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Coughing up for breakfast

The trouble with conceited children is that they often make the most noise and prove the most troublesome, without giving much pleasure back in return. In newspaper terms, an example is the launch of The Citizen newspaper in the 1970s. Unbeknown to its readers, this tabloid was secretly funded with taxpayers’ money and published with the sole intention of bolstering the image of the National Party.

When this disgraceful abuse of taxpayers’ money was exposed – by its competitors – the funding was withdrawn and The Citizen was left to compete in a crowded market on even terms. That newspaper market today is even more crowded, and as with newspapers around the world, the South African press is battling tough economic times and the challenges of the digital era.

Which is why it must be such a pleasure for the latest new kid on the block, The New Age, to have such a flow of income from government parastatals in the form of sponsorships and advertising.

The New Age complains it is being given a rough ride by its competitors. These perfidious critics rely, unlike the new guy, on audited circulation figures to attract advertising. And they are not the beneficiaries of parastatal largesse in the form of multimillion-rand sponsorships of breakfast functions for a newspaper whose owners are friendly with the ANC in general, and its boss Jacob Zuma in particular.

However, it can’t be easy to try and break into a tough newspaper market, on top of which critics accuse you of being a lick spittle publication launched with the sole intention of bolstering the image of the ruling party. With accusations that there has been a disgraceful abuse of taxpayer’s money – exposed by its competitors – a request has been made for the Auditor General to investigate The New Age’s funding.

In the meantime, it is fair to say publication of independently audited circulation figures would be welcomed. Then at least taxpayers would know what kind of bang for their buck they are getting.

And if the breakfasts are worth it.

Makhudu Sefara is the editor of The Star. This is an editorial piece published in The Star today.

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