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New Age execs deny pressuring the DA to 'back off'

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A meeting between DA MP Wilmot James and the "New Age" bosses was a constructive discussion on issues of media and politics, the newspaper has said.

'New Age' managing editor Atul Gupta. (Gallo)

New Age chief executive Nazeem Howa was responding to allegations by Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille on Wednesday that he, along with the newspaper's editor Moegsien Williams and managing editor Atul Gupta, had tried to put pressure on federal chairperson James to "back off" from asking parliamentary questions on public funding of the publication.

"It was a much more constructive meeting than reported, and at which, as a consequence, Professor James invited Moegsien to address the DA caucus next month," said Howa.

He said they had pointed out that the DA had a "narrow focus" in the questions it was asking and that the party should include all newspapers in its probe.

"Professor James, in fact, conceded this point and undertook to raise it within the party structures," said Howa.

Howa added that the possible sale of the Independent Newspaper group was raised as part of a discussion on the "changing media landscape" and the impact on the 2014 election campaign.

A 'heavy-handed' approach
Earlier on Wednesday, Zille accused the party of adopting a heavy-handed approach during the meeting with James at his home, at the end of last year.

"The three adopted a heavy-handed approach, and said the DA should be aware of the fact that the Independent Group would soon be bought by a well-known ANC sympathiser and that this would be very bad for the DA," Zille told reporters at Parliament.

Zille and the New Age executives have been involved in a public spat, after she refused to speak at one of their business breakfasts, saying it was being funded by public money. The newspaper hit back, saying she had been aware of this fact when she attended one of their breakfasts in the past.

Asked about the meeting, James told the South African Press Association he did in fact agree that the DA should look at the public funding of all newspapers.

James backed Zille on the tone of the meeting.

"It was a pressure discussion, it was not an innocent discussion ... we were asking questions in Parliament and they were very heated in their approach," James said.

James said the New Age executives had made it clear that the DA's questions were "harmful for business".

Investigation
At a media briefing on Wednesday, Zille told journalists that she has written to President Jacob Zuma asking for the appointment of the inquiry.

Zille said the New Age is almost entirely funded by the ANC at national and provincial levels, which accounts for 77% of its advertising revenue stream alone, despite the fact that it has no audited circulation figures.

Zille also pointed out that the newspaper received at least R64.6-million from the government in the form of advertising revenue and “sponsorships” since December 2010. – Sapa

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