THE PAST weeks have seen a tit-for-tat ‘media war’ between local publishers INM and Tiso-Blackstar. Online periodicals and journos are all weighing in. What started out as a sequel to the recent Sunday Times debacle — an opinion piece published by Independent Media, written by one Iqbal Survé — has snowballed into quite a large ball of, well muck.
It all started when The Sunday Times, a weekend paper owned by Tiso Blackstar, was cast ‘under the spotlight’ after its editor, Bongani Siqoko, ‘apologised for a violation of the press code and alleged manipulation of several news stories’ including the so-called SARS ‘rogue unit’.
All good and fine, but then press baron Survé resorted to a hatchet job which really ruffled feathers. Instead of tackling the Sunday Times, Survé chose to smear by extension a reputable sister daily, Business Day. Apparently the Budlender report leads credence to the assertions.
Survé claims, “Sekunjalo are victims of Business Day and its shenanigans and defamatory campaign. There are desperate attempts to characterise the Sekunjalo Group in a negative way using the same Goebbels strategy.”
Which is a bit rich, considering the Cape Times’ own Goebbels strategy. The resulting verbiage escalating into a veritable diatribe against the Tiso Blackstar group in general.
All a case of sour grapes?
Survé’s “The hypocrisy and lies of Business Day” was perhaps aimed at settling scores from an ealier bout of criticism. One which began with the Independent Group’s self-inflicted Desnois controversy, (a media story about the media), shortly after Survé himself, bought the entire group, with a bit of help from the PIC, (a government pension fund).
Thus we witnessed The Times responding with a spin story all of their own, claiming “PIC voiced ‘concern’ about running of Independent Media”
This elicited a strange denial from PIC, which was also moved to reveal its shareholding in South Africa’s press, providing information which parliamentarians in the opposition have been trying to get hold of for decades. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that PIC lists:
1. Independent News and Media South Africa – 25%
2. Tiso Blackstar – 10.999%
3. Naspers 16.585%
4. Caxton – 0.955%
5. Primedia – The PIC is exposed to Primedia through an Private Equity Fund
That is a hell of a lot of press share equity for one pension fund, in effect the government own some serious media clout.
Or were PIC responding to PIC?
The response contains a a real clanger since the writer obviously hasn’t read Chapter 4 of the TRC Report special commission on the media, and is unaware of our own litigation subsequent to the publication of the report.
So this statement is just plain wrong and idiotic. “It is regrettable that the media did not have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This would certainly have surfaced the shenanigans of anti-transformation forces in the media and the network of journalists of a particular generation.”
Not to be outdone, former 24.com editor, Chris Roper weighed in that “Dr Survé is making our democracy sick”. Resulting in an Op-Ed piece by Ayanda Mdlulu, published by the PIC, sorry INM, labeling Roper a racist. Racism at the centre of Roper’s attack on Independent Media
Roper’s ad hominem attack against Survé though badly conceived (surely 24.com is making democracy sick?), was certainly camp, “think of Iqbal Survé, that apparent love-child of a strutting peacock and a cheap piñata. ..Dr Iqbal Survé has already done massive damage to the status of a free press in South Africa. Nobody takes his (and I use the word “his” advisedly) newspapers seriously,” opined Roper.
NM veteran Dougie Oakes’ was however more balsy and to the point.
Time to go, Iqbal paints a picture of an ailing news organisation. “I’ve never come across a newspaper where a persona non grata list of letter writers forms part of its editorial policy,” writes Oakes. Chilling but not hard to imagine, given the machinations of the former Argus Group.
Meanwhile, Hans Pienaar revealed that Vrye Weekblad was all just a right-wing front, which allowed the Nationalists to negotiate a better deal with the ANC.
The man who stiffed journalists of payments and who controlled the Independent Group with an iron fist is no longer a media baron. The much-reduced Irish-owned Independent Group has been sent packing back to Ireland, thanks to a deal which saw the group’s South African assets bought out by local investors. This is not surprising since this writer warned about the O’Reilly ponzi scheme and impending bankruptcy with its unintended consequences for journalism some time ago.
A journalist complains about your newspapers overly vigorous support of the War. What is the correct response?
a) Promise to crush and slaughter all resistance from the lower echelons until the seventh generation.
b) Harangue said journalist for not reading up on the business tactics of Atilla the Hun.
c) Fire without warning and dock pay with no option of redress thereby guaranteeing severe penalties for such action.
d) Publish defamatory reports accusing the journalist of being a sissy.
e) Send your horde of macho gunslinging war correspondents into battle, and then hope your skillful redefinition of War as a Peaceful yet somewhat Violent Undertaking, goes unnoticed by the public.
f) Promote journalist to OP-EDs while fending off criticism from the Pentagon.
g) Cosy up to the perpetrators of violence in the hope they will reward your company with advertising.
h) Deny everything and engage in rebuttals like: What journalist? There’s no such journalist.
News that INM are considering selling off their loss-making South African newspaper division should come as no surprise. The heavily indebted company whose majority shareholder is the Bank of Ireland has been plagued by a number of scandals.
The latest involving allegations of complicity in a corruption case involving Auction Alliance was exposed by the muckracking periodical Noseweek Magazine.
Medialternatives has reported on a number of INM scandals such as the failure by the company to investigate its own director Brian Mulroney who was rapped over the knuckles by the Canadian press for his part in a Canadian Airbus kickback scam.
Then there was brown envelope scandal involving kickbacks to journalists at the Cape Argus which did receive local coverage while the newspaper group dispensed with Anti-War dissent and failed to report it had lost a case against yours truly.
Need we remind you that former Minister of Transport, Mac Maharaj received a highly paid position at INM after the company ran a series of articles alleging corruption?
Or that the company published articles alleging that the apartheid propoganda chief Cliff Saunders was never in South Africa, and was “outside the country” when the State of Emergency happened.
Never trust a media company run by a mobile telecoms operator, and never forget, the apartheid regime deployed embedded journalists to write panoramic stories about “our boys on the border”.
One can only wonder if the threatened closure of the London Independent newspapers, is a ruse to deflect attention away from a scandal involving non-executive director Brian Mulroney? Readers will remember that Independent, which publishes South Africa’s Star and Cape Argus, is in the process of being restructured amidst a controversy which refuses to go away.
Denis O’Brien, the telecoms billionaire who most recently bailed out the group has introduced a resolution calling on shareholders to stop a €100,000 annual payment to a company owned by Mulroney. Mulroney is under investigation by the Canadian police because of a bribery and kickbacks scandal involving German arms-dealer Karlheinz Schrieber.
O’Brien has also called on shareholders to cancel a €300,000 annual payment to former chief executive Sir Anthony O’Reilly in respect of his position as president emeritus of the firm. The current board under Hillary says O’Reilly is not entitled under contract to such a payment, but will argue that the resolution is moot.
The company’s board, on which O’Brien has minority representation, is also likely to refuse to put to the AGM O’Brien’s call for a detailed schedule of all board member expenses since the start of 2000 to be prepared by a firm of independent accountants and circulated to all shareholders.
There was no comment from O’Brien, the marauding minority shareholder who is apparently also seeking at the AGM to remove company chairman Brian Hillary and to replace senior independent director Baroness Margaret Jay, a tory conservative. One can only hope shareholders will come to their senses and realise the O’Reilly dynasty is over and the only way to save the company is to move on with doing business, which is about printing newspapers, not investing in Wedgewood crystal, 18 Century Mansions and chandeliers.
One has got to feel a little sorry for the fact cats at Independent right now. No sooner had they restructured the company to spin off their South African billboard advertising operation with the renamed INM outdoor, when the man who owns 26% of the company Denis O’Brien blocked the sale by calling a shareholders meeting. The result could put a permanent end to the O’Reilly dynasty. In order to bankroll the conglomorate, and keep titles such as Independent and Independent on Sunday afloat, the O’Reilly’s have to pay banks some 50 million Euros this month, which would have come from the sale of INM Outdoor.
It appears billionaire investor O’Brien wants to get rid of the O’Reilly shareholding once and for all by masterminding a collapse of the company which would allow him to cherry-pick assets. Needless to say, INM CEO Gavin O’Reilly is accusing O’Brien of having no interest in the core-business, which is surely newspapers and the newspaper industry?
Although the group has some 135 titles, when it comes to business, it is all about baked beans and crystal and O’Reilly whose interests in Heinz and Waterford Wedgewood, no longer amount to anything, will surely realise the time to make an exit is now.
Gavin O’Reilly’s father, Tony is world renowned for taking an Irish brand of yellow journalism worldwide, in an aggressive expansion of interests which blurred the boundaries between what was considered acceptable practice in the industry, and outright manipulation of news — what media critic Noam Chomsky calls the “manufacture of consent”.
Under the O’Reilly’s control, the Independent Group became merely another advertising and publicity department of commerce and real estate which was allowed to dictate and in certain circumstances fabricate news to conform with editorial policies that were driven by a boardroom populated with neo-conservatives and members of the oil industry.
Full story can be found on the Guardian
IT’S amazing what difference a week can make in the lives of today’s corporate executives. Take the changing fortune of deposed INM board member Ivan “The Terrible” Fallon, or the fate of media tycoon, Tony O’Reilly, replaced by son Gavin?
After the INM night of the long knives, with one other O’Reilly clan member already tipped to walk the plank, Gavin appears to be the only O’Reilly member with any staying power on the slimmed down board, and one could be forgiven for enjoying a bit of schadenfreude as this palace putsch plays itself out.
The move, labelled as a form of weightwatchers for executives in the media world, will apparently address “trenchant attacks” by dissident shareholder and telecoms billionaire Denis O’Brien who last year commissioned a report which claimed the INM board had too many members allied to O’Reilly.
Tony O’Reilly, a controversial figure has been embroiled in a bitter war of words with O’Brien, said he will retire as chief executive and as a director of the board on 7 May – his 73rd birthday
O’Reilly is still the largest individual shareholder in INM after the Bank of Ireland, with 28.5%, and has been the strategic driving force behind the company for the past 36 years.
His son Gavin, who is currently chief operating officer, will maintain his reign on power, by becoming chief executive-designate with immediate effect and will thus succeed his father in May.
O’Reilly is apparently eager to bury the hatchet with arch-rival O’Brien who will be given three seats on a slimmed down board of directors.
However, such moves have not quelled criticism of the inclusion of Canadian Brian Mulroney, a long-time O’Reilly supporter at the centre of a storm surrounding a bribery and corruption scandal, who is the subject of an international inquiry into financial dealings whilst in office, where he was once the progressive conservative party Prime Minister before stepping down. Mulroney is also accused of taking bribes from German arms-dealer Karlheinz Schrieber, and more recently, of encouraging sponsor-representation at board-room level in INM’s many overseas operations.
South African media analysts have entertained the public with rumours that INM could be selling off its local operation, but there is very little chance that O’Brian will be giving up his stake in the market. Rather, we are likely to see a complete meltdown before anything happens as the group fails to heed warnings by the public to come clean on the Mulroney scandal.