ANN7 sacrificed to save MultiChoice ‘mistake-men’

NEWS ANALYSIS

MultiChoice chief executive Calvo Mawela was clear — there had been “mistakes”.

In the first minutes of describing an investigation into his company’s relationship with the Gupta-created news channel ANN7, Mawela used that word five times. He rolled it out again while answering questions during a media briefing on Wednesday.

MultiChoice was equally clear about the consequences — when ANN7’s contract ends in August, it will be dropped from DStv.

But how the one flows from the other was less clear. The “mistakes” were made by MultiChoice management, not by ANN7.

MultiChoice had nothing to say about the quality of ANN7 or the number of viewers it attracts. It did not dispute new owner Mzwanele Manyi’s claims that all ties with the controversial Gupta family had been cut. It did not dispute the need for an alternative voice in television news — it said it would replace ANN7 to fill just that need.

The only hint of an explanation for dropping ANN7 came in a carefully worded statement prepared for Mawela.

“This has been a humbling experience for MultiChoice,” he said of the internal investigation, which found no wrongdoing and pointed to no culprits. “While we entered into an agreement for the ANN7 channel at a time that the extent of state capture was unknown, we fully understand the outrage of the public regarding endemic corruption in our country and accept we should have dealt with the concerns around ANN7 far more swiftly.”

ANN7, it seems, is to be sacrificed on the altar of public perception.

MultiChoice made no similar offering from within its ranks. It defended its executives, who acted collectively (which “materially reduces the risk of corrupt activity”) or “in the interests of the company”.

It made no concessions of wrongdoing more serious than failing to anticipate public anger. Not even when it comes to what seems, in the colloquial sense, like its very own attempt at state capture when it offered the SABC a bribe to adopt a policy that would profit MultiChoice.

The MultiChoice board did not include the company’s dealings with the SABC in its internal review of the ANN7 relationship.

But, yes, Mawela confirmed, as leaked documents showed, MultiChoice had demanded that the SABC oppose a policy that would allow for the encryption of digital terrestrial broadcasts, which would allow for the creation of pay channels in direct competition to the DStv offering. That policy position was a condition to a contract that would land the SABC a then urgently needed cash injection.

MultiChoice had always been clear that encryption is “not in the public interest, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money”, Mawela said.

So a requirement that the SABC oppose it was written into a contract. “And the SABC decided of its own accord that it accepts the provision.”

Mawela said he was baffled by efforts to link the negotiations (in which MultiChoice demanded the encryption provision) and the encryption issue.

The MultiChoice board said one weakness its investigation showed up was the lack of a formal policy on lobbying, which would have applied to issues such as digital encryption. It would now develop such guidelines.

This will be done by management, which still sees no problem with offering a struggling state institution money — on condition that it does what is best for MultiChoice.

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Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

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