday World published a front-page story that the ZCC church leader Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane was facing arrest.
The Sunday tabloid later apologised for the headline after a threat from 16 million church members and sympathisers to boycott all Tiso Blackstar publications.
No one can forget how the African National Congress back in 2012 called for the boycott of City Press after the publication refused to remove the controversial painting of former President Jacob Zuma, titled The Spear, from its website. ‘Don’t Buy City Press Don’t Buy’ became the go-to mantra.
Back to 2018, the death of stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela saw a 2017 documentary into her life under the Apartheid regime screened. The documentary focused on how the regime created a propaganda machine through Stratcom to discredit and spread misinformation about the stalwart and other freedom fighters. When it was discovered that over 60 journalists were allegedly on Apartheid regimes payroll, names of prominent journalists were bandied about to the point where the EFF has been taken to the high court to prove their allegations.