/ 24 October 2014

Golding: Accusations of political interference emerge

Golding: Accusations Of Political Interference Emerge

E.tv boss Marcel Golding will hear on Monday if his urgent application in the Cape Town labour court to have his suspension overturned has been successful. 

Golding alleged in his affidavit that his suspension, while attributed to his decision to buy shares into set top box manufacturer Ellies, is actually the result of his refusal to bow to political pressure to carry positive coverage of President Jacob Zuma and other officials on the independent broadcast channel. 

He also argues that he is employed not by Hosken Consolidated Investment (HCI), who suspended him, but Sabido, a parent company of e.tv, so HCI had no right to take action against him. HCI has majority holdings in Sabido. 

The case, apart from raising the specter of political interference in the independent broadcaster e.tv, will no doubt spell the end of a two-decade partnership between Golding, well known in the South African landscape, and Copelyn – both former trade unionists. 

Diverting attention
HCI executive director Yunis Shaik, in an answering affidavit, said Golding was “distracting attention from the seriousness of the complaints of gross misconduct … to make sensational remarks in a public forum to use as a foil/defence for what I submit, is entirely indefensible gross misconduct”. 

Golding said in his 51-page founding affidavit that it was his refusal to influence good coverage of Zuma in the run up to the 2014 general elections that resulted in a fall out with his almost 20-year-long partnership with John Copelyn and HCI director Yunis Shaik.

One example given by Golding of political interference was an email allegedly sent to Bronwyn Keene-Young (chief operating officer of Sabido) by Shaik, in which he said a minister had called and asked that newsfeed of Zuma opening a dam be aired on e.tv evening news. It was four days after the public protector’s report into Nkandla was made public. 

He also mentioned that in August this year he was sent an “SMS instruction” by the Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers’ Union’s (SACTWU) Andre Kriel to broadcast live a lecture delivered by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

“I am vehemently opposed to any interference with the independece and integrity of editorial content and this tension is what led to the fracture of alliances within the connected companies,” Golding argued.

Political influence
Golding painted a picture of how political influence began in the lead up to the 2014 general elections. “I was unwilling to compromise on the issue of independence and integrity of editorial content and Copelyn saw my view as detrimental to HCI’s business interets, particularly because of the attitude of its major shareholder, SACTWU, predominantly expressed through Shaik.”

SACTWU holds approximately 32% of HCI shares and according to Golding is HCI’s single largest beneficial shareholder. Golding personally owns 8% of HCI, apart from chairing HCI, he is chairperson of Sabido and e.tv.

Golding has asked the court to declare his suspension unlawful. “I hold the view that I believe that two directors of HCI, John Copelyn and Yunis Shaik are the driving forces behind the attemps to push me out,” he said in his statement. 

HCI has claimed that Golding was suspended because he purchased shares in Ellies, a JSE-listed company, without the approval of the board. 

Shaik said that financial director Kevin Govender and CEO Copelyn would not support purchase of shares in Ellis. While Golding says in his affidavit that he believes it was “strategically sound” to invest in the company. 

“I saw such an investment (and still do) a strategic investment for one of our key Sabido subsidiaries which is struggling to meet its targets.”

‘Gross misconduct’
HCI in a statement released on the JSE’s SENS line on Wednesday said that Golding had been suspended for “gross misconduct”.

Shaik disputed Golding’s argument that he was not employed by HCI, saying he would not have been able to buy the shares through one of HCI’s primary bankers, Investec, “could he not have relied on his status as an executive employee of HCI”. 

Last year HCI and Remgro launched the free-to-air service Openview. Users had to buy a satellite dish and decoder to view the free channels and Ellies is one of the suppliers offering a compatible decoder. The sale of decoders proved slower than expected, however. 

Copelyn and Golding became business partners in 1995, co-founding HCI in 1997. Before that Golding was involved in with the National Union of Mine Workers and Copelyn as general secretary of SACTWU. 

The judge ruled on Friday that he would provide judgment on Monday October 27.