Government denies plan to shift adspend

The government has denied planning to shift its advertising spend to “patriotic” media outlets like the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and the New Age.

Assertions to this effect in a news report last week were “ludicrous”, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) said in a statement on Monday.

“It is therefore ludicrous to suggest … that directing 90% of government’s adspend to the public broadcaster and the New Age will take care of government’s advertising needs,” said GCIS head Themba Maseko.

“Anybody who knows anything about media planning and buying can actually see this allegation for what it is, mischief or, at the very worst, uninformed journalism.”

Maseko said the government’s communication strategy was informed by a “broad range of trends” in South Africa. These trends were tracked through ongoing research.

“These trends and other forms of market intelligence, not ideology, form the basis of our decision-making.”

Maseko said the Mail & Guardian, which published the report, had it wrong. The GCIS had no plan to “support” any individual media organisation.

“GCIS insists that this allegation be withdrawn unconditionally.”

M&G editor Nic Dawes said on Monday the paper stood by the story.

“I have great respect for Themba Maseko, the chief executive of the GCIS, and I hope it is true that government, in its broader sense, not just the GCIS, but provincial government and individual departments, buy advertising on the basis of effectiveness rather than ideology,” said Dawes.

“Unfortunately, it is the clear view of people at the New Age whom we have spoken to, as well as advertising industry figures who are familiar with this matter, that political concerns do play a role at times, more specifically staff at the New Age have clearly been given to understand that they can expect substantial government support.”

Dawes said he would engage with the GCIS on the story.

The article appeared in last Friday’s edition of the weekly paper under the headline: “Government to apply ideology to adspend”.

‘Sound professional practice’
The report said the government was “centralising control” of its advertising budget “in a move said to be designed to shift money towards ‘patriotic’ media outlets”. The government’s annual advertising budget was R1,7-billion.

It said the GCIS in September issued a tender for a media agency “to provide strategic advice” and “a transfer of skills” to the GCIS.

After a 12-month period “the entire media buying process will be brought in-house”.

The report said there was “talk” of allocating 60% of spending to the SABC and about 30% to the New Age.

Maseko said the GCIS was a “public institution” accountable to the Presidency and was responsible for communicating public information to all South Africans and the international community.

It adhered to “sound professional practice” in doing so, he said.

“What is true is that as a government serving 50-million citizens and residents, we have an obligation to communicate a broad range of information to a diverse range of audiences nationally and internationally.”

The government assessed the media market “continuously” to make sure it reached “audiences in places and in ways where people prefer to get information about government”.

“This, in a large country with nine distinct provinces, 11 official languages and a range of other characteristics that demand carefully targeted communication,” Maseko said. — Sapa

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