President Jacob Zuma's son will be a key BEE partner in the 24-hour satellite news channel being launched by the politically-connected Gupta family.
With the Guptas' channel ANN7 now scheduled to kick off on August 21, there were few surprises when family spokesperson Haranath Ghosh released a statement on Thursday night disclosing that 29-year-old Duduzane Zuma, son of President Jacob Zuma, would be a shareholder in the venture.
"Duduzane has worked within the Gupta family companies for more than a decade, starting his career in the group as a trainee and working his way up to senior executive," said Ghosh.
The influence of the powerful Gupta family is set to grow with the addition of the 24-hour news channel on the continent-wide DStv satellite platform to its media portfolio.
Although concern has mounted in the ANC and its alliance partner, Cosatu, about the alleged influence of the Guptas over Zuma and his government, the Guptas' move to broadcasting will further entrench their position in the country.
Since the arrival from 1993 in South Africa of the three Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, from India, they have established close ties with Zuma and his family.
The launch of the Gupta's satellite channel follows close behind the launch of the SABC's own 24-hour news channel, and both are perceived to be sympathetic to Zuma and his government.
Fears the SABC 24-hour news channel could be used as a propaganda tool in the run-up to next year's general election has been vigorously denied by veteran broadcaster Jimi Matthews, who is acting group executive of news at the public broadcaster.
Hlaudi Motsoeneng, acting chief operating officer for the SABC who is leading its 24-hour news channel project, told the Mail & Guardian two weeks ago that the public broadcaster's relationship with the Gupta family is set to grow. Motsoeneng also defended the SABC's involvement in the business breakfasts hosted by the Gupta-owned New Age. Broadcast on the SABC's Morning Live, the popular business breakfasts have been sponsored by state-owned companies that have poured millions of rands into keeping them going.
Despite the controversy around the public broadcaster's relationship with the Guptas, Motsoeneng said the SABC would happily trade news content with ANN7, if requested, just as it would with other broadcasters.
ANN7 has said it would broadcast in multiple languages and focus on national and world events.
While the SABC plans to work closely in its broadcasting projects with the Gupta family, their controversial actions have caused major ructions in the ANC.
The Guptas ran into a storm of protest on April 30 when their chartered wedding plane landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base. The family had hired the plane to bring Indian guests to the nuptials of Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia at Sun City.
The debacle caused an uproar in the country, especially after it emerged that defence minister Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula explicitly refused them permission to land. While it does not appear the Guptas will be held to account by government for this breach of security, the M&G was recently informed that the wealthy ANC Ward 117 branch in Saxonwold in Johannesburg is still proceeding with its plans to hold a disciplinary hearing against businessman Atul Gupta.
The decision to act against the Guptas over the Waterkloof incident came after a member of the branch laid a complaint against him, saying the ramifications for the ANC were serious.
In the past few months, the Guptas have declined to comment on who its BEE partners would be in its satellite venture.
Ghosh said Infinity Media, which will run the channel, is jointly owned by Indian company Essel Media (35%), Oakbay Investments, the Gupta family's investment vehicle (35%) Mabengela Investments (21%) a broad-based black economic empowerment company, in which Duduzane Zuma holds a 45% stake, while a further 9% has been reserved for staff and management.
International broadcaster Laxmi Narain Goel is one of the board directors of Infinity Media. The others board directors are Arpit Goel, Atul Gupta, Varun Gupta and Nazeem Howa.
At present, Goel holds the position of vice-chairperson of the Essel Group of Companies in India, and was until a few years ago executive director of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, heading new business.
"In the short span of time since he took over as director of News Group in June 2002, Mr Goel successfully positioned Zee News as a leader in its market," said Ghosh. "With human-interest stories as the focus of his editorial policy, he has touched the hearts and lives of the common citizens of India."
Goel apparently also issued an assurance that the editorial charter guiding the venture called on the operating management to ensure balanced news coverage, guaranteeing that the interests of the ordinary people in South Africa are covered, said Ghosh.
The launch of the two new satellite channels has opened up a wider range of opportunities for broadcast journalists. Award-winning television journalist Chantal Rutter Dros has been snapped up by ANN7, following a stint at M-Net's popular Carte Blanche.