Cape Town – Sekunjalo Investment Group, which owns Independent Media, announced on Thursday that they have instructed their attorneys Webber Wentzel to institute legal proceedings against Times Media Group (TMG).
The R500 million damages claim follows the publication of an article, “Breaking the News”, authored by Ann Crotty.
Sekunjalo said the group would shortly announce similar instructions against other media outlets that have republished the offending article.
Earlier this month Independent Media and the African News Agency (ANA) also announced that they would sue TMG for R200 million and R500m respectively.
Sekunjalo Group portfolio comprises investments in more than 200 companies across the African continent, Switzerland, USA and China, including shareholdings and partnerships with 9 multinational companies operating in Africa. The group has significant investments in South Africa with major listed and private companies, all of whom directly and indirectly employ in excess of 115 000 people.
“The Sekunjalo Group considers the Crotty article an insult made with a colonial and apartheid-era mentality," said Dr Iqbal Survé, Executive Chairman of Sekunjalo Investment Group.
"The suggestion that Independent Media which constitutes less than 2% of Sekunjalo's investment portfolio, is being asset-stripped is both laughable and bizarre.
It speaks to the moral bankruptcy of the individuals who write such slander. These same individuals either remain silent or they applaud Independent's competitors when they restructure their businesses for whatever reasons, but when a black-controlled company like Sekunjalo does it they call it 'asset-stripping'," Survé said.
"Sekunjalo has in its 20 year history won many awards and has been a stellar example of good corporate governance and sound business practices and values. We take the highly defamatory accusation of asset-stripping very seriously. It is an insult to our ethical business practices and our adherence to good corporate governance which are integral to all our businesses – both in South Africa and globally,” he said.
Survé said that since acquiring Independent Media, Sekunjalo has invested in excess of R200m in the business to assist the company’s evolution from essentially a print media to a multi-platform media company.
Backed by Independent Media’s board of directors and shareholders, Sekunjalo’s investments were directed at funding, amongst others, new technology, IT infrastructure and the upskilling and training of journalists. The move was in line with the company’s strategy to transition to a digitally-driven company while optimising efficiencies throughout the organisation. Sekunjalo intends to invest a further R500 million in the next 3 years, he said.
Survé said he was confident of an award of significant damages for the defamatory statements made by Crotty, which "is fitting for a novel of fiction".
He said he would like to see such award being used for the further education and training of journalists.
Survé added that since the acquisition of Independent Media in 2013, there has been a deliberate campaign of bullying, lies, distortion and disinformation against himself, Independent Media and Sekunjalo.
“Clearly this campaign is designed to undermine our investment, our business credibility and our transformation agenda, but it also highlights the lengths to which our competitors will go to hold on to the traditionally white-dominated media which benefitted royally from apartheid,” he said.
“It is normal practice for any dynamic company to constantly review its business strategy and add value for its shareholders. All companies and especially media companies the world over do this especially in today's rapidly changing media environment.
"We have witnessed our competitors restructure their businesses without any comment from our detractors. This whole situation is vindictive and defamatory and we have to draw the line,” said Dr Survé.
Sekunjalo further believes that the legal action that it will institute against TMG as well as the pending legal action against other individuals and media outlets is a sign of its support for small black-owned publishers who have been trampled on by the big media conglomerates and who remain prejudiced by the monopolisation of media in SA.
“We will not be intimidated and therefore we have no hesitation in holding them to account as companies, groups and in their personal capacities in our courts and in the courts abroad. This fight is not only our fight; it is a fight on behalf of small, black-owned publishers who have been bullied by the media monopolies and their surrogates,” said Survé.
"Most importantly this fight is about the control and transformation of the media and ultimately about the economy of this country. The time is now."