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Parliamentary hearings on racism in the ad industry end positively

Nkenke Kekana, Chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications, is pleased with the progress made at the recent two-day parliamentary hearings on racism in the ad industry, but adds that there is still a lot of work needed to be done.
The main points of the debate concentrated on issues of affirmative procurement, representivity in the industry and a regulatory framework. Kekana points out that the ad industry is still lagging behind the rest of SA business in a number of areas of transformation.

It was agreed by all attending that the momentum created by the parliamentary sessions needed to be maintained. Early next year there will be a plenary session of industry and relevant government and para-statal bodies and other stakeholders to set goals and create benchmarks to chart progress.

Another positive outcome of the hearings was the agreement by attending delegates to persuade everyone in the industry to sign a draft "Value Statement" which would effectively commit the industry to transformation and the eradication of racism.

All of the presentations made during these hearings and previous hearings are available on www.gcis.gov.za/docs/portcom.

Below is an extract from the GCIS Progress Report to the Portfolio Committee on Communications, by Yacoob Abba Omar:


Modus operandi


Following the October 2001 hearings, we applied ourselves to the task at hand with alacrity. GCIS and the Department of Communications hosted a meeting on December 1 of a range of industry bodies. At this Plenary it was agreed that mandated representatives of all industry bodies would be encouraged to be part of the Plenary Body and attend Plenary Sessions. During the course of 2002, a further seven Plenary Sessions were held.

Throughout the proceedings, a reasonably wide perspective was taken of what constituted the industry. At one extreme it included media owners but not the journalists themselves. At the other extreme it included commercial designers but not the struggling creative artists.

As you would see from some of the reports being tabled here, the communication value chain is seen as beginning with the marketer wishing to meet some need in the market. A marketing plan is developed and an agency briefed on the basis of that. Once it is determined that above-the-line advertising is required to meet the marketing objectives, designers set about to prepare the required adverts while the media agency develops a placement plan. The appropriate media are thus identified and the plan executed.

It is estimated that the following number of people work in the industry:

  • Companies with a marketing function 1 100
  • Marketing staff on their database 6 286
  • Advertising agencies 715
  • Agency employees 5 078
  • Media strategists and planners ±650

    There was no need to turn this process into a witch-hunt for acts of racism. In fact, very little time was spent defining notions of race or racism. Our focus was on carrying out research into the appropriate areas, identifying the problems where they existed and developing solutions to these problems. It was a simple approach, but we hope not a simplistic one. We hope that the research we present will leave no doubt that, as the Honourable Dene Smuts put it during last year's hearings, there is a problem in the advertising, communications and marketing industry.

    The problem is at various levels:

  • At the simplest, and yet the most fundamental, of levels it is a problem of race. The research to be presented by the Department of Communications under the section 'Empowerment' shall show that transformation in this industry has been woefully inadequate. Eight years after the democratic election, and even more years since the scrapping of many pieces of discriminatory legislation, the research shall show black employees languish at the bottom of most rungs of the industry. A similar point shall be made of ownership patterns.
    (See Point 5 of Report)

  • While the research indicates the state of affairs in terms of representivity, the presentation on 'Education for the Industry' shall address what we had identified prima facie as one of the obstacles and a potential entrance enabler to the industry. Ian Sutherland shall present this report.
    (See Point 6.1 of Report)

  • One of the conundrums we faced was that for an industry, which prided itself on creating images and brands, why was it not able to attract more black talent? Mohale Ralebitso shall describe the problems, which have been identified, and some of the strategies to be used in effecting the changes.
    (See Point 6.2 of Report)

  • At a slightly more complex level, it is a problem of the decision-making process in the value chain described above. This process from the time the brief is prepared by the marketer to the time the adverts are created to the very placement of the adverts is in the hands of predominantly whites. Anecdotal testimony was mentioned of how, despite their best attempts media, which largely served the black market were unable to attract adverts naturally aimed at their viewers, listeners or readers. The presentation by Brenda Wortley and Sue Bolton of research into advertising spending patterns shall highlight this problem.
    (See Point 4.2 of Report)

  • Perhaps one of the most important reasons why this industry is of enough concern for public representatives and government to devote so much time examining it is that it shapes the norms and aspirations of all South Africans. At the core of this industry is a deeply creative process; a process, which like the wine industry, tries to produce masterpieces on a mass scale. While this area was not directly part of the remit, it was encountered sufficiently to warrant a presentation of its own, which Thebe Ikalafeng has kindly agreed to do.
    (See Point 3 of Report)

  • A critical debate through many of the proceedings was the state of regulation of the industry. The presentation by Nkwenke Nkomo and Delien Beukes shall highlight the need to strengthen the regulatory framework while the presentation by Amanda Lotheringen shall look at options that exist within existing legislation.
    (See Point 2 of Report)

  • The view was expressed that despite the specific transformation charters in existence, there was a need for an overarching Industry Values Statement. Patti McDonald shall present this.
    (See Point 7 of Report)

    At the end of these proceedings I will be pleased if you feel we have shed some light on the challenges being confronted. However, we have already identified a number of areas lurking in the shadows. These include:

  • Our work did not take into consideration areas such as below-the-line and sponsorships, which could be at the same size as the advertising spend.
  • We did not look into the relationship between programming and advertising.
  • A clearer picture of the future of the industry. We seem to have consensus that this will be determined by the interplay of four key factors: the state of the economy; the future of media; the impact of technology on the way we do our business in this industry; and the values our society subscribes to.
  • How do we increase the size of the pie? This will need to address questions such as how can small firms access government assistance to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), what policy should there be around foreign produced adverts etc.

    I want to take this opportunity to thank the various working group chairs and members who sacrificed so much of their personal time. In particular, I want to thank Brenda Wortley who tirelessly supported the process and during this time developed a ground-breaking new tracking model for advertising spend in the industry.


    Yacoob Abba Omar
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