Blurred lines: e.tv admits eNCA series involved advertising money

e.tv has acknowledged that money was involved in a the controversial infrastructure series that was produced by eNCA earlier this year, apparently in collusion with the minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel. 

In a statement that fell just short of an apology, the company acknowledged the lines were “blurred between an undertaking to report on infrastructure development in South Africa since 1994 and a commitment by Economic Development to spend advertising on the channel”. 

This is the first official confirmation that the series which were reported as objective news had something to do with money from the department.

In the statement issued on Thursday, Sabido (owner of e.tv and eNCA) said it had initiated a review of the infrastructure series aired on eNCA and e.tv earlier this year that formed part of the channels’ reflection on 20 years of democracy.

This series had come under intense scrutiny after the recent departure of chief executive Marcel Golding and chief operating officer Bronwyn Keene-Young, eNCA said in a statement.

“We are reviewing the process internally and what transpired. We will amend policies and procedures in future should it be necessary. We are committed to editorial output that is truthful and transparent,” said Sabido chief operating officer, Mark Rosin.

“At the outset it is apparent that there were problems which should have been foreseen and avoided,” the statement read.

A week ago, a few journalists, including the Daily Maverick, posed questions to Managing Director of News, Patrick Conroy regarding the series, specifically if government initiated the mini-documentaries and if government had paid for the production.

Conroy said it was clear that the news division should have been more directly involved in the discussions at the time as these matters were usually dealt with by the sales department who are non-editorial staff.

“The news division was at all times operating independently. In our view the advertising placements were non-editorial and separate. We felt it had no impact on the stories we were telling and we were reassured that editorial rested with us” he said.

However, Conroy said, “it became clear that the boundaries of editorial control were not clear to everyone involved and this created confusion between ourselves and the department. Despite this at no point did our editors surrender control”.

Conroy said news management agreed afterwards that in future clearer rules and policies were needed to avoid confusion between commercial messages and editorial ones.

“As a result of the issues above we have not entered into any similar agreements subsequently. It was open to misinterpretation and could be confused with advertorial content. Work on clearer policies and guidelines began once these issues were raised.”

Golding resigned as executive chairperson of Hosken Consolidated Investments, as well as its subsidiary Sabido and broadcaster e.tv. in October this year following a suspension for  “gross misconduct”.

Golding stated that the suspension was politically motivated, saying he is “vehemently opposed to any interference with the independence and integrity of editorial content and this tension is what led to the fracture of alliances within the connected companies”.

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