New ANC approach to media is crafty, smart and more effective

On a recent morning, I woke up and over a cup of coffee and since my newspaper deliveries were late, I turned to social media. It was a few days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre and within a few minutes I was alerted and linked to multiple layers of argument over the issue. Those expressing sympathy, those expressing difficulty with sympathizing with them, those who expressed sympathy with others … it was rich, complex, informative and challenging.

I also found and watched Trevor Noah’s superb performance on the Daily Show in the US, a few interesting local articles and some quirky links to entertaining material I would not otherwise have known about. Since these had been posted or ‘liked’ by my ‘friends’, it was quite likely that they would entertain me.

Then I turned to traditional media. I could flip through the city’s morning newspapers in minutes. Johannesburg has eight of them, from five different owners, so there is no shortage. The important stuff I had already read online, where I found a much richer, more varied selection of interpretations than could possibly fit into the papers. The lesser stuff was barely worth my time. And the interesting opinions and columns I had already read online.
I have known it for some time, but our newspapers are sclerotic. They are failing to rise to the challenge presented by online and social media, still living in an age where they could define and control the news flow. They are dull. They are not telling me much beyond the surface of what is happening in our country today. They are failing us as citizens, and failing our democracy. No wonder my students look at me with amazement when I suggest it is a good idea to read newspapers.

To understand what lies behind this, one has to understand the change in media strategy in the governing party, a change in the way they fight what they have called in policy papers “the war of ideas”, that lies at the core of this.

ANC media policy has gone through three phases since 1990. When they came to power, they had very open media policy: open up broadcasting, transform the SABC into an independent public broadcaster, give support and subsidy to build community media, criticize and engage with the private media – particularly newspapers – but essentially leave them alone. Push the private media to transform, they were saying, but do not interfere with them.

The second phase came a few years ago. Fed up with the criticism and scrutiny they were getting from quite a hostile newspaper sector – and let’s face it, it was quite hostile – they threatened intervention. They called for an inquiry into a Media Tribunal, which would have dismantled the press self-regulatory system and replaced it with a statutory one; and they drew up the Secrecy Bill which was a direct threat to the investigative journalism which was making the lives of key leadership so uncomfortable.

But those measures ran into strong opposition, including within the ANC itself, and it was doubtful whether they would pass constitutional muster. The threat of a Media Tribunal – always a crude and unworkable idea – has been moved to the backburner, a silent background threat; a watered-down but still problematic Secrecy Bill has been on the president’s desk for a year without signature, and without explanation. That strategy had not got very far, mainly because it was crude and pursued in a rough and ham-handed way. It only got the ruling party worse media coverage.

That led, I believe, to a third phase, unannounced, subtle and only discernable now that it has been in place for a while, operating below the radar. The ANC saw how it could use its power, influence and access to state resources to support the emergence of more friendly media and put the squeeze on critical. This happened in a number of different ways:

– Instead of complaining about the influence of advertisers, the government began to realize it was a power they also held, since collectively they were one of the biggest media spenders. But this power was dispersed among scores of different state and parastatal entities, so they moved to centralize control over media buying and began to shift their spending to media they wanted to support and withhold it from those they were angry with. This had to be done discreetly, as it could easily fall into conflict with the Public Finance Management Act if they were seen to be making political decisions about spending public money. The most egregious example of this was the R43-m sponsorship by Eskom of New Age business breakfasts – a massive overpayment from a parastatal that was not flush with cash. It emerged just this week that the government was giving New Age with its 150 000 readers 10% of its spending, about the same as the Daily Sun, which has about R5-m readers.

– The ANC also used its influence in the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and its allies in China to put public money behind the purchase by an ally of Independent Newspapers, one of the biggest newspaper groups in the country. Again there was gross overpayment and dubious use of public monies. My understanding was that it was key ANC leaders who put this coalition together. It is no coincidence that the structures of ownership in the Sekunjalo Independent Newspapers are murky; this is part of the pattern of back-door influence. Dr Surve moved quickly against independent and critical voices on his newspapers.

– At the same time, there began a much more direct and aggressive move to seize control of the SABC and bring it into line. This involved direct intervention in the SABC board and key and controversial appointments, and these individuals were protected as long as they could deliver suitable content.

– Critical decisions over set-top boxes were held up, putting an embarrassing and costly delay on the migration of broadcasting to digital. Why was this? Was this just dithering? I think it is because it gave a stick to wield over television companies. It emerged that eTV, lobbying hard for regulation in its favour, was pushed into running unannounced editorial puffs on its news to curry favour with government. Its independence had been quietly compromised.

The ANC had put away the big stick, and were now using state resources, patronage and state power to reshape the media to its liking. The party has control of parliament and this gives them considerable influence over key appointments and public funds and they have been using this to exert influence over private media. The result has become dramatic in recent months, with a tangible and visible dimunition of the space for critical, independent, accountability journalism. This new approach was crafty, smart, insidious and more effective.

Of course, some of this is legitimate politicking. Media ownership, control and influence are contested spaces in a democracy and so they should be, whether one is talking of public or private media. The government and the ruling party are entitled to lobby and push for more and better media coverage as much as anyone else. Independent media is always under pressure from every quarter that wants to compromise its independence. Where it is of concern is where government activity crosses the line into the abuse of public money and position – such as when the Minister writes to SABC board members to call them to account, or parastatals waste money on overpriced advertising and sponsorship.

It is important to see that this comes at a time when other institutions of accountability – such as Icasa, the broadcast and telecoms regulator – are either neutered, and ineffectual, or under attack for their critical independence – like the National Prosecutions Authority and the Public Protector. The ruling party has direct influence over most of these institutions and the key positions within them because they control parliament and these institutions answer to parliament. And that is why the private media is so important – it is one of the very few powerful institutions of accountability which stands outside of direct state control. So it has a special role at a time when other institutions are under pressure.

You also have to place this against the background of what is happening in media and journalism globally. This comes at a time when the media is under severe financial pressure anyway, and therefore more vulnerable to political and financial manipulation.

It is well know what financial pressures the industry is under: The rise of digital, interactive and social media has undermined the business model that has driven news media and paid for journalism for about 150 years. Journalists drew audiences, and these were sold to advertisers, who subsidized the cost of the content. But traditional media, particularly newspapers, can no longer draw enough advertising to pay for journalism in the same way.

Globally, the results have been:

– Shrinking newsrooms, particularly the loss of more expensive specialist and investigative reporters

– A breakdown of the barriers that protected journalists from the influence of advertisers. This is best symbolized by the rise of ‘native advertising”.

– A growth in populism, tabloid journalism and its digital equivalent – clickbaiting – as outlets seek to minimize cost and maximize audience in an increasingly competitive market.
We are left asking how we will pay for journalism, particularly the more expensive and risky investigative, accountability and independent journalism that is the lifeblood of our work and our citizenship.

South Africa had something of a respite for some years, along with countries like China and India, where there was still space for traditional mass media to grow. What happened in this country is that the rise of a new generation of tabloids from about 2002, led by the Daily Sun, revived the newspaper market and hid the fact that the older titles were stagnating or shrinking. But this all changed 2-3 years ago, when all the newspapers started to show dramatic loss of readership. This has accelerated in the last year; even the papers which appeared to be relatively immune, such as the weeklies and the isiZulu newspapers, are now seeing serious readership decline. To illustrate how serious this is: the Star, which peaked in the early 1990s at about 210 000, is now 84 000; the Daily Sun, which was at 500 000, is done to about 265 000; the Sunday Times, which was also around 500 000, is well below 400 000; the Mail & Guardian, which had seemed relatively immune, has shrunk from around 50 000 to under 40 000.

This would not be a problem if readers and advertisers were moving to the internet, but the internet is too fragmented, and too much information is free to make the old model work.
Globally, we can see that some newspapers are finding various ways forward in developing new and different sources of online revenue. We can contrast the approaches of the New York Times and The Guardian, both of which have invested hugely in building large global online audiences. The New York Times’ revenue is now based on subscriptions and they are earning significantly from this. The Guardian is free, and earning money from a whole range of services around the website. The Guardian earned a not insignificant £60-m from their website in the last financial year, so their losses are dropping. But their open website has made them a leading, if not the leading, global newspaper and they are expanding aggressively. With the wikileaks and Snowden stories, they have thrust themselves to the forefront of what Sheila Coronel at Columbia University has called ‘a golden age of investigative journalism’, propelled by the power of the internet.

These papers – and others who are scoring some success online – like the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mail – have very different approaches, but they one overriding factor in common: bold and aggressive investment in experimenting with different approaches to winning audience and revenue. The difficult we have in this country is that our owners are failing us: where they need to invest for a long-term turnaround, they are cutting costs to maintain short-term profits and putting us in a downward spiral. The Guardian is fortunate to be owned by a Trust, which is backing the editorial strategy and throwing everything at it; the Time is fortunate to be backed by a family which cares about the future of journalism. One of the key issues in South Africa is that we have few owners with this kind of long-term vision. By and large, we are being failed by our owners who have preferred to harvest quick profits and then exit. One of the issues we need to be discussing is forms of ownership, as our current forms are failing us and there are others – such as Trusts, Non-Profits – which need to be more fully considered.

The only South African company which has put long-term and serious investment into the internet is Media24, and this has made it the dominant local online player – and they should get credit for being first and being prepared to throw a good deal of resources at new media. As a result, News24 is by a long way the biggest news site in the country and quite often it is their Afrikaans newspapers which are the best at covering daily news. But Media24 led the retrenchment brigade last year, getting rid of some 440 people, ramping down, for example, their investigations unit. Their investment now is focused on e-commerce as the primary source of revenue. They have recently tasked editor Andrew Trench to build an online newsroom of 20 people, so there is some hope there of some significant investment in online original content.

Where there is investment in the internet media, very little of it is in original content. Our mainstream news websites carry largely agency copy, they are homogenous, they are dull, they are unchallenging. There is very little investment in experimenting with new ways of storytelling, in exploring the power and range and potential of the web. There are those websites that do not grow out of legacy media, which are stand-alone – notably Daily Maverick, which is more spunky and plays an important role in our national conversation – but this is largely in the real of opinion and analysis. The lack of finance and investments in fresh content means that the big gap is reportage, the big gap is having reporters out there, on the ground, telling us what is happening in this country. In a world which is seeing a resurgence in long-form narrative, we have no outlets here for anything more than 1 000 words, or any new forms of investigation and storytelling. We have no shortage of opinion, but we have huge gaps in our reporting of everyday life.

And let me say that cannot look at the South African media without raising the issue of diversity. While our newrooms, management and ownership have changed significantly in the last 25 years – we can debate whether they have changed enough, but then they have never changed enough – but content is more homogenous, more constrained, more limited than ever. Under apartheid, we had a leftwing, a rightwing and an active trade union media. Now our media speaks by and large with one voice, bang in the middle of the political spectrum. Vast swathes of our people barely appear in our media except as victims of poverty, as violent protestors and as perpetrators and – less frequently – as victims of crime. Their voices are only heard when they take to the streets to protest or, tragically, to loot the stores of foreigners.

I would like to add an historical perspective: there have been a few periods of SA history when the media has fallen quite out of step with accelerated political events, and alternative voices have risen to fill the space. I would identify three periods of heightened political activity, which left the mainstream media behind and led to the emergence of new voices:

– the late 19th and early 20th century, with the emergence of new black independent voices in the form of John Dube, Sol Plaatje, Jabavu and others. Most of these characters went on to play a key role in the formation of the ANC.

– In the 1950s, with the radicalization of the ANC and the emergence of the new generation of Youth League leaders, such as Mandela and Sisulu, we saw the emergence of the Leftwing Guardian as well as Drum magazine

– In the 1980s, the township uprising saw the birth of a new set of alternative newspapers across the country, ranging from the Weekly Mail to Grassroots newspaper in the Cape.

All of these publications in all three eras were small and marginal, but carried a weight and historical importance that outweighed their numbers. They punched above their weights. All emerged because of technological breakthroughs which made them possible: in the late 19th century, the setting up of printing presses in mission stations around the country; in the 1950s, the emergence of cheaper, faster web presses; in the 1980s, desktop publishing. All were driven by small groups of highly motivated and committed individuals. None were motivated by money.

Do the same conditions exist now? I am not sure, but I do think there are lessons to be drawn from those experiences.

And let me end by saying that we have three really important assets in dealing with this situation.

– We have our freedom, the protection of our constitution and our constitutional court. So it may be getting to find outlets to publish challenging material, but if we do, we at least now have the law on our side.

– We have a long and rich traditional of investigative reporting, and this has been true in recent times, when we had 3-4 powerful investigative teams doing important work. A golden era might now be under pressure, and might be coming to an end, but we have role-models, we have a tradition of feisty independence in at least some quarters to draw on, and this is very important.

– We have always and still have a number of dedicated, committed journalists, many of them frustrated, many of them hiding in the corners of our mainstream media, many battling to make a living – but determined and skilled and eager to join battle.

*This is the text of a talk given to an Open Society Foundation workshop held in Johannesburg, January 30, 2015.

No future of news without investment in people

AT A Future of News seminar at the University of the Witwatersrand last week, Financial Times (FT) of London managing editor James Lamont told how they had turned that operation around.

There were three key elements to their strategy of dealing with the loss of print readers and the difficulty of generating revenue on the internet. First, they charged for online access from early on, unlike the many who give away their online product. They ensured that the content was good enough to make their readers happy to pay for it. And they are working hard to engineer innovation and experimentation in what was a staid, old-style operation.

About two years ago, they hit the turning point when they started to earn more from their online subscriptions than the print product, and now they have rising profitability. Almost everyone’s job at the FT has changed significantly, but they still employ about 600 journalists around the world. Lamont — a former editor of our local Business Report — describes his function as preserving journalists’ jobs.

They make their profit not despite having so many people, but because of it. And that is what South African newspaper owners seldom realise — and why our industry is on a downward slide.

Almost across the board, the strategy of our news media companies has been to cut costs to maintain profitability in traditional media, without putting these resources into new media. Serial retrenchments have taken place in the past few years, and this shows in the product quality. It is a myopic approach that dooms them to a slow and painful death. Unless there is investment in the content people need and want and delivering it in the ways people want to consume it, there is no reason for people to take out their credit cards to pay for it.

The attitude of most local owners is captured by last week’s announcement that the national news agency, the South African Press Association (Sapa), will close. When Sapa needed investment to change its business model, it was not there. When other news agencies, such as Bloomberg and Reuters, were adapting to the changing world, the newspaper owners who controlled Sapa were cutting costs. Now there is not much left to save, and what should be a foundational news institution will be lost.

Every day I pick up our newspapers and — with only a couple of exceptions — I find stuff I have read via social media, where it is faster and often has more depth and complexity because of a wider range of sources and angles. Our newspapers are almost all being run for short-term profit, and with very little smart investment to take them into the new era.

The lesson from around the world is that those institutions — such as the Guardian and New York Times — that spend on quality content are the ones that are pulling through. Of course, these are international titles with masses of money to spend, and it is difficult to compare our local products in a small market, but most of our industry seems to know only how to slash costs.

Never mind the sclerotic print products. Local news websites are almost all dull and badly produced. You only have to read a story or two to know that there is little investment in the skills and talent it takes to do it half well. There is lots of opinion, because that’s cheap, but very little of the hard reporting and imaginative storytelling that is the lifeblood of journalism. The Daily Maverick website stands out, but that’s largely for its analysis rather than on-the-ground reporting.

The new owners at Independent News & Media are investing in technology and platforms to try to make up for years of neglect, and hopefully this will be followed by investment in people.

Media24 has appointed respected editor Andrew Trench to put together a new online newsroom, and that is promising. Though this company has always paid more attention to new technology than its counterparts and, as a result, its News24 site dominates the online news market, it is not because of the quality of the reporting, writing or editing. I hope this will be changing now.

*This column first appeared in Business Day, 12 February 2015

Wearing party colours is honest. But is it wise?

Journalists Karima Brown and Vukani Mde should be congratulated for their honesty in posting pictures of themselves in ANC regalia on social media last weekend.

These two, the group executive editor and group editor of opinion and analysis at Independent Newspapers, have caused a row about whether journalists should parade their political affiliations in this way. But at least they are being more honest than those journalists who try and hide their biases, histories and affiliations – usually unsuccessfully.

“We are ANC, we are committed, and we are proud. Take it or leave it,” is the attitude of the two key editorial policy-makers at one of the country’s biggest newspaper groups – and it is a transparent attitude. Brown went online to say that she had given up her membership of the ANC when she became a journalist, she would not apologise for being Left and a socialist and that her reporting on the ANC “had never been anything but factual”. That last bit is, well, not quite factual.

There are, broadly speaking, three lines of thinking among journalists on the issue of political affiliation. The first comes from those who stick to the rather quaint notion that they can be truly objective. We are professionals trained to leave our personal views at the door and cast aside our prejudices, this group argues.

More common nowadays are those who say that journalistic neutrality may be elusive, even impossible to achieve, but – like perfect beauty – is still an ideal worth striving for. One can see the virtue of such an approach in reporting routine news events, such as car crashes or court cases where the main purpose is to convey a set of conflicting facts and allow the audience to form their own view. It is particularly valid in the age of social media when the flood of rumour and opinion puts a premium on solid, trustworthy reporting.

The Brown/Mda position would be that we should stop trying to achieve the impossible or pretend to be what we are not. We should acknowledge that we all have biases and be open about it. If the audience knows where one stands, they can consume one’s reporting with this knowledge and make their own judgments. This approach allows journalists to be engaged and passionate, rather than dispassionate and bland.

South Africa has had many well-known journalists with party-political affiliations. Think DF Malan, first editor of Die Burger and later Prime Minister. Most of the Afrikaans newspapers were so in thrall to the apartheid government that they failed dismally to cover the horrors of that system of government.

On the other hand, there are some journalists who doubled up in politics who have done fine work. One recalls Sol Plaatje and John Dube, both pioneering newspapermen of the early 1900s who also were the first president and general secretary of the ANC.

Most of the country’s best and worst journalism has come from those who identified with a political cause.

To be fair, neither Brown nor Mde are uncritical of the ANC, though they write from an “inside” perspective and their criticism generally falls within narrow parameters. One is reminded of those Afrikaans editors who argued that they led from the front in the National Party, pushing for reform. They might have, but did they cover what they should have covered?

This is what matters at the end: the quality of their journalism – and it is not clear that this is determined by political affiliation.

A great deal depends on what kind of publication or broadcaster one works for. At a public broadcaster like the SABC, party affiliation should be out of the question, as their journalists need to be seen to answer to no political party. At smaller or niche privately-owned media, it is more common to take up advocacy as a way of carving out a place in the market.

There are complications, however, for more general, mass market outlets. Brown/Mde represent not just themselves, but a major media company whose readers and staff come from across the political spectrum. Does this mean, readers might ask, that we should see the paper as a voice of the ANC? Will they block stories which might touch a raw nerve in the governing party? Are they too close to power to be critical?

Journalists at Independent might start to ask themselves if party support will help them get promotion – the kind of attitude which has poisoned the SABC. They will recall that senior reporter Donwald Pressly was fired last year when his name appeared on a Democratic Alliance nomination list.

But, argues Brown, the issue with Pressly was that he kept it from his employer. She and Mde have never hidden their political views and are not standing for office.

But does Independent have a clear policy on these issues, consistently applied? If so, why are we not hearing about it?

Brown and Mde have been honest. But, one may ask, have they been wise?

*This appeared in City Press, 18 January 2015

Editors must edit

I ONCE asked a South African editor why he ran a cartoon that he agreed was offensive. He said he had felt obliged, as he did not want to censor a well-known and much-respected cartoonist. His colleagues would have given him hell for infringing on the cartoonist’s right to free speech, he said.

There is a fundamental and critical difference, I said, between editing and censorship.

Editors have to decide all the time what to give space to and what to leave out, who to criticise and who to praise, and how to treat stories. That is their job. More than that: it is their obligation. We rely on them to make those decisions in an intelligent, informed and fair manner.

They can decide to be provocative or offensive. Sometimes editors have to carry material they know will likely cause hurt and pain and one hopes they do it with good cause and careful consideration, weighing up the public and the private interest.

Sometimes they will deem it necessary to infringe on someone’s privacy or dignity and they will need to justify such a decision.

One hopes, too, that sometimes an editor will decide that to carry something might lead to violence, or promote racism or hurt someone unduly and the story does not justify it. If the editor does not make that decision, then he or she is not doing their job.

Editors must edit.

Censorship is when such a decision is forced on one, when one drops a story out of fear or compulsion, when one’s editorial decision is not based on the value, relevance and veracity of the story, but when someone else has the power to supersede such decisions.

Then information that the public should know is suppressed, and one is on a downward spiral.

If I was an editor, I would not have run the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in solidarity this week with the murdered cartoonists.

I would want to show support and there are many ways to do this. But I would not want to carry material I was not comfortable with. Editors have to edit.

There would be no point in selecting only the mild cartoons, as that defeats the point. If one is showing it to allow the public to form their own view on the material, or to give the finger to the killers, then one has to show the most provocative and offensive material. Better to find another way to show one’s revulsion at the killings, I would say.

The danger is that editors will now make decisions on such material based on the fear of being attacked and putting their and their staff members’ lives at risk. If this is the case, then the killers have won.

And if they sense that they have succeeded in imposing their views on you, they will take it further and make other demands about what you do or do not do as an editor.

Soon your journalism will become bland and predictable, because you fear to challenge those who threaten or hold power over you. Soon you will be holding back on stories you know should be told because you need to protect yourself and your colleagues. That is why when one condemns the Charlie Hebdo killings, one cannot have any buts or maybes.

Too often this week I have heard people say that the massacre of the cartoonists was wrong … but the magazine did cross a line, but the cartoons were offensive, but the French are hypocrites on free speech, but, but, but….

There can be no qualification in the condemnation of those who kill writers, cartoonists, journalists, satirists or anyone for that matter because they don’t like what he or she said.

One has to show solidarity with those who died for their views and revulsion for those who kill because they did not like those views.

One has to recognise the value that journalists, cartoonists, satirists, artists and writers bring to our society — even when they find a need to be provocative or offensive. One has to nurture and protect them, and allow them to get on with their work of irritating us.

And editors must edit.

*This column first appeared in Business Day, 15 Jan 2015

Confronting racism on the Internet

Minister of Higher Education and Communist Party chief Blade Nzimande is right to be concerned about hate speech and racism on the internet. What is to be done about it?

First, one must correct possible misconceptions. Nzimande says newspapers must be held responsible for the comments they carry. They already do, in both a legal and moral sense – so there is no need to change the law, nor for the intervention of state bodies – like the Film and Publications Board, which has been itching to regulate Net content. One can use existing criminal and civil law to take on those responsible for hate speech and racism online.

Secondly, the real problem lies not in those sites controlled by the major media groups, which are subject to law and self-regulation, but by the maverick, often one-person sites out there which purvey hate, prejudice and violence.

Media houses, editors and journalists – at least some of them – have been concerned about this for some time. The World Editors’ Forum (WEF) last year published a guide to the emerging international best practice for dealing with the problem. Sanef, the national editors’ forum, has been holding a discussion moving towards guidelines on how to deal with this. Independent Newspapers has initiated its own inquiry into the matter. Other newspapers already have controls, such as not allowing anonymous commentary and mediating all comments, which seems to cut out much of the worst material. The Press Council already oversees the websites of their members and their code outlaws hate speech and racism, along with a host of other things.

The problem is that one wants to restrict hate or other illegal speech, but not prejudice the power of the Internet to enrich and expand the public conversation. The Internet opens up journalism and news to participation in an unprecedented way. Previously, ordinary citizens could only write a letter or try to phone a radio station, and only a few would be published or broadcast. Citizens were just consumers of media, but the Internet has made everyone a potential participant, contributor and opinion and news influencer. While the potential for this is still stymied by unequal access to the Net, it is a powerful potential tool for citizen engagement in public affairs – and one does not want to compromise this.

How then does one balance the desire to encourage an informed and interesting conversation that adds value to news and public opinion with the fact that there are those who would abuse this space, sometimes dangerously? We have to try and stop hate speech, but avoid giving anyone the power to censor out opinions just because it offends or discomfits them. We have to ensure that we target the dangerous stuff, and not just the uncomfortable

WEF recommends an approach based as much on promoting useful discussion as preventing abuse:
– Media organisations should publish clear, thorough and transparent guidelines for comments, which includes zero tolerance for hate speech and illegal content
– Media houses should hire a dedicated community manager to cultivate constructive discussions and prevent abuse
– Journalists and others who have valuable commentary to add (such as Blade Nzimande) should be encouraged to participate in such conversations. Journalists can pose and answer questions, respond to criticism and highlight the most interesting comments.
– Give prominence to the most interesting comments
– Give feedback to readers, and educate them, rather than simply deleting unsuitable information.

The shift towards a journalism that is more about dialogue between reporter and audience means that these problems are not going to go away. But, as WEF says, “they can be addressed and the potential of comments to make a positive contribution to a news outlet is considerable”.

How much diversity do we have? How much do we want?

My remarks this week at the Roundtable on Diversity and Transformation in the Media at Wits: I want to caution against a simplistic version of the diversity we want to achieve in the media. Diversity is a term used with convenient looseness and I think it helpful to be clear about what we mean when we say we want diversity, remind ourselves of why we want it and what kind of diversity is important to us.

We have learnt in the last 20 years that a change of ownership, particularly if we use just the narrowest definition which means it limited to a racial transfer of power, does not necessarily bring much transformation. In fact, it can also set back or hinder transformation when it provides a cover for content as usual. This is particularly true when new owners are hindered by vast debts incurred in taking ownership, which put a premium on paying these back rather than driving transformation.

It is worth bearing in mind that we have today greater diversity in newsroom demographics, management and ownership than we had 20 years ago, though we do notably better on race than on gender, but we do not have as much diversity in the all-important area of content. Before 1994, even under censorship, we had a leftwing alternative media, a rightwing alternative media, active trade union media … today our media is overwhelmingly located in the centre of our politics and economics.

So let us start by going back to the basics. I think we want diversity for three reasons:
– to correct the distortions and imbalances in our media inherited from apartheid
– to be inclusive, ensuring that all elements of our society have a voice and participate as citizens in the national conversation
– for the media to play its role in promoting transparency and accountability, to ensure we have a full range of alternative voices, criticism and investigative reporting.

So we may measure newsroom, management and ownership demographics, but the real test is in the content and its audience: do we reflect the full range of opinion, do we provide rich and informed debate, do all South Africans feel they can participate as active citizens?

I think it is clear that a key reason there has been such a wave of protest across the country is that people feel they are not heard, they are marginalized and excluded from the national debate, and their needs and demands are not being heard. Behind the Marikana tragedy is the fact that we did not really hear those voices or understand what was happening in the build-up to August 2012. That is what happens when media is insufficiently diverse.

But the diversity I am talking about here operates at many levels. When we talk of ownership, we talk importantly of race and class and gender. But I think we also need to talk about forms of ownership, for example. Around the world, there is experimentation with different forms of ownership to deal with the current challenges facing our media: non-profit ownership, philanthropy, crowd-funding, trusts … are just some of the ideas being tried out. It is significant that what I think is now the world’s leading newspaper, certainly the one that has broken the two biggest global stories of the last few years, the Guardian, can do what it does because it is owned by a non-profit trust. We have no such institution in this country as an alternative to private, profit-motivated ownership or public ownership.

And we need to look holistically at all three tiers of our media. Critical to diversity is an effective public broadcaster, as it has a special role in bringing out the voices of those often neglected by the private media; and our research is certainly showing that community media adds significantly to diversity, and has a critical role to play in achieving it.

And we also have to put a high value on independence. In South Africa, we have a growing, increasingly dominant network of ANC-supporting media. This is a historical correction and certainly it is an advance on the situation where only one newspaper in 1994 unequivocally called on voters to vote ANC. But it will certainly not be healthy if the space for independent, critical, accountability journalism continues to shrink. I am not so concerned about whether a publication supports or opposes the ANC; I am more concerned whether the culture of that newsroom is an open one that encourages a diversity of views and opinions. And this is important for one simple reason: journalism is at its best when it is critical, probing, disruptive and discomfiting. Journalists are at their best when they make trouble for those with power and authority. I am concerned that the real issue we are facing around diversity is that the space for this kind of independent, critical journalism is shrinking.

Let’s take the media debate up a notch or two

In the 1994 election, only one newspaper called on voters explicitly to support the ANC. It is a startling reminder of how the structures of the apartheid media industry carried into the new era. That newspaper was the Mail & Guardian, though the Sowetan made a broader call for a vote for “liberation parties”. This year the M&G called on people to vote against the ANC, a significant shift.

In the aftermath of the latest ballot, a triumphant ANC launched into the media. Three key figures – Malusi Gigaba, Jacob Zuma and Blade Nzimande – said that their success was a victory over a hostile media. This does not bode well for media freedom in the next five years, especially after a number of government threats had to be faced down during the last five.
Let’s be frank: there is a lot to criticise about our journalism. But if we are to confront this issue constructively, we have to take the debate up a notch or two. There needs to be more debate about the weaknesses of our media, but we need to face up to the real issues.

The ANC’s critique always seems to be broad and sweeping, taking in the media as a whole as if it is one body operating in unison. It makes no allowances for the range of newspapers, radio and televisions stations and internet sites we offer. nor that there is now a significant part of our media that is sympathetic to the ANC, and tempers its criticism.

To say that our media is oppositional is about as useful as saying that all politicians are crooks or white men can’t jump.
There are issues of fact. Nzimande said that the media had built up Mamphela Ramphele and did not subject the DA to the same scrutiny as the ANC. In fact, Ramphele has a long and venerable history that was not invented by the media. DA leadership issues have been closely scrutinised by at least some journalists. If you are throwing stones at inaccuracy, you need to aim carefully.

There are also some deep contradictions in the ANC’s argument. These same leaders tell us they are very concerned at the “overspend” on the Nkandla project, but they target the journalists who went to great lengths to expose it. They forget that those investigative journalists had to overcome repeated attempts by the Ministerial Security Cluster (senior ANC people, that is) to suppress the information, including going to court to force compliance with information law.

ANC leaders criticise the media for taking a position, and for sacrificing their “objectivity”, but they had no objection when those same newspapers took sides with them. At the root of this is a contradiction over the idea of objectivity: Nzimande is dismissive of journalists’ ability to be objective, yet he complains if they are not.

The ANC had praise for the alternative media of the apartheid era – both in the 1950s and the 1980s – for taking a strong stand on apartheid and for being advocates of human rights, yet point fingers now at journalists who make their views clear.

At the root of this a lack of respect for the notion of journalistic independence. If you back the ANC, your independence is respected; if you are overly-critical, then you are serving some other hostile, probably foreign, interest. Media freedom, however, means that your respect the right of newspapers to be oppositional if they so choose. To criticise newspapers for pursuing a line or serving an interest, is like criticising a clown for being funny, or an accountant for not being funny. That is what they do.

Ironically, the most problematic areas of our media are those in which the government has most influence: the SABC, the community media (which it subsidises half-heartedly), the neglect of most African languages and the cost of bandwidth. It would behove them to pay more attention to these issues.

Where Nzimande is right is that our media needs more diversity. But I suspect that the voices that we need to hear more from are not those he wants to hear: the workers of Marikana, the protestors of Bekkersdal and those who are campaigning for a new left/labour political party.

*This column first appeared in Business Day, May 15, 2014

Now we have the freedom to defend our freedom

Exactly 20 years after we achieved media freedom, an opposition advertisement was this week banished from the national broadcaster because it showed pictures of police shooting protestors. As we were celebrating our freedom, it was eroded.

Few events could have been so well-timed to demonstrate both the freedom we have won and its fragility. There was never any question – until this election – that the offending picture could be taken and widely published, and that neither the photographer nor the newspaper would face sanctions. During apartheid, the photographer, newspaper and editor would have risked detention with trial, prosecution and closure.

Now the media is uninhibited in exposing government government corruption and security force brutality. In fact the work of investigative journalists has led to the firing of the last police commissioner and the imprisonment of his predecessor, as well as the dismissal of three cabinet ministers.

In short, we have had remarkable media freedom in the 20 years since the first democratic election, and we have reveled in a noisy, vibrant vuvuzela democracy. Unlike many post-independence Africa countries which suffered from a lack of criticism and debate in the media, and a tragic failure to confront issues of poor governance and corruption, in South Africa we have been blessed to have the opposite problem: a loud and rambunctious media which has produced a regular flow of tough criticism and relentless exposé of the authorities, to the point where government leaders must feel they can barely move without someone having a go at them. The radio and social media chatter, the screaming headlines, the arguments on television – these are the sounds of a democracy at work.

At a time when many of the institutions of democratic accountability – such as parliament, the national public broadcaster and the judiciary – are weak or under threat, at least elements of the media have show that they are willing and able to hold the authorities to account.

Newsrooms have shrunk dramatically under financial pressure and there is a growing number of newspaper owners close to and in business with the government who favour a less critical or independent press. The national public broadcaster has been rendered ineffectual by political meddling and financial scandal. But those media that chose an independent and outspoken path, have been free to walk it.

There have been threats to this freedom. The ANC challenged the system of press self-regulation and sought to impose statutory control over it. They also drew up and passed a law to try and contain the whistleblowers and threaten the journalists feeding so much of the media controversy, the Protection of State Information Act, commonly known as the Secrecy Bill. But huge public controversy and protest held back the most serious of these threats and led to the removal of the worst aspects of the Bill, which still awaits presidential signature.

But the row over the opposition’s election adverts has brought a new threat: deployed ANC cadres who will use their office to protect the ruling party. First the SABC complained and when that failed, the police complained. The broadcasting regulator accepted their complaint. It looked like a concerted and relentless campaign to stop an opposition advert, and the same has been done with an EFF advert.

Of course, pictures of security forces using undue force were the very things that struck fear into the hearts of the apartheid government, and they used an arsenal of laws to try and prevent them from being seen. The current government does not have the same arsenal, but they seem to share the same fear. The big difference now is that this censorship will be tested before the Constitutional Court. And we are free to mobilise against it, with protests already being planned.

So we have the freedom to protect our freedom when it is under attack. The question now is whether we will be organised and motivated enough to do so.

*This column was written for EyeWitnessNews, appearing on April 27, 2014

Insight into the new way of doing journalism

AS Friday’s aircraft to Brazil rolled down the runway at OR Tambo International Airport with most of South Africa’s investigative reporters on board, I wondered what would happen to our journalism if it went down. We certainly would get fewer embarrassing stories in our media. Would that be good or bad news for those who think we get wrong the balance between the two?

The journalists were on their way to the 11th Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Rio de Janeiro, which this year drew about 1,300 muckrakers from more than 80 countries. They shared techniques and tricks — especially all the smart new ones involving data, spreadsheets, the internet and social media — and stories of the year’s triumphs in calling to account those with power. These ranged from the exposé of masses of information about offshore accounts and how they are used to launder money, through the publication of Pakistani MPs’ tax records, which showed that 25% of them paid no tax at all, to the revelation of South Korean intelligence using social media to interfere in that country’s elections, and the sale of matric exam results in Jordan.

Journalists at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Brazil mob rock star Glenn Greenwald

Journalists at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Brazil mob rock star Glenn Greenwald

South Africans fared well against this stiff competition. The Sunday Times’s crack team of Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Rob Rose and Stephan Hofstatter were joint winners of the global Shining Light Award for their story of a KwaZulu-Natal police “hit squad”. And the Daily Dispatch’s Msindisi Fengu and Yandisa Monakali were finalists for their work on the conditions of school hostels in the Eastern Cape.

But they were all overshadowed by the present rock star of journalism, Glenn Greenwald, one of the key players in the Edward Snowden exposé of the extent of surveillance being undertaken by US security agencies. If journalists should avoid being the story themselves, then Greenwald is in trouble, judging by the way he was swamped by fawning journalists wanting to be photographed with him.

I took a picture of journalists taking pictures of other journalists taking pictures of a celebrity journalist. Layer upon layer of irony.

In a conversation with a Dutch journalist, Greenwald took the opportunity to trash the mainstream media, particularly the New York Times, which had held on to the story of the US National Security Agency illegally listening to the phone calls of Americans for 18 months, during which time George Bush was re-elected. Even the Guardian was not exempt, despite the support, resources, audience and credibility and impact they had lent to him to make his story the biggest of the year.

It must have been hard for the Guardian’s recently retired investigations editor, David Leigh, recipient at the conference of a Lifetime Achievement Award, to listen to this. But it is the new way of journalism: an activist and independent blogger becomes a newspaper writer and delivers the story of the year, though he has an ambivalent relationship with his outlets.

Journalism was a corrupted profession, he said, and he celebrated that the mainstream media are in demise. He had contempt for the rules that suggest he should keep a professional distance from his source and be dispassionate about his subject. “I am not going to pretend I am a robot,” he said.

Greenwald was more eloquent about the dangers of a surveillance state. People who were always watched would opt for behaviour that was cautious and conformist, he said. Surveillance made impossible a whole range of activities, including journalism, where one could not protect a source if one was constantly watched, he said. Even if it was true that US intelligence had only gathered metadata — the information of when, who and for how long you phoned — it meant they could know an enormous amount about what one was doing.

The idea of democracy, he said, was that we should know as much as possible about the activities of the state and government, to hold them accountable, and we should have as much privacy as possible, to keep the state out of our private lives. But the opposite was happening: the state was getting more secretive and we were losing our privacy. Those who did not care, were giving themselves up as slaves, he said.

*This column first appeared in Business Day, October 17, 2013

Do news agencies have a future? Do they still matter?

Hidden in the Times Media Group’s recent financial statements was a decision to withdraw from the South Africa Press Association (Sapa). This will leave a substantial gap in the national news agency’s budget, putting its future in doubt.

Was this decision just the cost-cutting of an asset-stripping fund manager out to profit from a quick turnaround before he exits the industry, or does it signal the passing of what has long been one of the fundamental institutions of the quotidian tasks of routine news-gathering?

Sapa is essentially a cooperative: a non-profit company set up and owned by the newspaper groups since 1938 to facilitate the sharing and distribution of news. It is a wholesaler of information, an independent public service operation.

It was based on the Reuters and Associated Press models, allowing newspapers across the country to save costs by sharing routine news, and providing a quick way to distribute media announcements across the industry. These agencies have provided the backbone of news distribution for decades, and they developed the formal, neutral style of wire agency reporting so that very different newspapers could all use the same regular stories. AP has been doing it since 1846, has over 2 000 journalists and 200 news bureaux across the world.

Reuters started in 1851, but retooled itself as more of a financial information provider and went public in the 1980s, making a fortune for its founder newspaper members. Now only about 2 500 of its 50 000 employees, and about 10% of its revenue, comes from general news. The rest comes from subscriptions for the terminals on the desks of traders and others in the financial world, providing instant market data.

They have faced a challenge from Bloomberg, which is focussed entirely on market information and has been one of the very few news operations to grow substantially in recent years.

This is not the first time Sapa has faced a crunch. The SABC stopped its subscription a few years ago, but came back. Every wave of newsroom cutbacks, like at the Independent Group a few years ago, brings pressure to reduce the Sapa cost. Over the years, the agency has survived, but gradually shrunk to a bare-bones operation.

It was always the place that provided coverage of key speeches, sports results, court cases in small towns, diaries of upcoming news events and announcements of media conferences and events. When their own reporters missed a story, newsrooms could use Sapa. When it was not worth sending a reporter to join the pack at the media conference, they could watch it on the wires. It was never a source of excitement, but it allowed news editors to use their staff to chase original stories and rely on the agency for the duller but necessary stuff. The Citizen newspaper in its rogue days employed almost no reporters for years and ran cheaply off a Sapa subscription, much to the fury of their rivals.

Agencies pride themselves on being quick, rigidly factual and utterly neutral in tone. AP is famous for its tortured debates about whether to use phrases such as illegal immigrant (rather than undocumented visitor) and schizophrenic (rather than people with schizophrenia).

The question to ask is whether the internet has made such agencies redundant. In some ways, it has: information spreads so quickly in so many ways that agencies are no longer a primary source, just one among many. The value they offer is now more about editing and checking to ensure reliability.

In reality, few news websites and aggregators – including those of the major newspapers – could fill their websites without the agency material. Without it, they might have to hire reporters.

I suspect that nobody quite realises the agencies’ value until they don’t have them. Already, TMG’s online editors are talking about needing their own Sapa subscriptions.
But there is another worrying element. Leave a news vacuum and someone will step in: either an international agency or someone with a party political agenda. That will impoverish the flow of local news.

Let’s hope Sapa can remake itself and find new ways to add value. Instead of just cutting costs, it needs to redefine its role for the age of social media.

*This column first appeared in Business Day, 10 October 2013

A leaky ship in a storm – that’s our media

It was telling that one struggled to get a copy of last week’s report of the Print and Digital Media Transformation Task Team (PDMTT). There was nothing online, and no mention of it on the website of the parent body, Print and Ditigal Media SA (PDMSA). Even Google was stumped. I had to find someone on the team to email an individual copy.

As one editor put it to me, “Putting a D in your name (as the PMSA did to become the PDMSA), does not make you digital.”

The report, though, shed light on the battles of the industry to both become digital and transformed. It was one of two such documents in the last week which highlighted – and offered some facts about – the state of our media.

Until now the transformation debate has been loose and woolly, with some wild figures thrown around, the most notorious being a consistent but always dubious claim that there was only 14% black ownership in the print industry.

The PDMTT report contained few surprises, but it did take a thorough and nuanced look at the situation and point to where there had been progress, and which areas could do with more attention. Avoiding the broad-brush generalisations that often hamper media debate, it highlighted where there had been some change (newsroom demographics and, most recently, ownership), where there had not been enough (all the boardrooms, gender representation in senior ranks) and which companies lagged (all of them in some areas, some of them in many areas).

The most valuable recommendation was one that forces a greater transparency on these companies: they should set three-year targets in for change, have a board committee responsible for monitoring and reporting progress and PDMSA should collate and report on industry transformation annually. Smart, effective, realistic proposal, I think, encouraging greater accountability and openness from an industry that demands it of others.

Let’s just hope that the industry body masters digital distribution of its regular reports in the near future.

On other areas – such as the barriers to entry for the community media, and the lack of print and digital media in most of our official languages – the task team contributed broad and vague ideas, such as provincial governments contributing to community media, and supporting print co-ops for smaller media. More work and ideas are needed here.

The team put a great deal of faith in digitalisation to deliver greater media access and change the game. But they paid little attention to arguments that with expensive broadband and paywalls going up on many information sites, the digital divide might get even wider.

The second report, State of the Newsroom 2013 (SoN), came from my own university department. SoN is a pilot project to provide research and stimulate discussion around the massive changes taking place in our news operations, and we hope to do it annually.

This report dealt partly with transformation, examining the changing race and gender demographics of newsrooms, but focussed attention on the digital disruption taking place, and the difficulties most operations are having in moving to new platforms, and finding new revenue streams. These twin storms, along with recent threats to media freedom, account for the description of our news media as a leaky ship, sailing into extreme headwinds of change, but with an adventurous spirit.

One gets a taste of how this is affecting those at the coalface. Working journalists tell of dealing with the relentless demands of social media and how they often view transformation differently from their bosses. Retrenchments and newsroom mergers in most groups makes these challenging times.

Some of the surprises: that older journalists sometimes find it easier to adapt than the younger ones; the SABC editor who said he was troubled by the absence of whites in the newsroom; that editors were encouraging their teams to use social media, but only one newsroom had a set of guidelines around it; that the ANC and SACP complain a lot about the media, but seldom make use of the Ombudsman; that there are far more Code of Condcut complaints in the broadcast industry than in print.

This report, I should hastily say, is available online (

*This column first appeared in Business Day, Oct 3, 2013

Who still takes three pages in the newspaper for their financial statements? The newspaper does, of course

It was no surprise that the Times Media Group’s financial statements were spread over three full pages in all of their newspapers on Monday. After all, if they don’t see the virtue of continuing to publish long and detailed newspaper announcements when it is no longer compulsory, who else will?

But it was also interesting for some of the detail. I can leave the financial elements to greater experts, but there were some intriguing bits for media watchers.

When it comes to editorial matters, CEOs and chairmen usually make a few bland comments about their commitment to finance excellence and training, and suchlike, but are generally at pains to show that they leave matters of content to their editors. Maybe they might comment on media freedom issues or, at a time like this when they are under political pressure, you would expect them to deal with the topical issue of transformation in the media industry. That is what one might expect of a listed media company, particularly when it is led by a newcomer to media.

But this is what appeared this week under the pen of CEO Andrew Bonamour and chair Kuseni Dlamini: “Over the past decade, South African newspaper editors have generally been drawn from a pool of political reporters. This has resulted in increasing bias towards news of political interest, often catering to the political elite at the expense of the more varied interests of readings in our target market. This trend reached its nadir in the run-up to the ANC Mangaung Conerence when tens of thousands of column centimetres were devoted to stories leaked by one or other of the competing factions. Very few of the stories were either accurate or insightful, and even fewer were of interest to ordinary citizens. It is no wonder that this period was characterised by an alarming slump in newspaper circulation overall.”

It is not usual for a CEO and chair to put into their financial results a detailed and blunt critique of the news media, let alone their own titles and editors. They are saying here not just their papers carry too much politics, but that their reports are inaccurate, lack insight and of little interest or use to readers. They may be right, but one has to wonder why they choose to say this in public, rather than in their internal interactions.

I cannot remember such a stinging public rebuke by a newspaper manager of their sitting editors, without qualification or exception.

I wonder if the editors share his view that their myopic obsessions are to blame for the decline in newspaper circulations? It is worth noting that less political titles, such as the Daily Sun, have faired no better in this period.

Bonamour and Dlamini said the seven new group editors (out of their 10 titles) were chosen for their wider experience and with a strict brief to cater to their audiences’ wider interests. In fact, a close look at the appointments suggests that the politicos were promoted from smaller newspapers to bigger ones, or from deputy editorships to editorships. I could see no dramatic infusion of new blood from non-political backgrounds.

So it will be interesting to see if the bosses’ call for an editorial shift has an impact on the coverage of papers like the Sunday Times and Sowetan.

There is an intriguing contradiction in what they say. Here they talk of “an alarming slump” in circulation but in the section of the report dealing with their titles, they say “the core circulation of all our wholly-owned titles has either grown or remained stable”. So which is it?

The trick, of course, comes from comparing figures from quarter to quarter, not from year to year. Choosing what and how to compare is the oldest trick of the statisticians. In fact, all newspaper circulations are down significantly over the last two years.

Bonamour has won praise – and a rising share price – based on bringing strong leadership and clear direction to what was a rudderless ship, cutting costs, closing or selling non-media assets and paying down debt. Some would call it asset stripping, but it is hard to defend the holding of assets that are poor performers and/or non-core.

At the same time, he is investing in media products, such as that part of Business Day/Financial Mail (BDFM) that they did not own and a Ghanaian television operation.

What will be left will be a smaller but stronger media-focused group. The Sunday Times remains the big cash producer, but BDFM is struggling to turn around a loss-making situation. The shift into digital media is tricky and tough, though the report plays this down.

Interestingly, Bonamour is making it clear he is not going to throw money into digital: “TMG’s strategy in this sphere is not to be the pioneer and spend vast sums in technology, platform and infrastructure development, for no real return”. This is in direct contrast to their rival Naspers, which follows Koos Bekker’s spaghetti strategy: “Throw lots of it against the wall, and see what sticks. If it sticks, spend money; if it doesn’t, close it.”

It is worth noting that Naspers shares are around R1 000 each on the basis of some of that spaghetti sticking.

Bonamour says that he wants to be in the attractive area of radio, where the group has always been limited by cross-ownership restrictions, particularly since the Sunday Times is a dominant national title. It is going to be interesting to see how he finds a way in.

And he is expanding the group’s television interests, planning new channels and investing in other African countries, such as Ghana. This is a competitive area at the moment, with expansion plans by all the major players.

There is clearly a new energy in the Times Media Group, though some of it must have been used up in trying to fill out a full two pages of commentary to demonstrate the virtues of listed companies continuing to place detailed financial statements in newspapers. To fill the space, the report goes as far as naming and praising individual columnists (not me, I hasten to say).

Clearly Bonamour is not paid by the word, like us humble columnists.

FXI calls on artists to show solidarity with censored colleague Ayanda Mabulu

Statement from the FXI: The Freedom of Expression Institute is deeply concerned with the decision by the organisers of the Johannesburg Art Fair to withdraw a work by Ayanda Mabulu dealing with the Marikana tragedy and calls on them to reconsider this censorious action.

It is a case of business interests interfering with artistic expression in a way that is deeply undermining of the work and free expression in general. If it is true, as reported, that the work was withdrawn out of sensitivity to sponsors and politicians, then the Fair organisers are doing the work of censors and demeaning what is an important event in Joburg’s art calendar.

After the Sharpeville massacre, many writers and artists were censored by the apartheid state when they attempted to deal with the event and its aftermath. It would be a terrible day if, in the wake of the Marikana tragedy, that this role of restricting our artists was taken up by the private sector.

Art is not art if it is scared of provoking or even offending. And an Art Fair is not serving its purpose of promoting the market for South African creativity if it is fearful of such work. In this short-sighted decision, the organisers are in danger of reducing the Art Fair to an interior decorating exhibition – and that would be most unfortunate.

We hope that fellow artists will show solidarity with Mabulu and that the art-loving public will encourage the Art Fair organisers to reverse their decision.