The imminent closure of the SA Press Association (Sapa) is a blow to press freedom, the Cape Town Press Club said on Friday.
“The news that the South African Press Association will be wrapping up its operations and be closing down at the end of March is bad news for the entire country and a blow to press freedom,” co-chairmen Donwald Pressly and Brent Meersman said in a statement.
“Sapa reporters have on so many occasions been in the right place, at the right time, and delivered the level of quality reporting that was so sorely needed by other media outlets.”
They said Sapa's contribution to social discourse in South Africa could never be over-estimated, and that its closure would mean the loss of at least 40 journalism jobs.
Considering that the major media houses were also cutting jobs, this placed the future of journalism in South Africa in jeopardy.
“The closing down of a domestic news wire service means that South Africa now becomes beholden to international news wires for news not only of itself, but of its neighbours and around the world,” Pressly and Meersman said.
“We lament the closure of a credible source that acted not only independent of government, but also free from the biases of any single, powerful media owner.”
The Cape Town Press Club paid tribute to the fearless Sapa reporters who had served news journalism with dedication for the past 70 years.
On Thursday, Sapa's board said the agency would issue its last story at midnight on March 31.
“After the disposal of the assets the company will be liquidated and its operations will cease on March 31, 2015,” chairwoman Minette Ferreira said in a statement.
Since Sapa, which has been in existence since 1938, was a special category non-profit company, it could not be sold off.
Ferreira said Sapa's board of directors met last week and confirmed that the decision, taken last September and by the members' AGM on November 27, 2014, to wind up the news agency as a non-profit company, had to be implemented.
The board appointed Nkonki Incorporated, an independent firm of auditors and financial advisers, to help Sapa close shop.
The board said three parties, Gallo Images, KMM Review Publishers, and Sekunjalo Investments Holdings, had expressed an interest in setting up an operation on similar lines as Sapa.
“In the period since September, the parties had each presented their proposals for the establishment of a commercially based content-generating and syndication service business and at last week's meeting provided updates on their original proposals,” the board said.
“Nkonki is evaluating these proposals. The board, through Nkonki, has now entered a process of calling for bids for the assets of Sapa.”
Ferreira said the board intended “ensuring the interests of all Sapa employees were correctly and meticulously attended to.
“In addition, current subscribers would in due course be briefed on the plans and would be approached directly by the operators of the new syndication business,” she said.