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Journalists' organisation condemns government's plan to bribe newspapers

(MISA/IFEX) - The South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF) has condemned a Cabinet plan announced by government spokesman Jimmy Manyi at a briefing on 9 June 2011 that the government allocation of its R1-billion a year advertising budget will only favor newspapers that "assist the government in getting its message across" and "tell the truth about service delivery".

According to a press release issued by SANEF, this plan, which was approved by the Cabinet on 8 June, means that the government wishes to bribe newspapers to become its mouthpieces by publishing only the government's view of news and affairs. This would be a serious offence against the freedom of media clause in the Constitution which the government has sworn to uphold. Media freedom means liberty and, more specifically, conduct without financial inducement or threat.

Manyi announced that the government will centralise government advertising operations in his department, the Government Communications and Information System, to achieve economies of scale - getting "more bang for its buck" - and to get its message across.

Apart from the abhorrence with which journalists and newspaper management will view this attempt to coerce the press - and which in particular will contravene the Press Code of Conduct, as well as the rules of the Advertising Standards Authority - the consequences for the government's reputation overseas, especially among investors and media outlets which enjoy high regard internationally, are being ignored.

In the press release, SANEF reminds the government that several attempts to use the threat to withdraw advertising as a means of punishing newspapers for being outspoken and critical of official malpractice and corruption in South Africa have failed, while in Botswana the Supreme Court has forced the government to abandon such practices.

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