The SA National Editors' Forum's chair has laid the blame for the abysmal relationship between the media and the state squarely at Jimmy Manyi's feet.
Government communications head Jimmy Manyi is to blame for rapidly deteriorating relations between the media and the state, the chairperson of the South African National Editors’ Forum, Mondli Makhanya, said on Tuesday.
“Not even in the days of Essop Pahad [former minister in the presidency] had things been so bad,” Makhanya said.
Relations were gradually improving after a Sanef meeting with deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe last year, but since Manyi took the reins of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) earlier this year, they began deteriorating.
While acknowledging that in a democratic society relations between the media and government was problematic, Makhanya said that in the past, government and the media in South Africa had “fought respectfully”.
Editors held a meeting with Manyi and a GCIS delegation on Wednesday last week to address the matter but the gathering “broke down very badly”.
“We deadlocked,” said Makhanya.
Meet the minister
Sanef has now asked for an urgent meeting with Manyi’s boss, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, to discuss the deterioration of relations between government communications and themselves.
The deputy chairperson of Sanef, Mary Papayya, said on Tuesday: “The letter [requesting a meeting] has been delivered,” after an urgent Sanef meeting which followed a 702 Talk Radio interview in which Manyi said Sanef had shown “cartel-like tendencies”.
Manyi said he could not understand why the media was so hostile to government, and denied ever saying that the government’s centralised media buying strategy meant that anti-government publications would not receive government advertising spend.
The threat about advertising was a “fiction”, Manyi said.
Papayya said: “The decision from our editors was very simple and that is that clearly we are worried about the seeming deterioration of relations between GCIS and ourselves.”
Sanef made it clear in its letter to Chabane that it had enjoyed cordial and civil relations with government communications in the past, but felt that these were now at a low ebb.
It asked for an urgent meeting with Sanef leadership regarding GCIS but also remained committed to a declaration that it would meet the Cabinet later this year.
“We won’t comment about personal attacks,” Papayya said of Manyi’s comments on Makhanya, who had earlier said the media must stand together if the government threatened to play them off against each other over advertising revenue. Makhanya is also the editor-in-chief of Avusa newspapers, which includes The Sunday Times.
Makhanya said editors hoped the meeting with Chabane would help to rescue relations between government and the media, which had reached an all-time low.
“It’s headed for rock bottom,” Makhanya said.
The National Press Club (NPC) called for government intervention “at the highest level” after what it said were more frequent attacks on the media by Manyi, NPC general manager Ben Rootman said.
“Manyi’s frequent attacks on the media are getting out of hand and not conducive to efforts towards finding common ground and nurturing better relations between government and the media fraternity. Government needs to intervene at the highest level to remedy the situation,” said Rootman.
“Jimmy Manyi’s comments are most worrying. His suggestion that the media is conspiring to criticise government is not only disingenuous, but ridiculous. The media fraternity is extremely concerned about Manyi’s hostility.”
Manyi was asked if there was conspiracy among editors against government and whether he was suggesting that editors call each other and say “let’s nail government on this one”.
He replied: “I heard the comments from Mondli Makhanya on the Maggs on Media where they are saying they must work together—that worried me—he is the chairman of Sanef ... I was shocked to hear those kind of almost cartel-like tendencies. I thought [those were] shocking comments from a very senior person in that space.”
‘This is the issue’
He continued: “If he says, ‘let’s work together’, he must be saying something that is shared amongst his peers. This is the issue.”
That edition of Maggs on Media was billed as a discussion on Manyi’s “rules for media outlets to receive slices of government’s advertising cake”.
Manyi repeatedly told 702 Talk Radio host John Robbie that the threats to be more favourable towards certain media were a “fiction”.
“I said we are going to put it where we get bulk discounts, and it’s going to be bulk discounts at maximum coverage, that’s what we are doing.”
He continued: “You see one of the challenges we have with media is this kind of approach that you are taking ... you have got these media tendencies of creating your own fiction.”
He continued: “Once you have created this fiction you passionately believe in this fiction and everybody must react to it.”
Bang for their buck
On June 9, Manyi said everybody would continue to get their “fair share of the cake”, but they would use a “scientific approach” to get more “bang for their buck”, and to reach different categories of audiences.
“What does bang for your buck mean? It is a very simple thing. As government we have a lot of information to communicate ... We do not want to be done any favours by anyone, but what we [accomplish] as government we would like to see that covered, because we think the media have a role not only as a watchdog but also ... to provide information.”
The state wanted people to know about government service delivery and the medioa to report on the government’s work.
“The only thing that is happening is just criticism, so we are saying just create a balance. Criticise, yes carry on criticising—you will help us, we want it. But as you do please also communicate that which government is trying to communicate, otherwise it means we will have to resort to our own means.”
“So this partnership that we must have must be a partnership that is mutually rewarding, it must be mutually beneficial. We have content, please pass on the content and by all means criticise it as much as you can but first pass it on, that is the issue.”—Sapa