One of the most interesting parts of the unusually long chief executive commentary attached to Times Media Group’s results for financial 2013 was the “editorial” section under the heading “Looking forward”.
In it, Andrew Bonamour touches on a little-explored reason for the print media losing readers. It has nothing to do with fast-moving technological changes and everything to do with the fact that we, in the media industry, might be boring readers.
Of course, Bonamour does not use the B word. Instead, he refers to the increasing bias towards news of political interest “often catering to the political elite at the expense of the more varied interests of readers in our target market”.
This trend reached its nadir in the run-up to the ANC Mangaung conference last year, he says, “when tens of thousands of column centimetres were devoted to stories leaked by one or other of the competing factions”.
Then comes the killer part of Bonamour’s comment: “Very few of the stories were either accurate or insightful, and even fewer were of interest to ordinary citizens. It is, therefore, no wonder that this period was characterised by an alarming slump in newspaper circulation overall.”
Some cynics might say Bonamour was encouraged to take this stance by the prospect of losing valuable government advertising, rather as other media proprietors have talked about the need for more sunshine journalism.
But the reality is that amid all the hand-wringing and grim tales of the demise of the traditional media, few people within the industry have raised the possibility that we are fading is because we are not providing what the market wants, regardless of whether it is delivered on a smartphone or on paper.
And then there’s Bonamour’s comment about the need to cut about R12 million of editorial costs from BDFM’s R100m editorial budget. That will be stressful. page 20
ANC MP Freddie Adams asked Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba in a written question whether his department had looked at the possible socioeconomic implications regarding the delays in the completion of the Medupi power station.
“If not, what is the position in this regard; if so, what are the relevant details?” was the standard question format. He also asked whether the minister’s department was taking any further steps to ensure that the building of the power station was completed; if not, why not; if so, what were the time frames and what were the recouping costs of further delays?
Gigaba’s answer was that Medupi was scheduled “to install additional capacity in the currently constrained electricity supply system in order to ensure continued investment and growth in the economy”.
While the demand for electricity had reduced “due to the economic slowdown, the impact of the delay in completing Medupi will be apparent if the economic recovery precedes recovery in [the] project schedule to ensure the earliest possible delivery of electricity from the power station”. Eskom, he pledged, was undertaking steps to limit further delays to the project.
The department had tasked the Eskom board to establish a sub-committee that would focus on close monitoring of the current Eskom build programme at Medupi – as well as the other coal-fired power station, Kusile, and the hydroelectric pump storage plant, Ingula – so as to ensure completion “within approved timeframes”, the minister said. “The board will follow contractual mechanisms to recoup costs from defaulting contractors.”
It seems like a case of the government quietly hoping the economy won’t suddenly take off, because Eskom would be caught short and it may trigger blackouts. Not something it wants to contemplate in the run-up to a national election.
The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has welcomed the forensic investigation called by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies into the National Empowerment Fund’s (NEF’s) chief executive Philisiwe Mthethwa – the wife of Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa – following allegations of fraud and corruption.
The NEF’s board on Friday released a statement confirming an investigation would be conducted by Deloitte. Two other NEF employees are also part of the probe.
ACDP parliamentary leader Wayne Thring reported that the decision to hold an investigation was triggered after the Department of Trade and Industry received an anonymous tip-off. The fund came under the spotlight last month when it emerged that Mthethwa had granted businesswoman Khanyi Dhlomo a R34 million loan to open the luxury boutique, Luminance, in Hyde Park, Johannesburg. It also emerged that the fund approved a R9.8m loan to a company allegedly owned by Mthethwa’s brother, Nkanyiso Buthelezi. Thring reported that three years on “not a cent has been repaid. Last week, it came to light that the fund wrote off R290m last year”.
Thring said the loan to Luminance had created “a stir” – largely because the NEF’s funding intended to empower people rather than benefit rich people – “but these new allegations of family members being awarded funds of close to R10m is a real cause for concern”.
The ACDP said it was cautiously optimistic that the writing off of nearly R300m would come under the microscope during the investigation.
“It must be stressed that the NEF was established to assist budding South African entrepreneurs who could prove that their business plans were viable and that they would be able to repay the loans given to them. The fact that close to R300m has been lost also brings the process of fund allocation into question.”
Thring, who recently joined the benches of parliament, sure is making some telling points.
Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Ann Crotty and Donwald Pressly.