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Groundhog what? The Loerie Awards chairperson responds

Boniswa Pezisa is the Chairperson of The Loerie Awards.

Earlier, Mandy de Waal wrote that marketing blogger Herman Manson had been denied accreditation to the Loerie Awards evenings. The story became not so much a storm in a teacup as a tempest in a teapot, culminating in a heated debate about the nature of censorship. But that’s not quite where things stand – Manson just wasn’t that steady a PR investment.

The Loerie Awards representatives do not generally respond to specific reports by the media. But a recent report by Mandy de Waal makes some points that we feel compelled to address. While we understand that this is an opinion piece under Daily Maverick’s Opinionista banner, which essentially means that the author’s opinion is not necessarily shared by the publication and that the author is not required to substantiate her views unduly, the ‘facts’ which formed the basis of the opinion were misrepresented – and some things were claimed which we feel we must contest.

The Daily Maverick is an influential and credible media platform and we would hate to think that readers might form an opinion of a high-profile event that injects up to R100 million into the local economy based on one instance of axe-grinding which many might well confuse with “good” journalism. As we are all well aware, media freedom is an issue that evokes hugely emotional responses in this country. The fact is that many of the follow up questions directed at The Loerie Awards have taken “Groundhog Day at the Loeries” as gospel rather than opinion, and that is why we are now responding to the allegations made by De Waal. 

(Disclaimer: in an industry famous for getting the point across in thirty seconds, we’re going to need a bit more time than that to respond. Thank you for understanding.)

On August 14, the Daily Maverick published an opinion piece in which De Waal reported that marketing blogger Herman Manson had been denied accreditation to the Loerie Awards evenings scheduled to take place in Cape Town on September 22 and 23. In the second paragraph, De Waal quoted the City of Cape Town’s Grant Pascoe, who said: “We would not stand for any journalist to be banned from any event that we are involved in,” thus cleverly establishing in the mind of the reader that Manson had been “banned” from the Loerie Awards. 

De Waal puts forward her stance most succinctly in the comment she wrote below the original piece in response to a reader who had commented that he failed to see why the failure of Manson to get free tickets to the awards amounted to censorship:

“Censorship is a fairly broad concept and ranges from outright silencing to trying to control the output of the media. The Loeries blackballed Manson in 2010. They are now trying to limit his freedoms. Whatever way you look at it, they’re trying to control his output in the rather naive view of ‘protecting’ the Loeries image. 

Strangely enough their apparent attitude echoes what’s going down in government. It is akin to Manyi’s ‘let’s only have the good news’. The management of the Loeries needs to mature in terms of its attitude toward the media. Let’s hope they do just that.”

In order to address the points made by De Waal, we’ll summarise the premise of her argument as the following:

1.Herman Manson did not receive accreditation for the awards evening; this amounts to a limitation of his freedoms and an attempt by The Loerie Awards to “control his output”. 

2. The Loerie Awards representatives are trying to ‘protect’ their image by not giving Manson accreditation to the awards evenings.

3. A contrast can be drawn between The Loerie Awards and the City of Cape Town, which allows even critical journalists to attend city events in the interests of promoting democracy; the attitude of The Loerie Awards to Herman Manson is an echo of Jimmy Manyi’s attitude to the media. 

4. This is not merely an issue of a “good journalist” and a private company not seeing eye to eye, but a far more serious matter of censorship and the restriction of media freedom.

Our response is as follows:

1.Manson has not been “banned” from the Loeries. His freedoms have not been limited; he is free to say whatever he likes about the awards. He is not being censored in any way. Manson has media accreditation for the judge’s seminars and access to all information on the winners as soon as they are announced. 

He will have access to all the information he needs to report on the winners and there is nothing to stop him from writing, again, as he did in his report on last year’s event: “For many, it will come as a relief to no longer be held hostage by award success as the sole arbiter of agency and industry respect.” (Which was news to us, since we’ve never been aware of industry respect being held “hostage” by anyone, least of all us.)

In actual fact, Manson has been receiving all the Loeries media releases throughout the course of the year and has not written anything about our programme. He has not written on the Travelling Exhibition; he has not written on our scholarship programme in which we find talented scholars from a disadvantaged background and offer them a full scholarship including fees, living expenses, travel allowance, mentorship, internship, and employment within the creative industry on completion of their studies. He has mentioned the Loeries twice this year on his blog: the first time to note the creative theme of this year’s awards (“Exercise your right to creative freedom”) and the second to complain about the media accreditation that he has received. 

2. Does The Loerie Awards need to ‘protect’ its image by not giving Herman Manson free tickets to the awards evenings? Let’s consider a few facts. 

In 2011, The Loerie Awards hosted 113 accredited members of the media, including 40 trade media. According to Newsclip, we generated R36 million worth of equivalent advertising value, a 58% increase over the previous year. (Reporting on the issue, Manson wrote on his own blog, Mark Lives: “There are but a handful of journalists in South Africa covering the advertising beat. You can probably count them on two hands.” This means he’ll actually need eight hands to count them all.) 

So it’s safe to say that we don’t need to ‘protect’ our image. In fact, if we’d wanted to ‘protect’ our image from Manson, the easiest way to do so would have been to give him tickets and leave it at that. The decision to give Manson accreditation for the Loeries seminar and full access to the media database, while not providing access to the awards ceremonies, was based on his limited coverage of the Loeries in the past as well as his proposed limited coverage for this event. Manson himself wrote on his media application: “I intend covering the Loeries seminar. There will also be a post-Loreie [sic] event story. Winners follow up depending on winning work.” It was based on this application that his media accreditation was decided. 

Not everyone who applies for accreditation gets tickets to the awards evenings, which are in very high demand. Last year we had a waiting list of over 200 people wanting tickets. 

3. The comparison of The Loerie Awards, a private company, to the City of Cape Town, which is accountable to ratepayers and citizens, is completely spurious. As we’ve made clear, Manson has not been denied access to the information he requires in order to report on the awards – that is, the judge’s seminar and a detailed list of winners. 

In fact it is common practice for organisations not to invite everyone in the media to a gala dinner or awards evening, particularly not one where tickets are as in demand as they are for the Loeries.  Motor vehicle manufacturers or cellphone brands do not accredit every single member of the media who wants to come to the launch of a new model. Does this mean that bloggers who want to go and see a new car but don’t get an invitation are now being censored? 

Then there is the ridiculous comparison of The Loerie Awards to Jimmy Manyi, who threatened to withdraw government advertising amidst the threat of a media tribunal as well as the Protection of State Information Bill. To suggest that Manson’s freedoms are being restricted because he didn’t get free tickets to attend an awards evening is an insult to all of those journalists who could face jail time because they report on information the government doesn’t want you to know. 

4. In his own response to the matter, Manson has suggested that The Loerie Awards is using awards evening tickets to censor journalists:

“The Board of The Loeries, the Creative Circle and Mr Human need to dispel any notion that media accreditation depends on journalists towing [sic] the organisational line and writing sunshine journalism. Failure to do so creates pressure on journalists to censor themselves, and leaves accredited journalists in an untenable position which renders anything they write suspect, through no action of their own.”

Could we have a bit of context here? We’re talking about advertising awards. Reports around the Loeries last year dealt with David Hasselhoff (one of two MCs, along with Riaan Cruywagen) and the work that won the awards. Not corruption, as is the case with all too many other media stories. Not mismanagement. Not incompetence; the responses in the media to Loeries 2011, included, “Unbelievable Loeries sizzle,” in the New Age; “The Hoff rocks the Loeries,” in Heat magazine; “Loeries nou op nuwe vlak,” in Beeld; “Birds of a feather flocked together for a fabulous, fast paced Loerie weekend,” in the Saturday Star; “The new format for the presentation evenings was an undoubted success,” in Finweek; and ACA CEO Odette van der Haar commented, “best Loeries ever.” Amongst all this positive reporting, Manson’s post-event coverage made no mention whatsoever of the actual award ceremony and only covered the winning work – which his accreditation enables him to do again this year. 

In fact, the Loerie Awards injects up to R100 million into the local economy according to calculations by Professor Kamilla Swart, with a very small team of extremely hard-working people. We exist primarily to improve standards of South African creativity in brand communication. In July this year, Fast Company reported that there was solid evidence from Coca-Cola and other brands that award-winning communication sells more product, so it’s in the national interest to promote better creative performance. So while The Loerie Awards is about celebrating creativity, we have an important economic role to play too. 

De Waal and Manson are free to write whatever they like about the advertising industry in general and The Loerie Awards in particular. But the fact remains that a biased opinion piece – which happened to run on an influential media platform with a reputation for insightful reporting – is now being confused elsewhere as fact. In the process, this has created an inaccurate and unfair perception of a well-run and much admired event devoted to celebrating creativity in a country that, more than ever, needs new and better ideas. 

Thank you for giving us the space to put forward our case. DM

* Boniswa Pezisa is the Chairperson of The Loerie Awards


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