Previously Prime Meridian Direct (PMD) Prime Meridian Direct

Prime Meridian Direct (PMD) Values Independent Journalism In SA And Wants To Collaborate With Journalists

PMD want to work with journalists in SA.

The recent articles about Prime Meridian Direct in the Sowetan newspaper made us reflect on and celebrate South African journalism as a whole. We not only value it but are proud of their excellent independent journalism throughout the years. The likes of Hellopeter, online forums and newspapers help us all with regard to freedom of expression as South African consumers. When it comes to the insurance industry, consumers must always be able to openly complain about bad service or rejected claims.

How good is South African journalism?

Prime Meridian Direct applauds the fact that for roughly two centuries South Africa has been blessed with a robust, independent, reliable and professional free press and journalism. Naturally, there were and will always be exceptions to this.

The first privately owned newspaper, the SA Commercial Advertiser, was published in 1824. Editors Thomas Pringle and John Fairbairn had to fight the government of the day who initially resisted the birth of a free press in our country. The first private Dutch language newspaper, De Zuid-Afrikaan was published in 1830 and the first private black African language newspaper Umshumayeli Wendaba was published in 1837. The first private Afrikaans language newspaper, Die Afrikaanse Patriot was published in 1876.

Independent journalism and free press have enormous value in maintaining freedom and democracy

Since those early times, South Africa has enjoyed the presence of a highly regarded, courageous and opinionated press. For over 40 years, the apartheid government tried to gag it, using legislation, harassment and imprisonment, culminating in the States of Emergency in the late 1980s. Through all of this, South Africa’s newspapers and journalists defiantly and dauntlessly built a reputation for reporting the news as it actually occurred, and not as the government wanted it reported.

What is the current situation?

Currently there are as many as 23 daily and 25 weekly major urban newspapers in South Africa. In addition, there are around 400 regional and community newspapers (like the Sowetan), as well as a range of general and specialised news websites on a par with the best in the world.

Today, about 10.5 million South Africans read the urban daily newspapers every day, with around 17,5 million people (50% of South Africans over the age of 15) now regularly reading newspapers of every description.

Freedom of the press since 1994

With the birth of democracy in 1994, South Africa’s newspapers were freed from all restrictions, thereby further enhancing their reputation for unbiased, unmassaged or uncensored reporting. The country’s Constitution, adopted in 1996, explicitly protects the freedom of the press in its Bill of Rights. Section 16 states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes:

  • Freedom of the press and other media
  • Freedom to receive or impart information or ideas
  • Freedom of artistic creativity
  • Academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

A boom in independent journalism and free press

South Africa’s media industry experienced a growth spurt in 2002, when the country’s first tabloid newspaper was launched. Responding to a market created by the steadily improving living conditions for many previously poor South Africans, Media24 launched the Daily Sun. Aimed at “blue collar workers”, it filled an enormous gap in the market and 14 years later it has over 5,5 million readers.

The Daily Sun’s success led to other tabloids being launched, including the Afrikaans-language Son and the Daily Voice, which both target working class readers in the Western Cape. The newspaper landscape was further redefined by the success of vernacular language newspapers, such as Isolezwe and Ilanga, which are both Zulu language newspapers.

There are numerous small, independent media houses, which publish magazines and business journals, but the SA newspaper industry is dominated by four main players: Media24, Independent Newspapers, the Times Media Group, and Caxton CTP. TNA Media and M&G Media complete most of the rest of the picture.

Media 24 claims to be Africa’s leading publishing company, and its operations include newspapers, magazines, digital businesses, printing, and distribution companies. Their majority shareholder is Naspers.

Independent Newspapers is home to some of the country’s oldest titles. The group has 18 newspapers in its stable. Irish-owned Independent News & Media sold its South African business to a consortium led by Sekunjalo Investments in 2013. In terms of the deal, the Government Employees Pension Fund acquired a substantial stake in the company.

Times Media Group changed its name from Avusa and promised a focus on digital platforms. It owns BDFM, which publishes the Sowetan, Business Day, the Financial Mail, and the Sunday Times, South Africa’s biggest newspaper. It has a magazine division and holds stakes in the Home Channel and Summit TV.s

Caxton CTP has its primary focus on commercial printing. It is the owner of The Citizen newspaper as well as 13 magazines and a large stable of community newspapers, many of which cover the smaller cities and towns in which the other big media houses have no presence. The company is also involved in packaging, stationery manufacture and book printing.s

TNA Media was established in 2010 and owns The New Age, South Africa’s newest daily newspaper, as well as TV station African News Network 7 (ANN7). Unlike most other newspaper companies in South Africa, it is privately owned largely by the Gupta family, with Bennett Coleman & Co (publishers of the Times of India) as an investor and strategic partner.

Mail & Guardian Media publish the weekly Mail & Guardian newspaper. This company is 87.5% owned by Zimbabwean entrepreneur Trevor Ncube’s Newtrust Company Botswana Ltd. Minority shareholders make up the rest.

South Africa’s publishing success – what is the main reason?

The primary reason for all this publishing success in South Africa is the centuries-old trust that has been built up among citizens. Readers know that stories are habitually checked against at least two reliable sources prior to publication. This means that news reports are by and large accurate and seldom sensationalised. Parties about whom articles are written are asked to comment before publication, as are any other sources involved. For this reason, South Africans have a high regard for the reliability of what they read in their press. It is rare indeed that journalists are so unprofessional that they publish articles without properly checking all relevant sources and accurately reporting all known facts.

It takes many good deeds to build a reputation, but just one bad deed to ruin it

It is regrettable that occasionally the odd journalist, knowingly misreports or intentionally leaves out important facts from an article. As Benjamin Franklin once observed “It takes many good deeds to build a reputation, but just one bad deed to ruin it.” Nevertheless, we cannot and will not paint all journalists with the same brush. South Africa’s press simply cannot afford to have its proud history and centuries-old reputation tarnished by the reckless conduct of a few journalists.

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