Anton Harber's article on Sekunjalo smells of baaskap! - BBC

CEO Xolani Qubeka says opponents of Independent Newspaper group purchase are trapped in cages of our racial past (June 9)

Media Statement by Xolani Qubeka. CEO of the Business Black Business Council on Sekunjalo Holding's purchase of Independent Newspapers in South Africa:

The well document and contested acquisition of the Independent Newspaper group by Dr Iqbal Surve's Sekunjalo Consortium seemed to be a normal business transaction by a group of investors keen to increase its investment portfolio and bolster its balance sheet with the sole intent of creating wealth for its shareholders.

We are reminded of the recent bid by Bidvest to acquire Adcock Ingram's business with an unsolicited R6.2 billion offer, and if I recall to date no one sought to know where the funding would have come from. After all Mr. Brian Joffe and Dr Surve are all established business moguls with proven entrepreneurial track records.

Therefore we have to ask ourselves hard questions, and unfortunately as we are all trapped in the cages of our segregated history, our prejudices cannot escape scrutiny. This case is no different.

The Black Business Council (BBC) had not commented up until now, but having read today's piece in the Business Day under the Opinion and Analysis column (6th June 2013) by Professor Anton Harber whom we have always held in high esteem (see here), we could not sit back and applaud such travesty of justice with the potential to to trash some of the significant gains this young democracy has garnered over the years. Let us park that for the moment.

BBC has noted with great concern attempts by certain sections of the print media to scupper the pending Sekunjalo Independent Media (SIM) transaction to acquire the South African arm of Irish based Independent Newspapers Group under the guise of transparency and accountability. While the protagonists in this matter claim they want transparency, their antics leave a lot to be desired. Attempts to petition the Competition Commission by a predominantly white group of editors, is, in our view, not meant to foster transparency, but to frighten potential funders of the deal.

We are also aware that the petition may not go through after the black editors categorically stated their intention not to be a part of the ganging up against the Sekunjalo Consortium Project, and for obvious reasons we suspect this will not be made public.

For the record, the BBC is behind the proposed transaction as we believe it would not only serve to deepen the important process of Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) and social justice, but also bring about the badly needed diversity of voices in this crucial sector of our economy.

What deeply concerns the BBC in this matter is what appears to be abuse of media platforms, which should serve public interest, to advance racial and sectarian agenda against a potential competitor. This trend of abusing newspapers to fight personal battles continues to take root in some media houses. For instance, we noted with concern last year when a certain editor used his column to try to intimidate the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) into supporting the Black Star-led purchase of the Avusa Group.

Then, the same editor was confident that transaction was the best thing to happen to Avusa Media. It did not seem to matter who was in the Black Star consortium and where the funding was coming, and to-date PIC still owns close to 20% of Avusa's successor Times Media Group (TMG). It is a great irony that it is the same editor who is leading an onslaught against the Sekunjalo's transaction. It is the BBC's belief that these guys are not genuinely seeking information but trying to intimidate a potential competitor. I will come back to the issue regarding the status of TMG and current prejudices.

It is our view that they are conflicted on this matter.

Furthermore, over the years South Africans have been sold the story that editors are "independent" and that owners have NO say in the content of the publications they own. If that argument is taken to its logical conclusion, then it should not matter who else is in the Sekunjalo consortium that is trying to purchase Independent Newspaper Group in South Africa, other than Dr. Iqbal Surve. However, based on the debates of the past couple of weeks, on this issue, it does appear to matter.

This tells us that when it is convenient to do so, some editors are prepared to mislead the SA public on the real relationship between owners and the editorial content of the publications they own. Given the above, the BBC cannot rule out the involvement of print media owners in this campaign. Extremely worrying are rumours that some publications are working hard to try and tarnish Mr Surve's name before Independent Newspapers' shareholders vote on the transaction next weekend. If these rumours are true, it would be a sad day in South Africa where newspapers are used to settle personal and sectarian scores.

The BBC hopes that this on-going hysterical response by some sections of print media to the Sekunjalo transaction is not motivated by racial prejudice. We hope also, that this is not meant to frighten off genuine black industrialists from having interests in the media industry, especially printed media.

Our other hope is that the response by conflicted commentators are not part of the campaign to intensify the on-going reversal of transformation in print media, especially at TMG where senior black executives, including editors, have been forced out over the last year.

Now, to revert back to Professor Harber's piece, it is the most patronising and arrogant act of journalism, if not racially prejudiced commentary of note. The Professor has taken upon himself to be the Lecturer-in-Chief of media lessons to what he perceives to be "an ego purchase". Professor Harber stoops so low as to even consider that Dr Surve chose to acquire a media house " to be able to use these papers to promote yourself and your businesses and show your friends you have influence, then you are only going to frustrate yourself", how patronising , in fact it is an insult to the good doctor, and Professor Harber ought to be ashamed of himself and in fact he owes Dr Surve an apology.

Dr Surve and his colleagues at Sekunjalo are true entrepreneurs that were not built by the media, but were of course noticed through the media, and we are now told, according to Professor Harber, that unless Dr Surve listen to him, his R2 billion "ego-trip" is at peril of destruction even before the deal is sealed. As has been the norm, was it expected that the Sekunjalo Consortium become another BEE partner to a white-lead acquisition instead?

We would like to invite Professor Harber to read his opinion piece again and tell South Africa whether he believes this is the way prospective media colleagues should be addressing each other in public without contaminating the minds of young readers who are lucky not to have grown up during the Verwoed or Botha eras. The opinion piece smells a lot of BAAS SKAP!

Media ownership is not rocket science or the preserve of a chosen class, black people in this country have owned, controlled and grown more sophisticated businesses in this country than media companies. A classical example can be found in the well documented business classic case of what Mr Phutuma Ntleko's business prowess contributed to the extraordinary growth of Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) and its positioning as a global mobile network operator.

One thing has been more pronounced more than any other before, Professor Harber and his ilk are still trapped in the cages of our racial past and their impatience or resistance to transformation has been placed on the radar screen.

We are aware that economic transformation and economic freedom will only arise because both black and white in this country can stand side by side to forge a singular agenda to ensure as a collective we can grow the middle class and promote racial harmony and social justice.

Today we have another window of opportunity to display that oneness, and let us stand behind and welcome Dr Surve to become a formidable competitor and usher a new epoch.

Lastly, the BBC is of the view that the response to the Sekunjalo transaction highlights the urgent need for a sober debate on transformation of the media, including ownership and the advancement of blacks in that industry as well as thorny issue of "editorial independence". These debates should be led by a Chapter 9 institution such as the Human Rights Commission, as has happened in the late 1990s on civil society. The process should not be led by government, political parties or the media itself.

It is also time we consider the introduction of a Media Transformation Charter

Statement issued by Xolani Qubeka, Chief Executive Officer, Black Business Council, June 9 2013


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