The Mail&Guardian denied a report that it is in financial trouble, that staff were unpaid for months, and that it subsidised business interests in Zimbabwe.
JOHANNESBURG - A report that top newspapers are being punished for insulting President Jacob Zuma is "mischievous", ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said on Friday.
"The allegation is wrong and mischievous. It suggests that government cannot consider austerity measures in relation to media buying," Kodwa said, adding: "Government has a right [to] cut costs where it can."
An unnamed government official was quoted as saying the three newspapers had sustained "an anti-ANC and anti-government onslaught" on the "democratic state".
The newspaper reported that the biggest beneficiary of the switch in advertising would be Independent Newspapers, under the ownership of Iqbal Surve.
Kodwa said austerity measures were announced during former finance minister Pravin Gordhan&39;s term of office.
He said the government had undertaken to cut wasteful expenditure and spend less on non-essentials.
"That began long ago. The allegation can&39;t be made now."
Kodwa said the accusation that the three newspapers were being punished was false.
"We are a democracy. We even support those that disagree with us. It is not so that this is because of punishment. Our government will never take such a position," he said.
"But government has a right to cut costs in terms of value for money, under austerity measures. There is also nothing wrong if government consolidates media buying-power."
In a statement Democratic Alliance MP Gavin Davis said that if the allegation was true, it amounted to political and advertising blackmail.
"This is not the first time that government has attempted to blackmail newspapers into reporting favourably on the ANC and its performance in government," said Davis.
He demanded that Communications Minister Faith Muthambi confirm or deny the M&G report.
"If she does not, she will confirm, once and for all, that her new department is the &39;ministry of propaganda&39; we have been warning about," said Davis.
"If government is planning to withhold advertising from newspapers on the basis of their reportage, Minister Muthambi must come out and defend the policy."