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African media's growing reliance on private advertising poses threats to press freedom similar to state ownership, panelists told an annual international gathering of journalists in Cape Town yesterday.
As the media struggles to shake off the shackles of government interference, news content is increasingly being shaped by advertisers, panelists told delegates at the World Association of Newspapers.
"The media in Africa seems to be caught between the hammer of the state and the anvil of the market," said Fackson Banda of Zambia.
He said the growing interaction between the media and the corporate sector presented both opportunities and threats for journalistic freedom.
But that also threatened to see the media concentrating on its largest clients, avoiding financial risk and neglecting the poorer sections of their potential audience.
Several African delegates argued that without the opening up of free-market economies, many countries would never have achieved a free press.
But Fernando de Lima, chairman of the Mozambican journalists' association Mediacoop, lamented the small pool of advertisers, telling the forum: "You get banks, airlines and telecommunications companies dictating the policies of newspapers".
About 1600 participants from 105 countries are attending four days of meetings, including publishers, chief executive officers, editors and senior newspaper executives. - Sapa-AFP