Mzwandile Manyi. File Photo.

JOHANNESBURG -  The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on Monday said it has "noted the hasty closure" of the Afro Voice newspaper, previously the New Age.

Afro Voice journalists were called to a meeting last Thursday and then informed that the paper was publishing its final edition. 

Sanef Chairperson Mahlatse Mahlase said the paper has been dogged by controversy from the beginning when Vuyo Mvoko, the publication’s first editor resigned with senior editorial staff before the publishing of the paper’s first edition. Since then controversy has continued to follow the publication.

"Some of these issues have included its ownership by the Gupta family. Also, from the start, the paper refused to publish circulation figures. It was highly dependent on government and approximately 50% of every print-run was distributed free of charge to government departments and parastals.

"Further, parastals funded the 'New Age breakfasts' that hosted government ministers, amongst others. The funding went to the New Age while South Africa’s financially-strapped public broadcaster, the SABC broadcast the 45-minute breakfast programme for free," said Mahlase.

Mahlase said at the time the deal was signed in 2012, the SABC was charging R18,000 for 30 seconds advertising slots. In June 2017, the SABC announced to Parliament that it had incurred costs of R20m. 

This expenditure came to light despite SABC officials having previously told Parliament that while the SABC may not have earned any money they had not incurred costs. The contract was then handed over to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) for further investigation.

"The New Age newspaper has also from the start pushed a controversial - many have argued propagandistic - “good news” agenda. 

This agenda was tailored to support previous President, Jacob Zuma’s views on politics and his controversial 'white monopoly capital' campaign that countered alternative narratives of 'state capture'," said Mahlase.

In 2017, the Gupta family sold the paper to former government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi in a vendor-funded deal. Despite public scepticism, there was some hope at this point that the paper might be able to shift from its difficult past. However, 10 months into its new ownership the paper has now closed down.

Mahlase said Sanef was aware that journalists have constantly been at the receiving end of the paper’s chequered history and the wheeling and dealing of its owners and management. 

"We believe this is not a chapter in our media history we should be proud of," said Mahlase.

African News Agency (ANA)