IOL and the “Mafia-Bank” Advertisements

What the courts cannot do, however, is force companies like Sasol and BDO and British Telecoms to resume business with Survé-linked companies or persuade the Public Investment Corporation to invest more money in his business endeavours.

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‘South African Mafia banks are destroying 8 000 jobs’ IOL 12/5/2022

FNB improves customers’ lives by launching new solutions IOL 11/8/2022

The two anchor quotes on this article highlight what seems to be a cynical anomaly on the IOL website.

On the one hand they reflect owner Iqbal Survé’s current campaign which demonises our banks and on the other his happy acceptance from the same banks of paid-for advertising called ‘sponsored content’ which, if his claims are true, is surely tainted money?

This apparent contradiction which he needs to explain forms the backdrop to an important legal question which will play out in our courts in the coming weeks…

Are our courts entitled to force banks to retain as clients media companies that are effectively insolvent and have no chance of ever being profitable?

That question, as I see it, was posed when, in mid-June, Sekunjalo Independent Media, arguing that it was the victim of racism, won an interim injunction in the Equality Court preventing Nedbank from closing its bank accounts.

The answer, I believe, came a month later, in the Eastern Cape High Court when Acting Judge Mechelle Beneke ruled that the court could not prevent FNB from closing the account of Talhado Fishing Enterprises, a subsidiary of the Iqbal Survé-linked Premier Fishing & Brands which had previously failed in a similar application – see here and here.

The differences between the two cases were compared in a Cape Talk interview between John Maytham and Aslam Moosajee a Dispute Resolution Executive at ENS Africa. Moosajee expressed doubt that the racism claim would prevail and Maytham concurred saying “I’m quite sure that Nedbank will be able to provide the court with the names of thousands of black customers and black-owned businesses.”

Newspaper companies depend on advertising to survive because the sale price does not cover production costs.

Commercially viable

In 2019, Chris Whitfield, the former head of Cape papers at Independent Newspapers said that Sekunjalo newspapers did not carry enough advertising to remain commercially viable.

Business success depends on having talented staff producing a product that customers want to buy and, as I see it, Iqbal Survé violated both those principles when he took control of the Independent Media newspapers in 2013 and the former SAPA in 2015.

Both companies were financially weak but packed with talented news people, so much so that the Cape Times  team, facing an almost-impossible deadline, produced a front page Nelson Mandela obituary which Time magazine rated as among the best in the world.

A purge of ethical staff began soon after Survé took control of the company and, as the former Cape Times political editor Dougie Oakes points out, white sub editors were specifically targeted because they are gatekeepers.

With them gone, Sekunjalo news outlets now constantly laud the company owner – see here and here and here and here and here – so much so that he is now publicly compared to the biblical David. Nothing like this happens at any of our other media companies.

What also became manifest, as I see it, was an openly expressed antipathy to white people who constituted the majority of the company’s readers and advertisers.

This was obvious at the Mpati Commission of Inquiry into malfeasance at the Public Investment Corporation and in the pages of the Cape Times when Aneez Salie was editor. Alleged racism by whites was constantly depicted on its front pages and this ethnic antipathy was plain to see in an editorial on 3 September 2018:

No longer do we serve primarily the descendants of the English colonists.

We are humbled and deeply grateful that you the readers warmed to this approach with loyal support, rejecting calls for a boycott by those colonial, unrepentant racists who once prostituted the Cape Times for their narrow political ends.

South Africa’s million-strong Muslim population will have noted that Survé and the media companies linked to him are now a paid mouthpiece for the government of China and downplay the Uyghur genocide.

Ineluctable decline

The result of this approach was the loss of staff, subscribers and advertisers and, inevitably, insolvency with Zapiro summing up the ineluctable decline – see here and here  and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

The team that produced the acclaimed Madiba obituary front page is long gone and the last of the original SAPA team, Emsie Ferreira, joined the Mail & Guardian more than a year ago having left ANA.  She was joined there by one of the country’s foremost environmental reporters, Sheree Bega, having left The Star. No company can haemorrhage talent at that rate and survive.

Daily newspaper sales in Cape Town and their advertising content provide a useful case study in assessing the financial viability of Sekunjalo newspapers.

In a city which is home to almost five million people Die Burger has a paid circulation of 27 000, the Cape Times less than 8000 and the Cape Argus less than 7000. In telling contrast to Die Burger which is packed with advertising, the two English newspapers carry a fraction of its advertising content, too little to be profitable.

When Alide Dasnois was editor of the Cape Times prior to her abusive dismissal by Iqbal Survé, it had a paid daily circulation of more than 30 000. After losing two thirds of its paying clients and the concomitant loss of advertising revenue while Aneez Salie was editor, he was promoted to head of news of all the Sekunjalo papers. Go figure.

The same process played itself out at the Cape Argus.

In his recently-published book, ‘Hack With A Grenade’ a former Cape Argus editor, Gasant Abarder, reveals the reality which the newspaper faces today:

‘… when I was first appointed editor of the Cape Argus in 2009, there were 57 staff. When I left mainstream media in 2018, there were exactly 10 staff at the Cape Argus – including the editor.

Which brings me to my choice of headline and the two anchor quotes.

The Sekunjalo newspapers and the IOL website have begun a relentless attack on the banks that have closed Iqbal Survé- linked accounts describing them as ‘Mafia banks’ – see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

In 2013 at the time of the Sekunjalo takeover of the Independent Media newspapers, Survé had this to say when interviewed by Mandy de Waal for Daily Maverick

If you know anything about me you know that I operate with incredible integrity.

Why then, as a man of self-proclaimed moral principle and ethical probity, does he allow his Sekunjalo advertising department to accept paid advertising – euphemistically referred to as ‘Brand Stories’ or ‘Partnered’ content – see here and here and here and here – from the ‘Mafia Banks’ that are seeking to close his accounts? Ironically, his financial reporters routinely cover the excellence of our banks which have tens of millions of satisfied customers who reflect the demographic profile of our country – see here and here  and here and here  and here and here and here.

You might see this acceptance of ‘Mafia Bank’ advertising revenue as hypocritical given Sekunjalo’s current anti-bank vendetta but my sense is that beggars can’t be choosers –  Sekunjalo is technically insolvent and, while facing increasing litigation,  needs the money regardless of its origin.

In 2019 the majority of ANA staff left after it became obvious that there were financial constraints in Survé’s media interests and that they were being moved onto the AYO payroll, so, as I see it, Sekunjalo cannot afford to refuse the income from ‘Mafia Bank’ advertisements.

Reputational damage

Faced with Iqbal Survé’s court challenge the banks are surely looking at the big picture and what they see is the very real risk of reputational damage and the potential of monetary loss given the experience of the Public Investment Corporation and Sactwu and the concerns of the JSE see here and here and here and here and here and here.

Some of the factors they will take into account ….

No other newspaper company in South Africa has had or currently has linkages to people like Brett Kebble and Arthur Fraser. No other owner of a local newspaper company has sent threatening lawyer’s letters to its own staff in response to accurate reporting. No other newspaper company owner has faced and conceded a high-profile Labour Court claim. No other newspaper owner in this country has funded the private security of an ANC MP. No other newspaper owner in this country has attacked the judiciary. No other newspaper owner in this country is claiming to be a victim of a giant conspiracy. No other news company owner has defaulted on loans. No other local newspaper company has been abandoned by its auditors or major business partners – see here and here. No other newspaper company owner has been taken to court by a trade union. No other newspaper owner is facing a defamation claim in court. No other newspaper owner in this country has faced the sort of allegations that came to light during the Mpati Commission hearings. No other newspaper company has faced such a volume of Press Council complaints or withdrawn from it to escape accountability. No other newspaper company has faced such constant SANEF concern. No other local media company has employed and promoted reporters implicated in the Zondo Commission’s State Capture Report for their role in the enormously damaging ‘Rogue Unit’ reporting for which the Sunday Times subsequently apologised. No other local media company is the paid mouthpiece for a foreign country – see here and here – where individual and press freedom does not exist – see here and here and here and here and here and which has been accused of genocide  against the Uighur Muslims – see here  and  here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. No other newspaper company owner has made bizarre claims of babies being abducted in their hundreds from Gauteng hospital maternity wards and then being murdered to provide “muti” and “stem cell” (sic) – see here and here and here  and here  and here and here  and here and here and here. No other media company has withdrawn from the SA Press Council and set up its own completely ineffectual ombudsman department.

Join the dots as Pravin Gordhan – relentlessly demonised in the failing Sekunjalo newspapers – is inclined to say … and ask yourself:  Is the reporting of Sekunjalo Independent Media synonymous with ethical journalism – see here and here and here and here and here and here and here  and here and here and here and here and here and here  and here and here and here and here – and has the company under the aegis of its owner enhanced the stature of South Africa’s newspaper sector – see here and here and here and here and  here and here and here and  here and here  and here and here and here and here and  here  and here and here and here and here and here and here?

At the end of September Sekunjalo employees will know whether they can access their salaries.

Thereafter, two court cases, both involving Iqbal Survé will ensue.

No other newspaper company owner or senior executive is so affected.

Dewald van Rensburg of amaBhungane provides a cogent analysis of a complex situation which our courts must resolve.

What the courts cannot do, however, is force companies like Sasol and BDO and British Telecoms to resume business with Survé-linked companies or persuade the Public Investment Corporation to invest more money in his business endeavours.

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