Durban - The eThekwini Municipality is tired of the bad press it receives. Its executive council on Tuesday gave the municipality’s communication unit the go-ahead to spend R163 000 for the mayor and city manager to meet the editors and journalists of media organisations in Durban and Johannesburg in an effort to “nurture a strong relationship”.
Mayor James Nxumalo and city manager S’bu Sithole plan to visit journalists of 15 mainstream newspapers – including the Daily News – community newspapers and various radio and news television bureaus operating in Durban.
Their “secondary targets” include the journalists and editors of News24, Sunday Times, New Age, The Sun Group, Mail and Guardian, Business Day, ANN7 and ENCA in Johannesburg. A budget of R60 000 was approved for the Johannesburg visits. Most of the Johannesburg news organisations have offices in Durban.
A budget of R73 000 was requested to meet the reporters of the Durban bureaus of national newspapers, community newspapers and “KZN bloggers” at venues that include the ICC, Moses Mabhida Stadium and the Sky venue at the Maharani hotel.
No budget had been requested for meetings with the Independent group, which includes the Daily News, Mercury, Isolezwe and Sunday Tribune.
The request raised the ire of opposition councillors who sit on the executive committee.
The DA’s caucus leader, Zwakele Mncwango, called the communications unit report and request for funding “unbelievable”.
“The only way you are going to get the media to start talking good about the municipality is if you get a clean audit,” Mncwango said. “You can’t do it by going to meet the media and then expect them to write good things about you. The reason there are (negative) reports is because the communications department takes two days to respond to media requests,” Mncwango said to heckles from ANC councillors who asked him how he knew that.
“It’s because you feed them negative stories,” ANC councillor Nondumiso Cele charged.
Mncwango said it would be better if the city’s leadership did an “introspection” on how they dealt with the media before they spent money on meeting it.
“The media will write what they want and it does not matter if you meet them and you can’t expect them to write only good stories,” he said.
Responding, Nxumalo said he was surprised that Mncwango knew so much about the workings of the media, suggesting he was acting as its spokesman.
DA councillor Heinz De Boer, a former journalist, said that the city should consider the media’s strict deadlines and try work around them if they were to improve relations.
“Love them or hate them they are going to write what they want,” he said.
ANC councillor Fawzia Peer said the media needed to be transformed and “democratised”.
“We can build 1 000 houses and you won’t see anything (in the papers) but only the negative,” she said.
Deputy city manager for governance, Sipho Cele, said it was wrong to think the intention of the meetings was to get the media to write good stories.
“It is about building and cementing relationships.”
According to a report compiled by the city’s head of communications, Tozi Mthethwa, media coverage of the municipality over the past year was positive. “Even with negative stories the voice of the municipality is always represented,” the report said.
“This represents a departure from the previously non-responsive environment especially because the media was of the view that the municipality was not transparent about its affairs. This perception led to the increase in negative media coverage directed toward the municipality, especially the first quarter of the 2013/4 financial year.”
According to the report, during the first quarter of the current financial year the mayor received mostly positive media coverage totalling 71.1 percent, focusing on municipal events, community engagements, marketing projects and campaigns.
“During the same period the mayor received 15.8 percent negative media coverage which focused on service delivery concerns and illegal sales of RDP houses,” the report said.
“The negative media coverage increased to 20.9 percent mainly based on negative feedback from members of the public directed at the mayor and several protests due to complaints about the lack of services.”
The report added that between March and May, the communications department had received about 119 media enquiries. Thirty-four were still pending, “owing to the fact that officials from certain departments are not forthcoming with information”.