It was with a little amusement, but mostly disappointment, that we read the editorial in The Namibian newspaper last Friday, in which it flails about like a drowning man and rails hysterically against a recent Cabinet directive to channel State and parastatal advertising towards State-owned media outlets.
The Namibian has historically been outspoken against real and perceived wasteful government spending and this Cabinet directive should be seen as little more than a coherent response to the constant public demand for a reduction in wasteful spending.
In answering the tearful hysteria of The Namibian and others, we would like to offer a reasoned response and make the case for thrift in State spending without falling prey to the condescending abuse and name-calling our critics make themselves guilty of.
The Namibian has over the years – and justifiably so – often admonished the State-owned media, including New Era, of supposedly failing to cover our costs, of failing to break even or to generate a profit and of relying too heavily on government subsidies to finance operations.
We do take the criticism to heart.
In contrast, The Namibian boasts of how effective they are in the market, as the oldest English daily in the country. Yet it would not be wrong to say the red top has been able to achieve such hegemony over the past three decades partly by capturing millions of dollars in advertising revenue from public institutions.
In what may be a Freudian slip, The Namibian admitted on Friday that their frustration with the Cabinet directive to close the taps is mainly about the effect it will have on their purse.
They attempted to dress up this base consideration though with pretensions to media ethics and the broader public interest.
“Let us admit,” they wrote, “many of us, especially independent news organisations, would be very worried about the Cabinet decision to divert advertising to government-controlled media, because it could hurt our purse.”
This admission is sufficiently telling to reveal their main concern. It is not about principles or about media ethics, it is about profit.
That is the bottom line.
The private press barons have become utterly addicted to the easy money. Now that the constant supply is threatened they are outraged, mad as hell and hysterical as a crack addict whose dealer has left town.
For the record, we have never requested privileged access to public information, as such information should be made public by any and every means possible.
Our commitment though is for that information to be reflected accurately, which is not always a priority for our friends in the private media.
We, however, agree that government must cut wasteful expenditure. And at this time when every other department and ministry is required to tighten their belts, including health and education, why should the press be any exception?
It has become a common refrain in the editorial pages of The Namibian over the years that many of the poor suffer from an undue ‘sense of entitlement’ – from students demanding free education, to hopeless young people born in exile and seeking help from the government for which their parents shed blood.
Yet, here we have a case of the wealthy press barons and the lords of life insisting they are entitled to a permanent ‘soft subsidy’ in the form of constant advertising revenue from State institutions. Is this not an undue sense of entitlement – by those already privileged and empowered?
Government has no obligation to prop up the private interests of the local press barons.
Here is an example of government attempting to cut wasteful expenditure at a time when all other departments are asked to do more with less, but the capitalist press is more concerned about profits than their professed aim of pushing government to reduce wasteful spending.
By compelling the State departments and parastatals to firstly use government news agencies as an outlet for advertising, Cabinet is merely responding to the public outcry to trim the fat and is simply directing public resources to the sustenance of public institutions – as it should be.
It makes no sense for the State to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the privately owned press every year, while failing to support its own public media houses with advertising – with the end result that the public media institutions (which are not commercial in nature like their private competitors) have to be bolstered yearly through direct subsidies by the taxpayer.
The decision to redirect government and parastatal advertising primarily through New Era and the NBC should have several positive effects by 1) reducing the reliance of public media institutions on State subsidies, 2) enabling public media houses to cover costs and therefore carry out their mandate more effectively, and 3) reducing the costs of official advertising by offering better prices and more conducive terms than the private sector.
Closing the taps on the ‘soft subsidies’ to the private sector press provides them the perfect opportunity to prove to all and sundry how effective they are in the market and how easily they can cope without the benefit of State largesse in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars annually in advertising revenue.
This Cabinet directive aims to save vast amounts of money by redirecting scarce resources to public media institutions, such as NBC and New Era, and is thus a highly commendable move that should be applauded by all, especially those who have made a career out of criticising wasteful spending in government.