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South Africa’s (political) media landscape

Although a number of smaller and independently-owned titles have a disproportionately large influence on news and opinion in South Africa, four major groups dominate the landscape. Until recently, three of those were considered anti-ANC – but the new owners of the Independent Group and tighter control at the SABC could shift the balance.

Ownership: Public Investment Corporation (government pension funds), various institutions. Deeply mistrusted by the ANC for its Afrikaner roots, despite a change in tone at its Afrikaans titles over the past two decades, and broader ownership of the listed parent company. With massive readership on its News24 online portal and for the Daily Sun newspaper its influence is bigger than ever before, even as readership declines among its Afrikaans titles.

Positioning: Government watchdog, openly critical of some ANC policies, extensive reporting on corruption and related scandals.

Times Media Group
Ownership: Public Investment Corporation (government pension funds); Caxton; and others. Given its ownership it should be considered neutral, but the investigative exposés of the Sunday Times and the pro-capitalist stance of Business Day has TMG coloured as anti-ANC. Both the Times and the Sowetan are also considered dangerous within the ruling party.

Positioning: Government watchdog, openly critical of some ANC policies, extensive reporting on corruption and related scandals.

Independent Group
Ownership: Sekunjalo Media, which in turn is owned by among others trade-union investment vehicles and broad-based empowerment groups. Sekunjalo will not answer questions on how much control is wielded by Chinese investors.

Unlike Media24 and TMG, the Independent lacks strong national titles, but it covers the major population centres with regional papers for much the same effect. Its foreign ownership, engineered in part by Nelson Mandela, was intended to keep it free of the baggage encumbering other media groups. But thanks to strong political and investigative coverage it too came to be seen as anti-ANC. Party insiders expect that to change under the control of Iqbal Survé.

Positioning: Due for change   if the expectations of various politicians, analysts and media-watchers are met.

Ownership: Government. Commercial radio stations have a lesser public-service mandate than focused news organisations.

Management and editorial control of the SABC has seen fierce battles over the years – but only between factions within the ANC, most notably the Mbeki and Zuma camps. The SABC has few pure news outlets, but between its regional radio stations and national television stations its reach is greater than that of any other news organisation. And, in theory, that coverage is pro-development and focused on nation-building.

Positioning: A public service mandate that means different things to different people, but within the ANC viewed as neutral leaning towards friendly.

Gupta-affiliated outlets
Ownership: Control by the Gupta family through various vehicles, with partners from India involved in some aspects.

Both the New Age and the brand new ANN7 were launched with promises of providing an alternative viewpoint — in a market where the established viewpoint is considered anti-ANC. The Gupta family is very close to President Jacob Zuma, and has managed to attract massive amounts of government spending. What the New Age has not managed to attract is an audience; its circulation remains unaudited, making all readership claims ring hollow, but all evidence points to a minuscule true circulation.

Positioning: Pro-government and pro-ANC, though less forthrightly so than had been initially expected.

Ownership: Trade union pension funds, broad-based empowerment groups and others.

The Primedia radio stations and satellite broadcaster eNCA present a quandary of sorts to the ANC. Their ownership borders on the impeccable, with union money backing both. Primedia also drives pro-citizen (and sometimes sunshine) initiatives such as LeadSA. Yet their coverage of both the ANC and government failures is often scathing, which puts the ANC in a difficult position: admitting they are considered anti-ANC would mean admitting ownership is not the reason behind negative coverage.

Positioning: Very similar to that of Media24, TMG, and (historically) Independent Group titles, though good luck getting anyone in the ANC to admit that.

Private/Independent titles
Ownership: Highly varied; some are closely-held private companies, others have empowerment owners, others still are effectively foreign-owned.

The Mail & Guardian is Zimbabwean-owned, the Citizen’s parent company Caxton publishes apolitical free local newspapers, and independently-owned radio stations with a strong news focus, such as KayaFM, have empowerment partners in the driving seat. Yet, from the point of view of the ANC, these independents are nearly indistinguishable from many other outlets in their coverage of corruption, scandals and opposition parties.

Positioning: Varied, but more often than not government watchdogs, and more than happy to publish on scandals and outrages of various kinds.

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Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

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