Government to cut job adverts to 'punish' critical media
The government plans to pull its job advertisements out of mainstream newspapers as early as next month in a move that could cut their revenue by tens of millions of rands a year. Under the plan, government departments will begin to move their vacancy announcements to the government's free newspaper, Vuk'uzenzele, from August.The plan is spelt out in a letter by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi to her cabinet colleagues this week, asking them to back the move."The decision is in line with overall government austerity measures adopted by cabinet ... currently government recruitment advertising is directed towards commercial media, which exclude rural and peri-urban readers due to their high cover price, and distribution bias to urban areas," Muthambi said in the letter, dated July 9.The plan is being implemented amid renewed criticism from ANC politicians who accuse the media of being hostile to the government and President Jacob Zuma.story_article_left1Earlier this year, Muthambi said in parliament that in the 2013-14 financial year the Government Communication and Information System spent R227.1-million on advertising, R90.7-million of which went to print media.A senior government official privy to the plan told the Sunday Times that it was part of a cabinet strategy "to deal with" media houses that were perceived to be antagonistic to the government."This is the decision of cabinet to withdraw advertising from media houses viewed as hostile to the current administration. This essentially is an implementation of that decision," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.In the letter, Muthambi said "government recruitment advertising provides a significant revenue stream to mainstream media", but the media were not reaching South Africans outside urban centres.The chairman of the South African National Editors' Forum, Mpumelelo Mkhabela, said the government was free to spend its money however it saw fit, provided that it stuck to expenditure guidelines such as those laid down in the constitution, which was "very clear" on the issue.But he said the plan to pull job adverts could be seen as a form of punishment for certain newspapers."The problem is if you use this as a way of punishing those you think don't agree with you," Mkhabela said."If you use it to deal with something that ... is part of politics, then you might be using perfectly legitimate laws of government to achieve what is not a legitimate outcome. We are hoping that whatever decision the government has taken is not motivated by that. Given the political statements we have heard lately from politicians around the media, it would be difficult for ordinary people to accept that it is not politically motivated," he said.Muthambi said Vuk'uzenzele's 1.7million print run would be increased and it would be published twice a month instead of once a month.Placing vacancy advertising in Vuk'uzenzele would also help the government spread its policy messages more widely. "This innovation will increase demand for Vuk'uzenzele and lead readers to the main body of the newspaper featuring content of government programmes," she said.Mish Molakeng, spokesman Muthambi, said Vuk'uzenzele was a government newspaper with free distribution in all provinces, a footprint that complemented mainstream print titles, and a target audience of low- to middle-income readers. He said government aimed to advertise positions below senior management level in this newspaper, and provide access to job opportunities to communities that could not afford mainstream newspapers. Matter of FactIn a previous version of this article we incorrectly stated that the Communications Department did not respond to a request for comment.In fact, Mish Molakeng, spokesman for Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, said Vuk'uzenzele was a government newspaper with free distribution in all provinces, a footprint that complemented mainstream print titles, and a target audience of low- to middle-income readers.He said government aimed to advertise positions below senior management level in this newspaper, and provide access to job opportunities to communities that could not afford mainstream newspapers. We regret the error.