Sekunjalo has bold plans for Sapa

Johannesburg - Sekunjalo Investment Holdings has made a bid to acquire the news agency operations of the SA Press Association (Sapa) in order to form a new company with participation by other media houses, its chairperson announced on Monday.

"We intend to take Sapa into territory we understand very well, and intend to make it part of the wider African growth story.

"Apart from continuing the Sapa traditions of quality local content, the plan will be to expand the operation to become a major provider of content and other news services covering Africa," Sekunjalo chair Iqbal Surv said in a statement.

He said Sekunjalo Investment Holdings, a member of the Sekunjalo Group of companies and majority shareholder in Sekunjalo Independent Media, had "made a bid" to Sapa's directors.

This will see the "establishment of a new African media syndication service that will continue and expand the services currently provided by Sapa to the media industry".

"Sekunjalo Investment Holdings will work with the Sekunjalo Private Equity fund to form a new enterprise to pursue the bid, and will invite other media enterprises and all interested players in the media space to join in the establishment of a modern multi-platform, continental news syndication service."

The latest development came after Gallo Images announced in July that it was doing a due diligence process into the possibility of acquiring Sapa and commercialising it from the current non-profit business model.

Gallo Images made a presentation to the Sapa board in August on how the news agency could become part of its operations; and that presentation was now being considered by the board.

Times Media Group withdrew its membership from Sapa last year, with Caxton following suit in July, and Independent Newspapers planning to withdraw from November this year.

"This left the current operational model needing revision. The board then decided it needed to try find a new home for Sapa, with the board receiving enquiries from other organisations, with some of them being based overseas," the Sapa board said in a statement in July.

Media24 remains a Sapa board member.

The withdrawal of the membership by the other three media houses did not mean withdrawal as subscribers to the Sapa service.

Independent Newspapers and Caxton will remain on as Sapa subscribers. TMG's digital platforms also remain subscribers.

"The success of Sekunjalo's investment portfolio, particularly in the area of technology, had encouraged the company to make the Sapa bid and to commit up to R50m to establish a major Africa-based content syndication agency," said Surv.

"We hope the Sapa board and members will look favourably on our bid. We believe that the African continent cannot fully take its place among the global community of nations without first telling its own story, both to itself and to the rest of the world.

"An expanded Sapa, acting as a continental provider of content to Africa and the rest of the world, will allow us to do that," said Surv.

Sapa editor Mark van der Velden said in a memo to staff on this latest development that its directors would be "considering this and any other proposals on the table, with great care over the coming days".

"The focus of all parties involved in deciding the future of Sapa has been on recognition of the value an organisation like ours provides to not only retail media platforms, but in the free flow of information in a democratic South Africa.

"There is consensus among all that SA needs and wants a Sapa in the years ahead as our media industry undergoes huge change," said Van der Velden.

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