Opinionista Esmaré Weideman 1 October 2015

Media24: We’re not as ‘white male’ as you think

Over the next two weeks, key political players are going to be taking a long, hard look at the South African media industry. First, the South African Communist Party will be holding its media transformation summit, where media companies are bound to get something close to a public flogging. A few days later, the African National Congress will be holding its national general council, at which the ruling party will be discussing ways to speed up changes to the control and ownership of South African media. Here's an update on what we, as the country’s largest media group, have been doing about change.

One of the difficulties with being the country’s biggest publisher is that you’re generally the first in the firing line.

At Media24, we accept that this goes with the territory. We also acknowledge that the industry still has a long way to go before it can claim to be truly representative of South African society, and that it is correct to focus on the need for transformation.

But we believe it would be wrong to ignore the tremendous progress that has already been made – particularly in the last two years since industry body Print and Digital Media SA (PDMSA) initiated an investigation into exactly what needs to change, and how it should be changed.

Although PDMSA shied away from a collective response to transformation, that has not stopped Media24 from pushing ahead with its own transformation agenda, in line with the recommendations made in the Report on the Transformation of Print and Digital Media published in September 2013.

We recently completed an internal review of our progress against the transformation targets set by the Print and Digital Media Transformation Task Team (PDMTTT) – and are delighted that we have met or exceeded most of them.

The five areas which have been addressed are:

Ownership: The PDMTTT recommended that “all members of the PDMSA must individually meet the general scorecard ownership target of 25% plus one or the full 20 points within three years”. Media24 is now 45.8% black owned through black ownership attributable to Naspers and Welkom Yizani – the biggest black economic empowerment share offer in the print media industry, which gives 107,000 black South Africans a stake in the business. Welkom Yizani makes up 15% and the rest flows through from Naspers.

Management control: Media24 has exceeded the PDMTTT recommendation that at least half of board participants must be black, and half must be women. Although the task team set a three-year timeline for this, within two years Media24 has been able to achieve 60% black representation and 50% female representation on its board.

Skills development: The State of the Newsroom South African 2014 Report, published by the University of the Witwatersrand, points out that Media24 spent more money on training than any other local media company, including the SABC. Of the R69.65-million spent by the entire industry, Media24 spent R35.7-million. The company spent 70% (R24.5-million) of its training budget on black employees. Media24 has also launched an extensive digital media training programme for independent publishers, as recommended by the PDMTTT, by entering into a working relationship with the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP) to provide digital skills to independent publishers across all nine provinces. Media24 conceptualised and designed the courses which aim to meet the needs of AIP members. Media24 also sponsored a group of 12 independent publishers to attend a week-long course in newspapers and digital media management at Rhodes University.

Employment equity: Despite serious cost pressure and a 10% reduction in staff, Media24 has increased the level of black managers on its executive committee from 15% in 2012 to 40% in 2015, with female representation at 47%. Notwithstanding the transformation in the leadership of Media24 it remains a challenge to drive employment equity in the junior and middle management ranks. To this end, Media24 has invested heavily in transformative initiatives in talent management and recruitment. One such example is the Apex Future Leaders programme, a two-year executive management programme launched in April 2014 to provide talented black candidates with academic training as well as practical business exposure to prepare them for senior positions in the company. Two are already editors of flagship titles.

Socio-economic development: In response to the TTT’s recommendation that media owners should sponsor digital programmes for (black) learners to expose them to “careers in the digital media space”, Media24 launched the country’s first-ever digital school news network, offering free training to budding school journalists nationwide. Called WeCan24, it is now the company’s flagship corporate social investment project. The initiative offers free training to learners and teachers nationwide as well as a free online school news platform for user-generated content that aims to train citizen journalists around the country. Nationwide roll-out and training began in June 2015 and already 266 teachers and 667 learners have received training in line with Media24’s objective of “creating a culture of citizen journalism among young South Africans” and inspiring a generation of young people with integrity, people who are innovative, and informed, to become citizen journalists.

In conclusion, we remain concerned that some of our industry partners do not see the merits of an industry-wide transformation agenda. We still believe a collective effort would have the required impact, and will continue to do what we can within PDMSA to ensure that transformation continues, and there is greater transparency around change.

We also believe the conversation needs to continue – not just at political gatherings or in media boardrooms, but across all sectors of society. A diverse South Africa should get the diverse media it deserves – through our own initiatives, and through initiatives such as the Media Development & Diversity Agency and the Association of Independent Publishers, both of which we fully support.

In the meantime, as Media24, we take the responsibility for transformation within our own company, and within our various news platforms, very seriously and are not resting on our laurels. We will continue to walk the talk. DM

Esmaré Weideman is the CEO of Media24.


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