Magnus Heystek
3 minute read
13 Mar 2014
8:00 am

Independent-free, that’s me

Magnus Heystek

Like many people, I have long since stopped my subscription to any of the newspapers in the Independent Newspapers stable – including The Star, during the week, and The Saturday Star.

Magnus Heystek writes about how Independent Newspapers are stuck in old ways. Picture: Desiree Swart.

There has been no halt in the negative slide in circulation figures of most daily newspapers, particularly those of Independent Newspapers – even before control was sold to a local consortium headed by Sekunjalo Investments late last year.

Now several editors, writers and columnists, over the last couple months, were either fired, or opted to take early retirement.

You had the high-profile firing of Alide Dasnois as editor at the Cape Times in December, managing editor, Chris Whitfield took early retirement, along with veteran columnists, Ann Crotty who resigned and Terry Bell who had his contract terminated.

My reasons for cancelling my subscriptions are straightforward. During the week, there was very little new or relevant news that had not been covered by morning newspapers, or the internet offerings of Moneyweb, Bloomberg or other sites.

By the time the evening paper plopped over the fence, I couldn’t find worthwhile or fresh business news to read.

The demise of The Saturday Star in our then-six-member household was for several reasons. Firstly, I was the only one who read newspapers; the others were glued to their PCs or iPads..

The second reason was the sheer bulk (almost 2kg!), mostly taken up by the property advertising supplements, which were thrown away unread.

The third reason was more personal. Years ago, I became disenchanted with the continuous slagging off of the financial services industry, and investment advisors in particular.

Almost every other column was sprinkled with expressions like “unscrupulous advisors”, “perverse incentives”, “rip-offs” or “floggers of financial products”.

There is no question that years ago the investment industry – on both a corporate and advisory level – needed cleaning up.

But that’s yesterday’s battle.

Today, the investment industry is a much better place, with far stricter regulation and compliance. Johan Van Zyl, Group CEO

of Sanlam, was lamenting on SAfm last week that his company has 50 compliance officers compared with two when he joined ten years ago.

So it was the other day I saw a copy of Personal Finance lying around and I read it.

Not much had changed.

The words “financial floggers” or “product floggers” were still used liberally throughout. These are such degrading words and are used to denigrate and insult as much as possible.

Yet, I am often approached by the marketing/sales divisions of the Independent Newspaper Group to advertise in the business sections and I always refuse politely.

My reply to the one particular request for advertising in Personal Finance recently was, in my opinion, fairly detailed:

“I discussed your request for advertising with my partners and there was consensus that they are not comfortable using Personal Finance as an advertising medium. The primary reason was the negative feeling about your columnists and the continued attacks on the remuneration structure in the financial services industry.

“There was mention that Personal Finance and its columnist never write about the remuneration structures in (or malpractices) of the estate agency industry in South Africa, primarily due to the fact that it is the major contributor to your advertising revenue.

“While I was employed at The Star as an investment journalist it was a condition of employment that we were never allowed to write anything negative about estate agents or the property industry. Seen against this background do we not see any prospect of using Personal Finance as an advertising medium”.

I am all for freedom of the press but the press also has to understand that there are consequences to what they write. You cannot continue to persecute an industry ad nauseam, but then expect the self-same industry to advertise in return for the ‘pleasure’ of being slagged off week after week. This is lunacy!