Government paying for interviews is more common than you think
If anything, this discussion raises questions about the executive producer status afforded to TV personalities
SABC 3 talk show host Anele Mdoda has been raked over the coals following a Daily Maverick article that states that the department of Social Development allegedly paid the SABC R500,000 for Mdoda to interview Bathabile Dlamini on her show, Real Talk With Anele.
The news spread like wildfire, much in the same fashion a phrase would travel in a game of Broken Telephone and somewhere along the line, the narrative became, “government paid Anele half a million to interview the minister.”
Because the show bears her name, it is easy to assume that she has the final say about what happens on the show but sadly (for her, and other media personalities) that is not the case. Which makes it even more unfortunate that she is the sole person standing in the eye of the storm.
It is actually not uncommon for these types of transactions to happen and the article states that fact right at the top:
“The Department of Social Development (DSD) through GCIS buys space [in] the media for the sole purpose of marketing and advertising of the Minister of Social Development, the Department and its agencies. To date, through GCIS the Department has transferred more than R5 million to the SABC for this purpose.”
GCIS stands for Government Communication Information System and refers to the arm of government which provides professional services aimed at “setting and influencing adherence to standards for an effective government communication system; driving coherent government messaging; and proactively communicating with the public about government policies, plans, programmes and achievements.”
In fact, Minister Dlamini’s spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant contacted The Daily Maverick after the story broke and insisted that the DSD, and other government departments, are entitled to pay for interviews to be conducted by the press.
Journalistic ethics dictate that journalists, publications and broadcasters are not supposed to accept money or gifts in exchange for interviews, profiles or any kinds of coverage. Once that occurs, it blurs the lines between news/content and advertising. As such, media practitioners are then required to disclose that the content has been paid for by labelling it (usually as an advertorial/sponsored content).
As a public broadcaster, the SABC understandably works quite closely with government. More closely than it would with independent media houses and broadcasters.
Oliphant further explained this by stating “the SABC is a strategic partner for communication because it has the reach, the platforms and the languages. They have a dedicated sales team to get business from government departments. A standard practice in the media industry…”
She went on to add “we buy space in different magazines and print media and they choose where, how and when to place them. Ours is to provide content and sometimes artwork and interviewees.”
The biggest gripe that most people have with the interview is the fact that Mdoda sought to humanize minister Dlamini and as a result, they thought this to be a very obvious PR exercise. Namely because the DSD is still in the middle of a SASSA scandal (and the subsequent problems that arose after that story broke) and because the interview aired amidst the furore of the 2017 ANC elective conference.
Those who are familiar with Mdoda’s show would know that she conducted the minister’s interview in the same fashion that she conducts all her other interviews. It would therefore not make sense for her to miraculously transform into Deborah Patta and get to the nitty-gritty of what people wish to know about the DSD’s scandals.
Granted, lines were blurred but there is no reason why Mdoda should have to suffer the South African inquisition in order for this conversation to happen.
If anything, what has happened to Mdoda should spark an industry-wide discussion about how media personalities and journalists do not get executive producer status on the shows they attach their names to and therefore have little say in the most important things that go on behind the scenes.
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