SA Media: Practise what you preach
I am astounded by the competitors’ obsession with Sekunjalo’s pending takeover of Independent News & Media SA (INMSA). Is it curiosity, fear or jealousy?
In recent weeks, many media commentators, especially editors have dedicated a lot of column centimetres and airtime to Sekunjalo and this bid, mainly questioning who the “real” shareholders and players behind this bid is.
Let me bring you up to speed. Sekunjalo is leading a R2-billion buyout of INMSA — which owns print titles such as The Star, The Mercury, Pretoria News, The Cape Times and Isolezwe.
On the face of it, this is a simple business transaction like the Chinese purchase of Standard Bank, the acquisition of Avusa by Times Media Group or the takeover of Milky Lane by Famous Brands.
But if media interest, derision, criticism and denunciation of this transaction is anything to go by, maybe this is not a straight-forward transaction that I thought it was.
Among the gripes (for lack of a stronger word) from our thought-leaders on this matter are:
- There seems to be no “transparency” on Sekunjalo’s funding arrangements for the transaction
- There is a suspicion that politically connected people like controversial Nelson Mandela’s grandson Mandla Mandela and close ally of president Jacob Zuma
- The Government Employees’ Pension Fund (GEPF) could be funding up to a quarter of this R2-billion transaction
- This one takes the cake, INMSA seems to be losing money in a very tight industry and buying it doesn’t make sense
If these gripes – even in their nonsensicality – were made by independent voices, they would probably make some sense. But it is curious that the noise has come more from editors and commentators representing competitors of INMSA.
Let me try to deal with each of the above “concerns”.
Why is there such a frenzy about “transparency” on Sekunjalo’s funding arrangements? I doubt too many people worry about who owns Times Media Group or Primedia or Media24. Majority of consumers of media concern themselves – and maybe to their detriment – more about what the media feed them in the form of news, education and entertainment.
As I wrote in social media platforms recently, if anyone has reason to believe that Sekunjalo has something serious to hide, let them reveal it with proof and then leave it to the owners of INMSA and the South African public to judge.
Why do these commentators, who have vested interest and are clearly not independent, assume that their views as Karl Marx once quipped “have a form of universality” and why “represent them as the only rational universally valid ones”?
So what if Sekunjalo has politically connected funders, shareholders or friends? When did political connectedness become a crime? Or is it only a crime if you are connected to people our commentators don’t really like?
How can anyone expected a political animal like Sekunjalo Group executive chairman Iqbal Survé not to be politically connected?
Any custodian of pension funds, whose aim is to grow returns for the investors and shareholders will grab any opportunity to invest in what they believe will bring such returns. Why should the GEPF be different?
Like any other pension fund, The GEPF has invested in a lot of projects here and elsewhere that are risky in nature. Why should INMSA be treated differently? Oh I know, because it has politically connected shareholders and owners right?
One would think it is for GEPF to determine whether they think this is a good risk to take and to then explain to their shareholders should things go wrong.
If Iqbal Survé, his investors and friends want to invest their money in a loss-making business in an industry that is losing its lustre, shouldn’t that be their business and right? Why are people suddenly worried about other’s presumed stupidity?
An interesting but an related point, what in law is called orbiter dictum, I don’t particularly like Survé. In my few interactions with him, he came across as a very condescending person who uses his struggle credentials and political connections to bulldoze people. Frankly, I wouldn’t like to be one of editors, but that’s not my business.
But I defend this man’s right to want to buy a “struggling” business using all sorts of investors as long as it is not illegal. I do not care that his investors are not the darlings of the opinion makers in the northern suburbs of South Africa.
I actually am not even concerned that employee funds are risked to fund his acquisition. He clearly sold them something that he believes will work, they bought his story, and backed him. What is wrong with that?
So, I ask again, is this sudden surge of criticism about curiosity, fear or jealousy? Clearly at first everyone was curious about who would want to buy INMSA. But this has deteriorated into a fear of a local competitor and the jealousy that they could raise the necessary funds.
I am sure for many of our commentators and their bosses, it would be a much better proposition for INMSA to die and fold so that there is less competition for them, which means potentially more readers and more money.
But it is even appalling for them – which instils fear – that Survé seems to bring along with him a horde of hated political connections, which the competitors assume will lead to all government advertising going to INMSA.
If this was not so silly, it would be laughable. The same noises were raised when the infamous Gupta’s launched The New Age, and to date, years later, government has not stopped advertising with the naysayers.
There has to be something to be said about how the so-called advocates of the free markets are the first to cast aspersions at the number one tenet of that free market – competition.