Chairman of Independent Newspapers, Dr Iqbal Surve, and Tony Howard, the Deputy Executive Chairman. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Independent Newspapers response to statement by Mr Trevor Ncube on behalf of Mail & Guardian

We have taken note of a press release issued this past Tuesday by Mr Trevor Ncube, a shareholder of Mail & Guardian ('M&G) and Alpha Media Holdings (“AMH”).

We are surprised, that in response to an article that ran in certain of our newspapers last Friday about difficulties being experienced at the Mail & Guardian, it was necessary for Mr. Ncube to issue a detailed statement which really did not provide any answers to the real issues that were reported on.

We will equally not be intimidated or deterred by the actions and reporting of the Mail & Guardian and other competitors on the steps we are openly taking to transform our business from a legacy print-media company into a growth-focused, proud multi-platform media and content company.

Our strategies, which are being carefully implemented, are based on building a sustainable modern media business which includes the expansion of our current brands and the development of new products and multimedia offerings in clearly defined and identified niches markets.

Our actions are no different from those being taken by all other print-media companies - including each of the major newspaper groups in South Africa as well as many overseas. We therefore find this obsession of our competitors with the changes taking place at Independent surprising and somewhat sinister.

The Mail & Guardian, in particular, has been relentless in the pursuit of this sinister agenda against Independent. The Mail & Guardian has also not shied away from using its editorial space to pursue what are corporate interests against Independent.

This pattern of behaviour was established even before the Sekunjalo acquisition. The initial motive for it seems to have been Mr. Ncube's (subsequently failed) attempt to acquire three Independent titles when the group was put up for sale last year. It is now a matter of public record that he has pursued this agenda as follows:

* The former editor of the Mail & Guardian, Mr. Nic Dawes, tried to use his position as chairman of the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) to formally oppose the sale of Independent to Sekunjalo, on the most spurious grounds and without any mandate from Sanef. Mr. Dawes was forced to apologise for his action by his Sanef colleagues

* When Mr. Ncube failed to acquire a portion of Independent, the Mail &Guardian started a disinformation campaign against Independent and Sekunjalo, running a series of poorly researched, unsubstantiated stories casting aspersions on Sekunjalo, its chairman, Independent and its employees, and our shareholders.

* Since the failure of his attempted acquisition of a portion of our company, the tone and thrust of Mr. Ncube's newspaper's coverage of Independent has been stridently negative, and Mail & Guardian has sought to align itself to every anti-Independent cause going. The aim is to derail Independent's restructuring and re-emergence under its new ownership and management

* In his statement, Mr. Ncube has been disingenuous, trying to create the impression that he has spoken to Dr Surve or Independent has called him, and alleging that we have tried to “stop” his journalists from writing negative stories. We can categorically state that the last direct conversation between Dr. Surve and Mr. Ncube took place last year shortly following our company's acquisition by Sekunjalo, and it concerned only Mr. Ncube's failed attempt to buy three Independent titles.

* Mr. Ncube's seeming motive is to draw Dr. Surve into a public spat, by suggesting that the latter was behind The Star's stories on the financial health of his business. Dr. Surve has been away at the BRICS Council and had no involvement or knowledge of what our journalists were working on.

* Mr. Ncube claims not to instruct his journalists on what to write, and yet with his behavior he is attempting intimidate ours. Intimidation is the worst form of editorial interference.

* We will vigorously defend our rights in relation to the above, and any more unethical, mendacious behaviour from Mail & Guardian.

The redesign of our business is an internal matter and we will deal with it in this manner, respecting the rights and privacy of our employees - as well as the company's and shareholder's rights to re-engineer the business to meet the needs of transforming the business into a modern media and content company.

The company will not comment further in respect of any questions relating to the transformation and repositioning of its business activities. As has been said repeatedly, this is an internal matter and will be dealt with on this basis.

A L Howard

Deputy Executive Chairman