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SABC upheavals could harm advertisers

News, 30 June 2016

JOHANNESBURG: South African advertisers face being drawn into a political battle over the editorial practices of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), which has seen a number of top level executive changes and allegations of news coverage being slanted to favour the ANC government.

Earlier this week, acting CEO Jimi Matthews quit, citing a "corrosive atmosphere" and said: "What is happening at the SABC is wrong and I can no longer be a part of it."

In recent weeks, reporters have been suspended for not agreeing with a management instruction that protests by civil-rights group Right2Know against censorship should not be covered, according to Quartz Africa. And reporting on violent protests has also been banned.

Some campaigners are now calling on consumers to boycott brands that continue to advertise on SABC.

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In a radio interview, Chris Botha, Group Managing Director of The Media Shop, said his focus was on finding the best platform for his clients to advertise on – "where they can reach the most consumers in the most cost-effective manner" – and that remained the SABC.

He referred to "a number of big decisions" the broadcaster had made in recent months but pointed out that viewing figures hadn't changed significantly: "It's the absolute biggest powerhouse of media in South Africa."

Botha argued that it wasn't the place for media agencies to be "moral arbiters" of what was or wasn't happening at SABC. "For us as media people, if we start putting up our hands and making absolute moral judgements based on our own moral compass it can get quite tricky," he said.

"Where we are at the moment, the numbers need to dictate the story," he added, "but what we've seen – from a radio perspective, from a TV perspective – is the SABC keeps delivering."

That view isn't shared by everyone, however. Chris Moerdyk, a marketing and media analyst, pointed out that there were far more options now for the advertising industry's "cash-stressed clients to move advertising somewhere else".

Many are also beginning to realise, he added, that 30-second commercials continue to exist only "because the ad industry makes more money out of producing and flighting TV ads than they do from any other form of advertising".

Data sourced from Quartz Africa, CapeTalk, The Media Online; additional content by Warc staff