The press in South Africa

South Africa has a robust and free press. The country’s turbulent passage from apartheid to democracy made South Africans remarkably news hungry, fed by a robust, free and flourishing press.

In 2013, there are 22 daily and 25 weekly major urban newspapers in South Africa, most published in English. There are around 400 regional and community newspapers, most delivered free of charge, as well as a range of general and specialised news websites on a par with the best in the world.

About 10.5-million South Africans read the urban dailies, with around 17,5-million people – or 50% of South Africans over the age of 15 – reading newspapers, according to the South African Advertising Research Foundation’s All Media Products Survey (Amps) 2012.

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A free press

South Africa has always had a courageous and opinionated press. For more than 40 years the apartheid state tried to gag the country’s newspapers, using legislation, harassment and imprisonment, culminating in the late-1980s States of Emergency. Through all of this, South Africa’s newspapers defiantly reported the news.

With democracy in 1994, South Africa’s newspapers were freed from all restrictions. The country’s Constitution, adopted in 1996, explicitly protects the freedom of the press in its Bill of Rights. Section 16 states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes:

  • freedom of the press and other media;
  • freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
  • freedom of artistic creativity; and
  • academic freedom and freedom of scientific research

The right in subsection (1) does not extend to:

  • propaganda for war;
  • incitement of imminent violence; or
  • advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.

Reporters Without Borders ranked South Africa 52nd out of 179 countries in its 2013 Press Freedom Index.

South Africa’s print media subscribe to the Press Code. This has been adopted by the Press Council, which oversees the print media’s system of voluntary independent co- regulation. Members of the public can complain to the Council’s ombudsman.

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Trends in South African newspapers

The development of the South African press since the end of apartheid has been marked by two disparate trends: the stagnation and decline of the traditional mainstream newspapers; and the rise of tabloids with a black, working-class readership.

The downturn experienced by South Africa’s mainstream press mirrors the trend elsewhere in the world, where the internet has seriously disrupted the industry and free online news has eroded newspaper circulation.

But South Africa’s industry also experienced a growth spurt when, in 2002, the country’s first tabloid was launched. Responding to a market created by steadily improving living conditions for many poorer South Africans, Media24 launched the Daily Sun.

Aimed at the “blue collar worker”, it filled an enormous gap in the market and it wasn’t long before it broke through the 1-million reader mark. A decade on, it has more than 5.5-million readers, according to AMPS 2012.

Daily Sun’s success led to the “tabloidisation” of the industry, with other tabloids being launched, including the Afrikaans-language Son and the Daily Voice, which both target working class readers in the Western Cape.

The newspaper landscape was further redefined by the success of vernacular- language newspapers, such as Isolezwe and Ilanga, which are both isiZulu newspapers.

However, even these cleverly targeted newspapers have not been immune to pressures facing the industry, and 2012/13 circulation and readership figures remain under pressure. South African media companies are grappling with the substantial challenges of having to reinvent themselves with varying success.

Ownership of South African newspapers

There are plenty of small, independent media houses, which publish magazines as well as in-house and business-to-business journals. The newspaper industry is dominated by four main players: Media24, Independent Newspapers, the Times Media Group, and CaxtonCTP.

Media24 Media 24: Africa’s leading publishing company, its operations include newspapers, magazines, digital businesses, printing and distribution companies. The company has a reputation for being adaptive and is especially agile in its approach to digital products. Media24’s majority shareholder is Naspers, one of South Africa’s most successful companies.

Independent Newspapers Independent Newspapers: Home to some of the country’s oldest titles, the group has 18 newspapers in its stable. Irish-owned Independent News & Media sold its South African business to a consortium led by Sekunjalo Investments in 2013. In terms of the deal, the Government Employees Pension Fund will aquire a 25% stake in the company.

Times Media Times Media Group: With a name change from Avusa to the Times Media Group signalling cost-driven restructuring, the group has promised a focus on digital platforms. Owners of BDFM, which publishes Business Day and weekly business magazine the Financial Mail, as well as the Sunday Times, South Africa’s biggest newspaper. It has a magazine division, and stakes in the Home Channel and Summit TV.

Caxton CTP CaxtonCTP: While its primary focus is commercial printing, Caxton is the owner of the Citizen as well as 13 magazines and a large stable of community newspapers,many of which cover the smaller cities and towns in which the other big media houses have no presence. The company is also involved in packaging, stationery manufacture and book printing.

TNA TNA Media: Established in June 2010, TNA owns The New Age, South Africa’s newest daily. Unlike most other newspapers in South Africa, it is privately owned – by the Gupta family, with Bennett Coleman & Co (publishers of the Times of India) an investor and strategic partner.

M&G Media Mail & Guardian Media: Publishers of the weekly Mail & Guardian. The company is 87.5% owned by Zimbabwean entrepreneur Trevor Ncube’s Newtrust Company Botswana Ltd. Guardian Newspapers holds 10% of the company, with minority shareholders making up the rest.

SAinfo reporter

Reviewed: 18 July 2013

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