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It is “unacceptable” to publish “party political propaganda” using taxpayers’ money, the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) said on Monday.
FF+ leader Pieter Mulder was reacting to the announcement that a government newspaper would be published by its spokesperson, Jimmy Manyi.
“The government, in the person of Jimmy Manyi as government spokesperson, is abusing its position of power when it threatens newspapers with a government newspaper in competition with existing media,” Mulder said in a statement.
“It infringes on the essence of media freedom in a democracy. There is a huge difference between ANC propaganda and state information,” he said.
“It is not acceptable in any modern democracy for the government to use taxpayers’ money to convey party political propaganda to voters.
“This principle is such a serious founding principle of democracy that the issue could end in the Constitutional Court.”
He said a modern government should communicate with its citizens in a “responsible manner”.
“In all modern democracies there [are], however, clear guidelines to define this state information. These guidelines prohibit taxpayers’ money from being used to advantage the governing party at the expense of opposition parties.”
He said Manyi was unhappy about newspapers failing to “immediately publish everything” he regarded as newsworthy, and this was evidence of his “ignorance” about the functioning of a free media.
Abdicating its responsibility
City Press reported on Sunday that the government’s bi-monthly magazine, Vuk’uzenzele, would be turned into a monthly tabloid newspaper with a print-run of two million from next month.
Manyi planned to publish it fortnightly by March next year.
“The media are censoring a lot of government information,” Manyi told City Press. “Niyasivusa ukuba sizenzele [You are waking us up to do things ourselves].”
The paper would be edited by former Beeld journalist Tyrone Seale, who is currently managing editor of Vuk’uzenzele magazine and is the Government Communication and Information System’s (GCIS) chief director of content and writing.
Manyi said the government would be abdicating its responsibility if it allowed editors of commercial newspapers to decide which government information was published.
He said journalists came to government news conferences, where 10 issues were raised, but only wrote about one.
‘It will be bigger than all of you guys’
The GCIS had issued a tender for the newspaper, which would initially be a 16- to 20-page tabloid with a print-run of between 1,7-million and two million.
This would make it the biggest circulating publication in the country.
It would cost the government more than R1-million to print one edition, according to City Press.
Manyi did not rule out the possibility of turning Vuk’uzenzele into a daily newspaper.
He said the commercial media would give the government reason to turn Vuk’uzenzele into a daily by continuing to “censor” government information.
Vuk’uzenzele would be free and not compete with the mainstream media, Manyi said.
“We want it on the streets, in every township and rural area. It will be bigger than all of you guys put together,” Manyi was quoted saying.
About 1 000 posters would be distributed with each edition.
The paper would be published in all 11 official languages.—Sapa