THIS week saw apartheid media firm, Naspers in the news with a fresh scandal, large enough to top any previous peccadillo. The sheer amount of opinion pieces generated by South Africa’s media, and the scale and tone of the inquiry into the press is quite impressive. It marks a turning point insofar as a shady history of decades long immunity from criticism is concerned.
At first, the opposition Democratic Alliance, once staunch allies of the firm, but now in a marriage of convenience with the EFF, sought to buttress growing metro and provincial leadership by exposing what appears to be another influence peddling scandal.
The story was quickly picked up by technology and business sites, Business Tech “R100 million influence” MyBroadband “diabolical and secret R550 million” and Business Live “sabc greasing”, showing some disparity in the figures and eliciting Hlaudi counterspin from IOL and a series of Alec Hogg advertorials on Moneyweb “reports malicious” “Naspers not concerned” and also Business Live “not involved”
The op-eds from Daily Maverick and Business Day “cannot wash hands” soon followed.
That Multichoice is involved in a number of corrupt political deals harks back to the founding of the pay channel company under Naspers director PW Botha. The story is not unique so far as this outlet is concerned.
The company simply moved from state capture under the National Party, to state capture under the ANC. All documented here. Massive pay-offs to those in power with the ability to make decisions, appears to have been the norm. Significant too, are the latest attempts by Naspers subsidiary Media24, itself involved in a variety of scandals, to dodge the broader implications of its boardroom being interwoven with a “corrupt nexus” involving Multichoice, to use former editor of the Weekly Mail and adjunct professor of journalism Anton Harber’s term.
Harber who recently moved from his academic post to eTV, an entity itself involved with Multichoice (via Remgro and Kagiso), a little out of character but unsurprisingly given his recent tenure, appears to have equivocated on the issue by writing what can only be termed a Daily Maverick fluff piece in defence of Naspers, urging the company to face up to the charges while painting a picture of an apartheid firm which miraculously transformed itself.
The piece is unfortunately devoid of facts and appears to ignore my own case against the company, and thus the belated apology issued by CEO Esmerie Weideman. Advertising agency executive Deon Wiggett wasn’t having any of this. The founder and creative director of Fairly Famous, “a progressive advertising agency” didn’t buy the spin doctoring and produced what can be called the best roasting of Koos Bekker in the press yet.
Huffington Post, a title owned by Media24 dutifully carried Yunus Carrim’s brief rebuttal of Bekker’s denial. (and Moneyweb interview here)
The Naspers board issued a statement, proclaiming their 80% owned child to be autonomous, with their shared directors ring-fenced on paper by the law, while major Naspers shareholder Sanlam issued a similar denial of responsiblity. Bob van Dijk’s “its not our problem” defence in this regard can only be described as bizarre.
US law firm Pomerantz announces it is investigating Naspers on behalf of Paypal investors, for securities fraud.