Monday, June 2, 2014


Dear Consumers,
         I promised at the end of my post headed RIDICULOUS ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY (Ridiculousthat I would tell you whether or not the ASA’s close ally the Print & Digital Media SA (PDMSA) is just as ridiculous.
         Well it turns out it is.
         So the ASA is in equally bad company.
         The PDMSA too pretends that it sticks to various impressive principles but when it comes to dealing with one of it own that clearly has a very warped idea of morality, it won’t take any action.
         It claims to represent more than 700 newspaper and magazine titles. Its members groups are Times Media, Caxton & CTP, Independent Newspapers, Media 24, Mail & Guardian – all the big boys in the South African industry – and the Association of Independent Publishers.
         So you would expect it to set a shining example.   
Its website talks about its commitment to promote high standards and integrity, but put to the test this turns out to be hogwash.

After my complaints to the ASA about the unbelievable adverts in The Citizen newspaper (Unbelievable ads) were dismissed out of hand even though the ASA had ruled against similar ads in the past, Leo Grobler, its Manager, Dispute Resolutions, continued the ridiculous trend by suggesting I should contact the PDMSA.
The ASA he said, did not have the power to stop newspapers carrying this sort of ad, but the PDMSA would have some say over the business practices of publications.
The Citizen belongs to the Caxton & CTP Group, so you would think it would abide by what the PDMSA stands for.
In an email to Hoosain Karjieker, the President of the PDMSA I asked if his organisation had the power to take action against its members that do not maintain its standards. I told him I was asking this because a paper that belongs to one of your members carries advertisements offering miraculous remedies and the like that are so outlandish that even the editor of the paper agrees the ads are not believable. But it doesn’t stop the paper carrying lots of them on a daily basis, while on its editorial side under a Code of Conduct heading it tells readers it is ‘committed to report news truthfully in accordance with the highest standards of journalism.’
Karjieker replied that he had given this to the Chief Executive (Ingrid Louw) who has been dealing with a few of these issues of late and would revert back to me. He still passed the buck even further by telling me that there is indeed the Advertising Standards Authority that has a process where complaints of this nature can be laid.
In a subsequent email I told Karjieker I wanted his comments for a post I was writing about my unsuccessful attempt to get the ASA to consider my complaints about The Citizen’s ads. I pointed out that The Citizen was owned by Caxton, which is a member of the PDMSA, and that his association claimed to be committed to promoting highs standards and to internationally recognised good governance practices
I submitted that what The Citizen was doing complied with neither of these ideals.
Ingrid Louw the PDMSA CEO then explained why they would do nothing to stop these ads. She said the PDMSA supported two industry mechanisms to standardise and regulate issues that are editorial in nature. These were the Press Council that has a Press Code that is guided by public interest and deals with reporting, the conduct of journalists and complaints.  The other one was the ASA that dealt with advertising in the print media, amongst others.
The PDMSA and its members subscribe to both codes, she went on.
Then she too joined the ASA’s realm of the ridiculous.
She explained that her organisation had no say over the content of newspapers and magazines as this was covered by the two bodies she had already mentioned.
It is critical, she said, that as media owners we are not seen to be infringing on editorial independence as these decisions on what content to included and or not to include is taken by the editors.
That’s an image that is constantly being perpetuated by newspapers and their owners when there is no question of owners allowing editors a completely free rein. In most cases the owners set the standards by which editors must abide even to the extent of which political party a paper must support.
She wandered further into the ridiculous by telling me, There are also other constitutional considerations that must be taken into account. For example the Constitution provides for freedom of expression which also includes freedom of commercial speech. This could possibly be further explored with the assistance of a constitutional expert.
She added that there were many layers to this discussion and she followed her President in passing the buck once again by suggesting that a discussion be held with the South African Editors Forum who could address it as a strategic industry imperative.

What were clearly unbelievable adverts from people masquerading as doctors, professors and the like had now become a strategic industry matter that nobody in the industry was prepared to make a judgement on.
My email to Louw said, Your reply is the copout that I expected. In my experience most newspaper editors make out that advertising has nothing to do with them. The PDMSA is a joke if it claims to have various high ideals but it won’t get its members to stick to them. What sort of morality is that?
 But that’s what newspapers do. They are a dismal failure at practising what they preach. And when you suggest that carrying dubious ads in a paper should be protected under the Constitution’s provision for freedom of speech you are going into the same dubious area as the ads themselves.
What you have told me is made even more ironic by the fact that your President is also the CEO of the Mail &Guardian, a paper that has made a considerable name for itself for exposing the wrong doings of others.
The PDMSA’s hypocrisy is such that while it refuses to do anything about those ads it continues its proud association with awards that are in keeping with our commitment to promoting high standards and integrity within the print and digital media.
These include the Nat Nakasa Award, presented by the PDMSA, the SA National Editors Forum and the Niemen Society.
The judges look for:
·      Integrity and fearlessness (both characteristics of the Dearjon - letter).
·      Tenaciousness in the face of insurmountable obstacles (another Dearjon - letter attribute).
·      Courage in making information available to the people of South Africa (what the Dearjon - letter is doing when nobody else will).

That’s the Media for you. It has set up these self regulating bodies which it hides behind to give it an air of respectability.

So don’t expect it to do anything about advertisements that con, poor unsophisticated readers, when these are worth a tidy sum to the paper concerned, in this case The Citizen.
Jon, The Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman and Consumer Watchdog

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