The South African government Department of Communications this week lashed out at the nation’s advertising industry, branding it ‘racist’.

Speaking at a parliamentary hearing, the department’s deputy director-general Joseph Mjwara accused advertisers of continuing to direct their messages at white consumers while taking little account of the aggregated larger expenditure of the black majority.

According to government data, the domestic spend of black households overtook that of white homes two years ago. While white households spent a total of R43.1bn ($4.5bn) in 1999, black homes accounted for R43.8bn. However, the majority of adspend – around seventy-eight per cent – continues to be channelled into predominantly white-targeting media.

Avers Mjwara: “Anecdotes collected suggest that media buying is guided by stereotypical perspectives of blacks, women and others and presumptions about blacks' disposable incomes.”

Black-owned advertising agencies, Mjwara claims, are ‘overlooked’ as a matter of course by consumer advertisers in favour of the local offices of global networks like J Walter Thompson, M & C Saatchi and TBWA. The common attitude toward black shops is that their expertise lies solely in appealing to black people.

A similar situation pertains in the country’s media, even though the largest TV broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, is state owned. Print media, conversely, is 100% in private ownership with a substantial (government encouraged) foreign presence, including the Pearson group and Dublin-headquartered Independent News & Media.

But despite its attack on racism in the media and advertising industries, the South African government has resisted imposing legislative restrictions on media ownership, instead encouraging empowerment partnerships to increase black participation.

According to media consultant Chirs Moerdyk, who made a presentation at the parliamentary hearings, the advertising industry is lagging behind the pace of social change in South Africa and offers little opportunity to young black aspirants.

News source: Financial Times