Is Vrye Weekblad II going to fly?

Jeremy Gordin on the not so comfortable position Max du Preez & Co. may soon find themselves in

I apologise, dear readers, for beginning on a solipsistic note but waar die hart van vol is, loop die mond van oor – and my usually gloomy waking hours yesterday were transformed by a hilarious piece by David Bullard and then became even more risible when I read that media group Tiso Blackstar (Business Day, Sunday Times, Financial Mail, Sowetan, Daily Dispatch, etc.) is resuscitating Vrye Weekblad (VW).


VW, in case you’ve forgotten, was the “groundbreaking progressive, anti-apartheid Afrikaans national weekly newspaper launched in November 1988 and forced to close in February 1994”. Nogal, it will be “armed with a power crew” – founding editor Max du Preez and his former henchpeople, Jacques Pauw and Anneliese Burgess – and it shall be written in Afrikaans and of course be digital.

For those of you as arithmetically challenged as I am, may I take the liberty of pointing out that 1994 was 25 years ago. And I want to take the liberty of suggesting that during the passing of a quarter of a century there are quite a few changes in circumstances and attitudes.

First, the preponderance of the Afrikaans-language reading public is not, to put it simply, where it used to be in relation to “its” publications. It is, as the lawyers say, common cause that not only have the circulations of such newspapers as Beeld and Rapport fallen desperately, but that there was a palpable movement away from these publications when, for example, Adriaan Basson was editor of Beeld and calling the editorial shots in general at Media24, where he is now editor-in-chief. (Former Media24 CEO Esmare Weideman inter alios was at the time rather exercised by the whole thing.) I’m sorry to have to call Basson out by name – he’s a sweet fellow, and there were others besides him – but, as former minister Roelf Meyer might have said, the troof is the troof.

To put it bluntly, it has become apparent that most Afrikaans language newspaper-buyers are not comfortable with Basson’s (and others’) political line: pro-ANC-ish and not particularly pro the volk. Think I’m exaggerating?  Have a look, if you will, at the beginnings and especially the later remarkable growth of an organisation such as AfriForum. A major factor in its germination, and its Maroela Media publication, was its members’ dislike of what was happening in the Afrikaans press (as well, of course, as generally in the country). Times change, as they say.

This being the case, how many Afrikaans-reading folk do you think are going to want to pay to read the political views of one Max du Preez? He is so pro-ANC and accepting of its thievery, duplicity and codswallop – and above all so un-volkish – that if he were to manage to capture 5% (that’s five percent) of the Afrikaans-language subscriber base out there, I’d be rather surprised. Burgess and Pauw are more on the “investigative” side, as it were, so presumably the political line of the new VW will – as in the good old days – be left mainly to Du Preez.

Which brings me to a second point. All three members of the power team are also 25 years older. Now, I don’t know what Du Preez and Burgess do for a living these days – one presumes Du Preez was paid for his Media24 columns, now halted – but Pauw is supposed to be cooking up a storm at his restaurant, Red Tin Roof, in Riebeek-Kasteel. But, look, the restaurant business, I’m told, is not for sissies. Not that Pauw is a sissy – it’s just that the restaurant business is a real grind. One presumes, in other words, that these three “groundbreaking and progressive” folk are going to be paid healthy salaries.

Which brings me to a third point. It is also no secret – it is very much common cause – that the editorial folk (the ones who do the actual work of writing, editing, photographing, etc.) at Tiso Blackstar are very unhappy campers. Many of the lesser-paid black employees (the well-paid ones, such as those in management or editorships, keep shtum) are of the view that they’re discriminated against financially. And one of the major gripes is the expenditure on salaries – allegedly in the region of R1,2-million a year, if not more – for certain editorial super-managers and for certain big-name journalists who might be big names but have turned out not to be such big performers. In fact, it seems the rebellious folk blame these giant salaries for most of them having not received bonuses and for having learnt relatively recently that all salaries are frozen.

Oh well, media companies, and newspapers especially, are also not for sissies. Andrew “Buonaparte” Bonamour, the boss man, and Andy “Gwen” Gill, the MD, have doubtless got to do what non-sissies do.

But why, oh why – you hear me cry, eyes suffused with tears (of laughter) – would they launch the VW – the paying readership of which, as I have suggested, is likely to be at best paltry and which is likely to mean even less money for the company’s working stiffs.

I rather like the image of these progressive and often pompous fellows sitting unknowingly on top of the black volcano that is burbling at Tiso Blackstar.

So, who, I wonder, is going to pay for this new foray? That is apart from the government pensioners who own a tenth of Tiso Blackstar, via the PIC. 

In the statement accompanying the announcement of the bold new move, Gill said: “This investment is in line with our continued commitment to quality journalism, which we regard as key to our future. We are proud to be associated with the journalistic talent that comes with the Vrye Weekblad brand”. Hello? Brand? What brand? It’s been non-est for 25 years. Quality journalism? Or quality profits?

I also understand that Tiso Blackstar management is envious of all the “clicks” being registered on Meda24, though why they think those clicks are Afrikaans-language ones or from fans of VW, I’m not certain.

Good luck, fellows – and keep me laughing. I appreciate it.


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