/ 11 September 2015

Response to the Sunday Times story

Executive Deputy Chairman of M&G Media Ltd responds to a Sunday Times article about the company's restructuring.
Executive Deputy Chairman of M&G Media Ltd responds to a Sunday Times article about the company's restructuring.
  1. I would like to reiterate my unwavering focus on protecting the independence and viability of the Mail & Guardian as I have done for more than 13 years. I am committed to the delivery of quality content that is credible, inclusive, and brings out the best in our societies, and will not hesitate to implement decisions that support this.
  2. I am also committed to investing in investigative journalism that meets the highest ethical standards and helps promote good governance, transparency and accountability. I have done so for over 19 years in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
  3. While demographic shifts and technology have disrupted our business and created major financial challenges, there are no potential buyers for the M&G for the simple reason – the M&G is not for sale. It is pure mischief to suggest that the independent investigative unit that is partly funded by the M&G could somehow have any standing to communicate with phantom “potential buyers”. Small wonder these ‘potential buyers’ are never named.
  4. The M&G is not alone in facing a tough trading environment in the print media. The process to reduce staff is never an easy one, nor is it done as an end in itself. Staff reductions are necessary to preserve the paper’s future. It is part of the shift to a digital future.
  5. Staff reductions are taking place in many newsrooms, factories and mines across South Africa and indeed the whole world. Anyone who thinks it can be business as usual in the print media space clearly does not grasp the scale of the disruption the industry is facing. This was explicitly stated by the Sunday Time‘s Ms Loni Prinsloo in the email she sent me (As we all know, media companies – all of them – are currently undergoing restructuring and trying to branch out to different platforms in an attempt to curb the bleeding). Worth noting that “curb the bleeding” was Ms Prinsloo’s own phrase.
  6. Let me quote Media24 chief executive Esmare? Weideman who recently said: “Times are really tough in the media worldwide.” She said this in a story by Ann Crotty that appears in the same Sunday Times edition as the one by Loni Prinsloo & Asha Speckman on the M&G. Crotty discloses that, “The company’s [Media24] advertising income was down R300-million last year and this had a big impact on trading profit”. The surprise would be if there was a media outfit that wasn’t grappling with these challenges, or bothering to address the threats. But I believe that from this painful process, as M&G, we shall find a model that works and a model that is profitable.
  7. It is worth noting how Crotty’s Sunday Times story on Media24 facing the same headwinds as the M&G is largely sympathetic in tone and reiterates the fact that it is the print industry that must find new models. “Management is pouring money into e-commerce and other digital investments in a bid to reduce reliance on the fading print media business”, the story stated.
  8. On the other hand Prinsloo and Speckman write their story as if these industry wide pressures are unique to the M&G. They hone in on our business decision to reduce our investment in the iPad platform. But what they fail to mention is that the iPad platform has been dwindling for everyone globally. No less a media investor than Rupert Murdoch had to scrap his ambitious and costly iPad-only Daily. (Again worth noting that in her email to me Ms Prinsloo says “As we are all in the same boat and industry be assured that this matter is very close to our hearts”). In light of the article published, it would be interesting to know exactly how the Sunday Times and the M&G are “in the same boat”.
  9. One would expect reporters writing a story of this scale to ask said departing editor why her employers have let her go instead of lifting her clearly facile tweet as Prinsloo and Speckman did on Ms Quintal. “After two years as M&G editor I’m taking a Great Leap Forward into the unknown 2 consider new horizons — learning Mandarin isn’t one of them,” she tweeted on Monday. How about speaking to the departing editor or her employer instead of saying: “The reasons for her departure are unclear, but sources say she was unhappy”. This is just not fair journalism.
  10. It is worth remembering that it is one thing to be an investigative journalist and quite another to be an investor with the means to run a sustainable national institution like the M&G. One can’t just magically become a media owner because they write investigative stories.
  11. There are investigative journalists who think the route to sustainable journalism is via hand-outs from philanthropist. New business models are what is desperately needed, not hand-outs.
  12. I do not take the pressure faced by the M&G lightly and that is why I have invested a great deal of time and resources to ensure that the Mail & Guardian remains one of Africa’s most dynamic media entities. It is tough, and there will be differences of opinion, but my team and I are determined to make this work.