This is what the SACP said about me this week: “The likes of Anton Harber are questioning the ownership of Iqbal [Survé’s] consortium, but they do not expose the greediness of their owners at Media 24 and Caxton.” This came in the context of an attack on the SA National Editor’s Forum for hypocrisy “with disturbing racial, if not racist, undertones” because, like me, they called for more details of who is buying Independent Newspapers and how is it funded.
You can attack others for not taking up or being consistent on ownership issues, dear communists, but I believe I have often tackled them repeatedly. Having often been a victim of the big companies during my Mail & Guardian days, I know well the power and danger of unencumbered media giants when they abuse their dominance.
If you read my e-book on Media24 (Gorilla in the Room, published by Mampoer Shorts, 2012), you will see that I have laid bare the extent of Media24’s dominance, challenging the common (ANC) view that the problem is the domination of four media companies. “There is one massive media giant and a few biggish players,” I said. I also exposed the outlandish earnings of CEO Koos Bekker and the company’s role in censorship in China (which may be a subject the SACP is less vocal about).
I criticised Tony O’Reilly’s ownership of Independent News and Media SA, probably so often that their editors accused me of having a vendetta. It is worth recalling that we raised questions in the beginning about why Nelson Mandela endorsed this disastrous deal. I questioned the Times Media owners on recent decisions to strip down the company, though in this case the newspapers might be better off without the feeble non-core assets which have encumbered them. The big mistake, I thought, came when they sold their lucrative pay-TV assets a few years ago, when this could have funded the move into digital media (as it is doing at Media24).
I should note that the TMG ownership was laid bare in the announcement of their purchase of the company last year, as is required of a public company.
I am one of the few commentators who have consistently said that I am not concerned about Survé’s political party affiliations, as all owners have political affiliations. What matters is how he handles them and how he handles the company and his editorial staff. I have also said repeatedly that the arrival of the ANC-aligned New Age newspaper was a healthy development, and I only regret that they don’t represent the ANC position/s better.
I have been a consistent supporter of community media in word and deed as it fights it way against the big media companies and have always argued that the MDDA should get more money from the state to support small media. I have criticised Caxton’s Citizen newspaper from time to time (such as when they doctored pictures). I am not sure what you mean by “their owners”, but they are certainly not my owners.
I myself help found Kagiso Media some 15 years ago because I believed in the need for the emergence of new media owners, and I worked there for four years.
There may be some inconsistencies in what I have said, I would be the first to admit, but I don’t believe you can accuse me of of not taking up ownership issues and demanding clarity and accountability and diversity over a long period of time. I welcomed Survés arrival on the media scene, and only criticised when he got coy with information.
What I do not understand is how, having called for debate on media ownership and diversity, the SACP can now argue that there is something wrong with demanding to know who owns a major media company. Does debate stop if the owner is black? Does that answer all the questions?
I am afraid that it is still appropriate to ask to know who owns newspapers and how they are funded – or we must abandon the diversity debate. Hopefully, Survé will keep his promise to tell us who his partners are soon, and then we can debate whether this has brought the kind of diversity we need.