After being controlled for almost 20 years by a Dublin-based company, Africa’s largest newspaper group is officially owned by a member of Africa’s leading economy, opening a new chapter in South Africa’s media landscape, according to a report in IndependentOnline.
Independent News & Media South Africa, which publishes under titles including Business Report, The Star, The Mercury, The Cape Times and IndependentOnline, is now the property of Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium. Some of those titles could change under the new ownership.
Iqbal Survé, chairman of Sekunjalo, took over last week from Vincent Crowley, CEO of Ireland’s Independent News in a $200 million deal that promises to inject new life into the group and underpin transformation, the report said. For years, Independent News has been shackled by a lack of investment and cost cutting as its Irish owners siphoned off profits, according to the report.
“I wanted to bring this asset back home,” Survé said. “It is a South African asset. It should never have gone overseas. The purchase…is also important for Africa because our links are not just South African, they are African.”
Survé served as a doctor to anti-apartheid figures including Nelson Mandela before his release from jail. One reasons he wanted to buy the newspaper group was because South Africa’s media landscape is not yet transformed, especially when it comes to ownership, he said.
Black ownership in South Africa’s media is still trivial, Survé said. Sekunjalo’s purchase of Independent News opens a new chapter in media ownership to reflect South Africa’s demographics and give a platform to a “multiplicity of voices.”
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“Never in the history of this country has a media asset been 100-percent owned by black people,” he said. “It’s never been done in 20 years of democracy. If you look at statistics, our competitors have got no black empowerment shareholding.
“They are not transformed. They are now going to be dealing with a competitor that is transformed, a competitor where the surplus profits will be retained in South Africa, which is a direct business issue for them. So they had to create a lot of issues around this deal.”
The 18-month purchase process was subject to intense scrutiny by rivals and critics on issues around funding and how Survé intended to protect Independent News’s journalistic independence. The latter arose from his history and perceived closeness to the political establishment, the report said.
The criticism failed to derail the purchase.
“I am fiercely independent,” Survé said. “That’s what they (rivals) fear the most. I am not a front for anybody. I have my own capital base.”
Among his first tasks, Survé said, is getting to know staff well and reassure them that they are now part of “making history.” Independent News remains a profitable business.
Looking ahead, Survé said: “I think the cornerstone of what we need to do is to have good journalism, create a future for journalists in this country.
“I would like to believe that management has the freedom to think creatively under the leadership of Sekunjalo, to explore ideas, think about new ways of doing things, think about expanding titles, going into vernacular titles, strengthening our existing titles, putting up more titles to compete with some of our competitors, modernizing our digital platforms and looking at various other areas.”