WHO CONTROLS THE MEDIA?
In more mature democracies, it ’s a given that media are often founded by people who want to push political or social reform. The New York Times was founded by Republican conservatives in 1851, although it has become decidedly more liberal in recent decades. Similarly, Britain’s Guardian was started in 1821 by a group of businessmen who witnessed the Massacre of Peterloo (which followed the Napoleonic Wars) and were horrified. They wanted to use the press to advocate reform and civil liberty.
Ownership of the public discourse is hotly contested locally by the ruling party, and with opposition parties increasingly consolidating under an opposition umbrella, political interest in the media is significant. That’s why when it was announced that Sekunjalo’s Iqbal Survé was set to become South Africa’s latest media mogul, it was assumed that this move was political. In mid-February it was announced that a consortium led by his investment company, Sekunjalo, successfully bid R2bn to buy Independent News and Media South Africa from its debt-laden owners in Ireland.
The heads of agreement are done, but the offer must still be approved by the Competition Commission, and shareholders of Independent News and Media Plc. The beleaguered Dublin-based media company has been looking for a buyer for
and , together with a number of other news titles; while Independent’s magazine division publishes House & Garden, Glamour and GQ for this market.
Survé scoffs at the idea that his move into media is in any way partisan, despite his having beat a number of other political or well-connected suitors to the spoils. Other big names who were reportedly vying to bring the Independent back home were Moeletsi Mbeki – the businessman and political analyst who’s Thabo’s brother and is said to be the mastermind behind Mamphela Ramphele’s political platform, Agang; business tycoon-cum-ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa; the Gupta family who started pro-Government newspaper The New Age and who have mining interests with president Jacob Zuma’s son; as well as former unionist and e.tv boss, Marcel cel Golding.
“This is a business transaction and anybody who says the deal is politica l l y motivated is s speaking absoolute nonsense,” e,” says Survé, a former medical doctor-turned-investor estor whose Sekunjalo has interests in the fishing, financial, healthcare, technology, telecommunications and biotechnology sectors.
Survé says the decision was about securing a highly profitable investment. “Independent News Media’s profits are publically disclosed and you are talking almost R350m to R400m in profitability,” he says, adding that Sekunjalo will be paying about two thirds of what Mvelaphanda paid for Avusa. “It is a super business with a strong title base, a strong content platform, good history and good people in the tong