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IN­DE­PEN­DENT Me­dia has hit out at re­ports by ri­val me­dia group Times Me­dia Group, which it believes are noth­ing but a com­mer­cially driven vendetta – in the mar­ket for read­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers.

Times Me­dia, pub­lish­ers of the Sun­day Times, Busi­ness Day and The Times, yes­ter­day pub­lished an ed­i­to­rial in The Times cast­ing as­per­sions on the char­ac­ter of In­de­pen­dent Me­dia and its ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, Dr Iqbal Survé, and the group’s de­ci­sion last year to re­move it­self from the ju­ris­dic­tion of the self-reg­u­la­tory body, the Press Coun­cil.

The day be­fore, The Times had pub­lished a re­port on an ex­tract from a book by for­mer Free State Univer­sity vice-chan­cel­lor Jonathan Jansen, which in­cluded a num­ber of in­ter­views with vice-chan­cel­lors about the re­cent stu­dent move­ment protests in the ter­tiary sec­tor. In the ex­tract, Jansen in­ter­viewed Dr Max Price, the vice-chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Cape Town, who ac­cused the Cape Times and Cape Ar­gus of run­ning an anti-UCT cam­paign, al­legedly a per­sonal vendetta against the univer­sity and Price’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Re­spond­ing to the ar­ti­cle, Dr Survé, who has re­ceived two awards for his ser­vices to UCT, said Price’s state­ments were bizarre and that he had bla­tantly lied and would be chal­lenged as such in court.

“We had noth­ing to do with the #RhodesMustFall move­ment. We never paid any of the strug­gle lead­ers’ le­gal fees and we cer­tainly never in­structed ei­ther the ed­i­tor of Cape Times or the Cape Ar­gus to take any view what­so­ever re­gard­ing the cov­er­age of the protests. Our ed­i­tors have ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence, un­like those at Times Me­dia. Ask Phyli­cia Op­pelt and Songezo Zibi,” said Dr Survé.

The ar­ti­cle, he said, was a sep­a­rate is­sue and an abuse of jour­nal­ism as part of a com­mer­cial war against In­de­pen­dent by Times Me­dia, where its publi­ca­tions have seen their cir­cu­la­tion and read­er­ship fig­ures plum­met, while news­pa­pers in the In­de­pen­dent Me­dia have re­mained sta­ble or in fact ac­tu­ally grown 1,4% over­all, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures re­leased by the Au­dit Bureau of Cir­cu­la­tions.

The co-au­thor of The Times re­port, Dave Cham­bers, was a for­mer se­nior In­de­pen­dent Me­dia pro­duc­tion jour­nal­ist who was dis­grun­tled and bit­ter af­ter his de­par­ture from In­de­pen­dent to Times Me­dia. He at one time set up and ran a par­ody Twit­ter ac­count, “Ducks Wait­ing”, which was cre­ated for no other rea­son than to show up er­rors in the group’s news­pa­pers. In­de­pen­dent Me­dia chal­lenges Times Me­dia to deny this.

It speaks vol­umes about their so-called com­mit­ment to jour­nal­is­tic ethics when they al­low some­one with a proven agenda to con­tinue to do ex­actly the same thing in their own news­pa­pers but then call it jour­nal­ism. This fol­lows sim­i­lar at­tacks by other for­mer dis­grun­tled em­ploy­ees of In­de­pen­dent Me­dia, who now work for Times Me­dia.

There had been noth­ing sin­is­ter about In­de­pen­dent’s de­ci­sion to move away from the Press Om­bud and set up its own self-reg­u­la­tory struc­ture.

The de­ci­sion and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of its own struc­ture has been com­mu­ni­cated through­out with read­ers and was very well re­ceived. The pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion in par­tic­u­lar on the ad­ju­di­ca­tion pan­els and the will­ing­ness to serve, of an em­i­nent South African of the stature of Jus­tice Zak Yakoob, fresh from his re­tire­ment from the Con­sti­tu­tional Court bench, prove this. Any at­tempt to try to paint this as any­thing else is pure mal­ice and is de­signed to im­pugn the in­tegrity of In­de­pen­dent Me­dia.

In­de­pen­dent Me­dia made no se­cret of its un­easi­ness with the dou­ble jeop­ardy in­volved in the cur­rent Press Om­bud process, or of the numer­ous ef­forts made to have this re­solved. When this could not be re­solved, In­de­pen­dent Me­dia dis­closed its in­ten­tion to with­draw. Any at­tempt to paint this as any­thing else is just pure mal­ice.

Dr Survé said that with the fast-chang­ing, dis­rup­tive me­dia en­vi­ron­ment, the war for read­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers was reach­ing fever pitch, with me­dia houses, es­pe­cially Times Me­dia, threat­ened by the suc­cess of In­de­pen­dent Me­dia. This suc­cess was demon­strated last week when In­de­pen­dent Me­dia won the “Best in Africa” Me­dia Award at the INMA con­fer­ence in New York.

There has been a sus­tained cam­paign against In­de­pen­dent and Dr Survé ever since Sekun­jalo dis­rupted the estab­lished pat­terns of me­dia own­er­ship and monopoly in South Africa.

In­de­pen­dent Me­dia has been sub­jected to a vi­cious, im­moral, dis­gust­ing turf war, a per­sonal and com­mer­cially based cam­paign, based on noth­ing more than in­nu­endo and lies. Its only “crime” was that it dared to chal­lenge the estab­lished pat­terns of me­dia own­er­ship in South Africa.

ME­DIA WAR: In­de­pen­dent Me­dia’s ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Dr Iqbal Survé re­sponds to Times Me­dia.

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