Former Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) director-general (DG) Mzwanele Manyi has claimed that the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) is “run by” a “media cartel”.
Manyi made the claim while giving testimony at the commission of inquiry into state capture on Thursday on why the GCIS spent R6.3 million in advertising on the now defunct The New Age (TNA) newspaper.
He said TNA posture towards government had been balanced and that the publication understood the importance of disseminating government information.
Evidence leader at the commission advocate Kate Hofmeyr said last week the ABC entered an affidavit at the inquiry which indicated that TNA was never its member nor was it accredited, adding that Manyi had previously testified that the publication relied on its own auditors to provide circulation figures.
Manyi told the chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that he would have not be concerned if the GCIS’s media buying department relied on non-accredited circulation figures to support TNA.
“Firstly, what people need to understand [is] that this ABC is something run by, call it, a media cartel, so to speak. In South Africa, there is only the big four in media. So these are the people that do this and this thing actually, chair, has got serious implications for those that want to get into the media space because what happens, chair, they sit there, the big four, your Tiso Blackstar … and your Caxton and your Naspers and there’s the Independent group as well, so its four of these groups, they basically run the show.
“So what they do with these audited figures of theirs, that figure becomes something that a media buying house uses to decide where to place ads and so on and depending on what comes out of there, also it talks to the price, the rate cut that they charge for that particular advert.
“So, what this thing does is that if you are a new player coming in, you don’t have enough of the circulation to be able to be a member of this elite group and now you’ve got media buyers that are sitting and all they want to deal with is the elite and yet you’ve got a government position that wants to broaden [the media industry],” Manyi said.
ABC’s general manager Charles Beiles confirmed that TNA has never been a member of the bureau.
“You may be surprised to learn that after Mr Manyi took over The New Age, we received communication that the New Age wished to join the ABC, but nothing further transpired,” Beiles said.
In 2017, Manyi’s media company took over the Guptas’ TNA and television station ANN7. The two media outlets are now defunct.
Beiles the bureau has a bi-partite agreement between advertisers and marketers on the one hand and publishers on the other and that its board is made up of eight members, four of which represent advertisers and marketers and four representing publishers.
“Although the ABC circulation data is a ‘currency’ for advertisers and publishers to buy and sell advertising, it is one of several tools that advertisers and media agencies use to place advertisements,” Beiles said.
He said the bureau provided two certificates to its members, including a grassroots certification provided to start-up, township-based, and small rural publications who required certification for advertisers but could not afford the other option, which was full certification.
“The ABC consists of members across the spectrum from small individual publishers to the large groups. Our membership’s circulation ranges from under 1,000 to 400,000.
“All members enjoy the same attention – the ABC does not discriminate between small and large members.
“All members have access to the data for comparison purposes. All members are able to make representations regarding changes to our reporting standards, which would then be carefully considered with regard to the best interests of the organisation and its members.”
Watch Manyi’s comments on the ABC courtesy of the SABC: