The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) notes the hasty closure of the Afro Voice newspaper, previously the New Age. According to Afro Voice journalists they were given no warning – they were called to a meeting last Thursday and then informed that the paper would publish its final edition the following day (Friday 29 June). Journalists were told that they would be paid their July salary but from Thursday would not need to come into work. This has left many, particularly young black, journalists stranded in a hostile job-seeking environment.
SANEF notes the fact that the paper has been dogged by controversy from the beginning when Vuyo Mvoko, the publication’s first editor resigned with senior editorial staff before the publishing of the paper’s first edition. Since then controversy has continued to follow the publication. Some of these issues have included its ownership by the Gupta family. Also, from the start the paper refused to publish circulation figures. It was highly dependent on government and approximately 50 percent of every print-run was distributed free of charge to government departments and parastals.
Further, parastals funded the “New Age breakfasts” that hosted government ministers, amongst others. The funding went to the New Age while South Africa’s financially-strapped public broadcaster, the SABC broadcast the 45-minute breakfast programme for free. At the time the deal was signed in 2012 the SABC was charging R18 000 for 30 seconds advertising slots. In June 2017 the SABC announced to Parliament that it had incurred costs of R20m. This expenditure came to light despite SABC officials having previously told Parliament that while the SABC may not have earned any money they had not incurred costs. The contract was then handed over to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) for further investigation.
The New Age newspaper has also from the start pushed a controversial – many have argued propagandistic – “good news” agenda. This agenda was tailored to support previous President, Jacob Zuma’s views on politics and his controversial “white monopoly capital” campaign that countered alternative narratives of “state capture”.
In 2017 the Gupta family sold the paper to government spokesperson, Mzwanele Manyi in a vendor-funded deal. Despite public scepticism there was some hope at this point that the paper might be able to shift from its difficult past. However, 10 months into its new ownership the paper is now being closed down.
SANEF notes that journalists have constantly been at the harsh receiving end of the paper’s chequered history and the wheeling and dealing of its owners and management. We believe this is not a chapter in our media history we should be proud of.
For more information:
Mahlatse Mahlase – SANEF Chair
083 399 2852
Sam Mkokeli – SANEF Media Freedom Sub-Committee Chairperson
082 084 2051
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director
082 926 6404