Opinionista Faith Muthambi 29 September 2015

Advertising: State’s support of community media should be welcomed

The government’s decision to advertise certain jobs in certain categories below senior management level in Vuk’uzenzele, the government publication freely distributed in all provinces, and in community media is aimed at widening access to job opportunities for those citizens who are already on the fringes of the South African economy. It aims to give them an opportunity to identify a suitable position, apply for it and have the possibility of entering the job market and participating meaningfully in the economy.

Just three copies of the Sunday newspapers per week set you back  by about  R60.00 This is not an insignificant cost for your average employed person. It’s completely prohibitive for the job-seeker who has to balance the demand of looking for work, pay for photocopies and e-mail services and at the same time pay for taxi fare to get to a job interview. In spite of the obvious financial obstacles that this scenario presents to unemployed job-seekers, the government continues to almost exclusively advertise most job opportunities in these mainstream publications. As the government, one of our top priorities is to eradicate the scourge of unemployment; and if it means throwing every possible solution at this problem, it is imperative for us to do so.

That is why we have undertaken to broaden access to government-related job opportunities by advertising in media that is either free or much more affordable than mainstream media. This is the rationale behind the government’s decision to advertise certain jobs in certain categories in Vuk’uzenzele, the government publication that is freely distributed in all provinces, and in community media.

What we seek to do is to advertise government positions that are below senior management level within these publications. The intention is to widen access to job opportunities for those citizens who are already on the fringes of the South African economy, and give them an opportunity to identify a suitable position, apply for it and have the possibility of entering the job market and participating meaningfully in the economy. By so doing, we not only improve the chances of unemployed people finding work, we also contribute towards the revenues of community-based media that daily face the threat of closure because of financial constraints.

It boggles the mind why a rural municipality and provincial government should advertise the positions of administrators, assistant directors and other junior-level positions in national newspapers. It’s well-known that rural communities and small towns are under-serviced when it comes to the distribution of mainstream media. Surely the most pragmatic thing to do is to advertise such positions in community media and provincial newspapers to reach candidates who are not going to incur additional costs of travel for interviews and exorbitant relocation costs.

As the communications minister, information and knowledge sharing are topics that are close to my heart. I must declare, that yes, I have a keen interest in the growth and survival of community-based media. This interest is not misplaced.

A vibrant community media and a small-scale commercial media sector are essential for transforming the content and ownership patterns in South Africa’s media. Community media are the voice and chroniclers of daily life in many areas that are not reached by the big commercial media. Community newspapers and radio stations give a voice to marginalised communities and play an important role in the development of our communities. It is in these media where the young, old, women and those on the periphery of this country can find an outlet for whatever developmental issues they may be facing. Through the use of community media, people are often able to rally around each other and find solutions that are tailored to their specific needs.

As communications minister, I feel very strongly about the sustainability of community media and access to vital information. While spreading government advertising to free community media may not be a panacea for their continued sustainability, it is a step in the right direction to address one of the key challenges faced by community newspapers – declining revenue streams. If this proposed shift in the allocation of the government’s advertising budget helps to dent the country’s unemployment figures and contributes towards the continued sustainability of community media, than surely this is something to be welcomed rather than incur the knee-jerk and undeserved condemnation that I am seeing in the mainstream newspapers. DM

Faith Muthambi is the communications minister.

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