Suspicion about black ownership of media mind-boggling

The Tiso Blackstar Group sold its print, broadcasting and content businesses in SA, Ghana and Kenya to the Lebashe Investment Group. The writer says the fact that this type of acquisition criticised, instead celebrated, especially in the media, is an indictment to our polarised state of journalism.
The Tiso Blackstar Group sold its print, broadcasting and content businesses in SA, Ghana and Kenya to the Lebashe Investment Group. The writer says the fact that this type of acquisition criticised, instead celebrated, especially in the media, is an indictment to our polarised state of journalism.
Image: MASI LOSI

At times I am inclined to believe in the narrative that the media is its worst enemy - not only celebrating the downfall of those in positions of power but also waiting like vultures to pounce on any black-owned media enterprise.

It is not helpful to debate with self-appointed media critics inside and outside the media about media ownership without an ounce of knowledge as to who actually has a stake in the media.

For years, media ownership has been in the hands of whites while black entrants were strategically barred and prevented from becoming owners.

One such instance was when a group of black businessmen, with Struggle credentials, came under a barrage of criticism when they tried to buy or acquire a stake in the Sunday Times.

Similarly, ANC veteran and former premier of PWV (before it was named Gauteng), Tokyo Sexwale's Mvelaphanda, was criticised for its decision to buy a stake of the newspaper, then owned by Avusa.

So the story of black media ownership has been a thorny issue since the dawn of democracy, especially with journalists themselves criticising and pouring scorn in every black company that intended to purchase shares in the media industry.

With the media hogging news headlines in radio, television, print and on social media platforms; one is inclined to believe that the important media story recently is the spat between journalists or the 2018 State of the Newsrooms Report, the intimidation of journalists and the ongoing court battle between the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) and the EFF.

Or perhaps, claims of misrepresentation of the Audit Bureau of Circulations by some media houses or the lack of media ethics or the report on editorial interference at the SABC.

The positive media story that the media is failing to tell is that of the importance of new black media owners such as Fundudzi Media, which saved jobs at the Sunday World which, a month ago, was facing closure.

The publication was about to join newspapers such as The Weekender, The Times, Nova, The New Age and This Day, which were born in a free and democratic South Africa and subsequently died a slow and painful death for reasons including economic pressures, failure to re-invent and the falling standards of journalism.

Another positive media story is that of Lebashe Investment, a black-owned company headed by Tshepo Mahloele, which bought Tiso Blackstar Group titles - including Sowetan, Sunday Times, Business Day - and other assets in some parts of the continent.

As to why such acquisitions are criticised, instead of being celebrated, especially in the media, is an indictment to our polarised state of journalism.

As to why black journalists - with the exception of a few lone voices drowning in the cacophony of noise - failed to defend such an acquisitions, is mind-boggling.

Listening to Mahloele at the Press Council of South Africa dinner during its annual general meeting, I could not comprehend why they were demonised for venturing into the media space.

I still do not understand why the suspicions of editorial interference were peddled, unless it is a crime and a sin for blacks to own media, and newspapers to be specific.

In these tough economic times, we should celebrate that both Lebashe and Fundudzi have saved jobs. The State of the Newsroom Report is painting a gloomy and sad picture about the jobs bloodbath in journalism.

Remember that when a media house shuts down, it is not only journalists who are casualties. Other departments - including advertising, circulation, digital platforms, cleaners, security guards and drivers - are also affected.

*Sepotokele is a journalist, communication strategist and media trainer

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