‘REPORTS of my death are greatly exaggerated,” Mark Twain wrote in a cable to the Associated Press after they had prematurely published his obituary.
In similar vein, rumours of the impending sale of the Cape Times and other newspapers in the Independent Newspapers stable are, as yet, equally exaggerated.
But that doesn’t mean we are safe. Our Irish owners have publicly stated that they have been approached by various parties interested in buying us – but they haven’t said we are actually for sale.
We know that various parties have expressed interest – the Cape Town-based Sekunjalo group, possibly the Gupta family, who own that dreadful rag, The New Age, Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale’s names have both been kicked about.
But the most exciting possibility is that of the Independent Trust for Media Freedom (the “Indie Trust”), whose founding trustees are Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois, Business Report editor-at-large, Ann Crotty, and Media Workers’ Association of South Africa general secretary, Tuwani Gumani.
Essentially the idea is that we, the journalists and other media workers employed by the Independent Group, will buy a 25 percent stake in the company, and run the newspapers in conjunction with our financial backers.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, in agreeing to be our patron, said “we know that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and at this particular stage in our nascent democracy, more than ever we need a free and independent press.
“The powerful are kept on their toes most often by the knowledge that any excesses and abuse of that power will be fearlessly exposed. You are absolutely crucial. All power to you all.”
Our biggest concern, as working journalists, is to keep the newspapers free of political interference from proprietors, and to continue to produce high quality newspapers and news delivery for new media.
It has always been a feature of particularly the British press, that powerful interests vie for ownership and control of newspapers because of the political influence we can bring to bear. We just have to look at the sordid way in which Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation played fast and loose with not just political issues, but also in massive news manipulation in pursuit of bigger sales and profits.
As the founding trustees said in a letters to staff when our trust was launched, “the Independent Trust for Media Freedom is aimed at securing the interests of journalism in any changes at Independent Newspapers South Africa, a cause that has attracted widespread support from workers in the company.”
In a separate letter, the trustees said “as you know there has been much speculation about the future of our holding company in Ireland and about a possible sale of Independent SA. In order to prepare for a sale, should there be one, we are reviving the idea of a staff trust, open to all staff in our company…
“If there is to be a sale, we should make sure that journalists and other staff are in a position to get a stake of some sort so that we can have a say in the future of our newspapers and help to realise the great potential this company has.
“As chief executive Tony Howard has emphasised, we have the makings of an excellent media company – we have some of the oldest and best newspaper titles in the country and we have dedicated, passionate and hardworking employees.”
I personally believe that the Indie Trust is one of the most exciting developments in the media in South Africa in recent years.
The Independent Group employs some of South Africa’s (and indeed, the world’s) finest journalists, but our previous Irish majority owners, the O’Reilly family, took big profits offshore and invested very little in the company.
Throughout that process, we have hung on to the proud traditions of our flagship titles – in the case of the Cape Times, traditions that go back to our first publication on Monday, March 27, 1876 – and which make us the oldest daily newspaper in South Africa, and one of the oldest in the world. And that makes us a plum and prestigious prize for any prospective buyer.
I have been asked many times what readers of the Cape Times can do to help preserve the integrity and the future of this newspaper, and my answer is simply this: buy the Cape Times, and even better, subscribe, because without our readers, we are nothing.
Try it – it’s habit-forming.
Without you, our readers, we might as well convert to being just another characterless website that gets lost in the clutter and noise of the double U double U double U.