INTERNATIONAL: South African press feels the force of black empowerment - A former all-white bastion is about to be overturned, Elizabeth Kinghorn writes

Black empowerment has been a hot topic in South Africa since President Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994, but it was only last year that it swept into the media arena with a vengeance. So much so, that by the middle of 1997, two of the country’s four big printing and publishing groups are likely to be controlled by new black owners.

Black empowerment has been a hot topic in South Africa since

President Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994, but it was only last

year that it swept into the media arena with a vengeance. So much so,

that by the middle of 1997, two of the country’s four big printing and

publishing groups are likely to be controlled by new black owners.



Leading the assault on this former all-white bastion is the National

Empowerment Consortium, a group of more than 50 disparate black

organisations headed by Mandela’s one-time heir apparent, Cyril

Ramaphosa.



The business-oriented Ramaphosa left the government last year after

losing the battle for succession to his rival, Thabo Mbeke. This shift

from politics to business was carried out with the blessing of the

President, who saw it as a chance for Ramaphosa to spearhead a drive for

more black influence, especially in the media.



He hit home almost immediately, seizing control of the country’s two

most influential financial papers, the Financial Mail and Business Day,

last October. This was achieved by effectively buying Times Media

Limited (TML) through its principal shareholder, Anglo’s diversified

industrial group, Johnnic.



The Financial Mail, in particular, has a history of standing up for what

it feels is right, regardless of the government of the day, and has been

a thorn in the side of previous white-dominated administrations, as well

as the Mandela government.



So the purchase by Ramaphosa’s group was viewed with deep suspicion,

particularly by the Mail’s outspoken editor, Nigel Bruce, and his

freelance editor-at-large, David Gleason.



Fearing editorial interference - a charge vehemently denied by

management - the pair have now quit the Mail and bought its much smaller

and ailing rival, Finance Week. At the same time, TML sold half its

interest in the two papers to the UK-based Pearson group, and replaced

Bruce as editor with an English journalist of the same name, Peter

Bruce.



Another key media group that is likely to gain substantial black

shareholding this year is the Afrikaans publisher, Perskor, which is

planning to sell a significant stake to the black empowerment group,

Kagiso Trust Investment. A second Afrikaans publisher, Naspers, has also

seen the writing on the wall, and added black directors to its board. It

also aims to hive off its black newspaper publishing firm, City Press,

to a black consortium, and its educational book interests to a joint

venture company with strong black representation called Vuna Industrial

Holdings.



The fourth major media group in South Africa is the former Argus group

of newspapers, which runs all of the country’s major English language

newspapers, including the Johannesburg Star, the Cape Times and the Cape

Argus. This is now owned by Tony O’Reilly’s Independent Newspapers, a

group which has very good relations with the government - too good,

according to some critics.



Dramatic changes are sweeping the media world in South Africa, as

foreign companies start to move in and black groups seek more influence.

Observers are hoping that the traditional role, particularly of the

English press, will not be undermined in the process.



MAIN OWNERSHIP

NEC owns 35% of Johnnic

Johnnic owns 45% of Omni Media

Omni Media owns 91.5% of Times Media

Times Media and Pearson own 50% each of Financial Mail and Business Day



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