Ageism hits a new low in South Africa



The anti-Old Fart billboard that caused all the trouble

The anti-Old Fart billboard that caused all the trouble

A billboard on a Johannesburg highway has been condemned for dissing the elderly. Part of a campaign for the country’s newest all-news channel, it proclaims “We aren’t old farts”. Then in brackets: “(Nah, not even our presenters)”. Next to these words is a photo of a white-haired gentleman. It is not clear who he is – just a generic Old Fart, as they’d call him over at the newly launched African News Network, ANN7.

One of its rivals on the satellite service has an anchor of the same vintage, so it seems that ANN7’s Unique Selling Point is the youth of their news anchors. As opposed to their competence or talent –which is widely seen as lacking at this pro-government network that has boasted of hiring models to present news. In response to widespread critique (e.g. “unspeakably, and unwatchably awful”) and ridicule (blooper tapes on YouTube) one of its anchors reportedly used Facebook to complain of “being mocked for taking a chance on youth”.

So, congrats to the South African Older Persons Forum for calling these Old Fart-bashers on their illegal discrimination, a violation of the country’s Older Persons Act. The Forum alleges that the billboard constitutes abuse of the elderly so it has lodged complaints with the South African Human Rights Commission and the national Advertising Standards Authority.

The Older Persons Forum is demanding that “all humiliating advertising material be removed immediately and that apologies be made to all older people in South Africa.” My New Old Self can’t wait for those apologies to be broadcast throughout a 24-hour news cycle.

However, the word “humiliating” seems misplaced. It’s the perpetrators of this billboard campaign who should feel like fools for taking on the large and growing Old Fart sector. Have they checked the viewership demographics for the time slots when the Young Farts are all out working? (Or slouching behind their laptops in cafes while they check the net for jobs.)

Any round-the-clock broadcaster should be grateful if a bored retiree flips the remote between daytime soaps and advertorials and ends up on their channel. Or stumbles on their non-stop news in the wee hours, which is not unlikely given how prone the elderly are to insomnia.

A marketing tip for this new network: mockery of your elders will get you nowhere. Especially given how crowded the field is with 24/7 news shops. South Africa suddenly has two more 24-hour news services, making a total of five. The state broadcaster, already a mess of mismanagement and corruption, just launched the SABC news channel, joining South African free-to-air broadcaster eTV’s eNCA, Business Day TV and CNBC Africa.

And now the president’s friends, a certain Gupta family recently emigrated from India, have opened ANN7. About the name: the NN is clearly a take-off on the big international one that started out on American cable TV. The number is said to mean every day of the week (though it looks odd, like it was put there for strength, like a password).

The Right Thing To Do, as well as the best way to build audience for a fledging channel, would be for the new broadcaster to respect and encourage potential viewers of all ages. And to take down that offensive billboard.



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