SA reporters eye stake in Independent Newspapers

Journalists at the financially troubled media organisation Independent News and Media—owners of, among others, the Star and the Sunday Independent, are clubbing together to buy a stake of its South African shares.

Ann Crotty, a senior financial journalist at Business Report, told Mail & Guardian Online on Wednesday that local journalists are in the process of establishing a trust fund with the intention of acquiring 25% of Independent News and Media shares.

Speaking on the phone from Cape Town, she said they were “trying to secure a stake on behalf of journalism”. She emphasised the exercise is “not a money-making initiative” and that “there will be no financial paybacks for those involved”. The trust would focus on “training and up-skilling” of journalists and “it’s about developing and making journalism an attractive profession”, said Crotty.

According to Crotty, INM’s 2008 annual report showed that its SA assets generated profits of €72-million and €59-million in 2007. INM South Africa, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dublin group, has net assets valued at about €130-million—the best-performing of the group—which suggests the purchase would require about R500-million.

Crotty said the trust was looking for potential investors and that dividends earned in the initial years would be used to pay back the loan and “buy out” the would-be the investor.

Though the “local management and the controlling shareholders in Dublin have publicly said the business is not for sale”, Crotty believes that the controlling shareholders could be persuaded of the commercial benefits of selling to a journalists’ trust.

She added that “the situation in Dublin is fluid”. Crotty said the trust was “looking to management to invest in the long-term sustainability of the company”. She said that instead of “just looking at receiving dividends, the shareholders should be encouraged to look at development”.

Professor Anton Harber, who directs the Journalism and Media Studies Programme at Wits University, said in his blog, the Harbinger, that there had been talk that management, led by editor-in-chief Moegsien Williams, and deputy CEO Nazeem Howa, are also interested in pitching for the business.

Williams could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

“There are some who’ve called us foolhardy—we say it’s ambition,” said Crotty.

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