Media body calls for Times Media probe

Johannesburg - The Movement for Transformation in Media in SA (MTMSA) called for a probe on Monday into the transformation of Times Media Group (TMG).

"We have seen a concerted effort by the largely white-owned and run media houses, in this case specifically the TMG, to discredit black business and political leaders in South Africa while at the same time ignoring the shortcomings of their white compatriots," MTMSA wrote in a letter to the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).

Convenor Wesley Douglas accused TMG publications of racially biased and skewed negative reporting.

"Progressive black business people, who dare to go up against the white establishment and take ownership of established media companies have found themselves becoming targets of orchestrated smear campaigns."

In December, the MTMSA gatecrashed a protest by the Right2Know Campaign against Independent's alleged removal of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois since Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium obtained majority shares in the company.

Douglas said at the protest: "The attack on Sekunjalo has got nothing to with press freedom or the right to know, it has everything to do with the fact that the company is prepared to transform a media house that has for more than a century been supportive of colonialism, apartheid, and is anti-black in its engagements with society."

Independent Newspapers boss Iqbal Surve has also accused rival Times Media Group of a "dirty tricks" campaign to rob his group of revenue and readers.

Surve has denied that Dasnois had been fired, saying she had been offered alternative positions in the company. Dasnois, however, has said she was "unfairly dismissed".

'Dirty tricks'

In his letter to the PIC on Monday, Douglas said: "We have heard that TMG has established a slush fund to operate a 'dirty tricks department' with the express purpose of targeting its rival media operator Independent Media South Africa and its owner Dr Iqbal Surve."

He said as the PIC invested taxpayers' money in TMG, this money was supporting publications "that clearly present South Africa as a failed state and that do not uphold the constitutional principles of equality and non-racialism in their business practices".

In addition, government spent over R600m in advertising in TMG publications.

The PIC also held 25% equity in Independent Media.

Douglas wrote: "We demand the transformation of the Times Media Group so that more black editors, sub-editors, journalists and management staff of colour are appointed to represent the thinking of the black majority of South Africans, rather than the empowered racially advantaged few."

Douglas claimed that TMG and other media houses were working to discredit the African National Congress government in the run-up to the general elections.

"It is clear that there is a direct attempt by media houses to affect the outcome of the provincial and national elections by using the platform they have in addressing the masses."

The MTMSA therefore called on the PIC to investigate whether there were disparities between the salaries earned by TMG journalists of different races.

It also wanted a probe to establish TMG's current ownership structure, broad-based black economic empowerment status over 10 years and what measures were being taken to ensure transformation at ownership level.

MTMSA also wanted an investigation into editorial balance of reporting in TMG titles.

TMG could not be reached for comment on the MTMSA letter.

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