South Africa’s largest English-language newspaper group, Independent News & Media (INM), has agreed to sell its South African unit for R2billion ($219.6 million) to a consortium of investors led by Iqbal Survé, a renowned SA philanthropist and former doctor to ex-president Nelson Mandela.
According to a statement released by INM, detailed heads of terms had been drawn up with the Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium – a leading black investment groups in South Africa with more than 70 private and public companies in Africa.
“The disposal of the South African business will require both INM shareholder approval and Competition Commission approval in South Africa.”
It added, “The transaction is subject to finalisation of further approvals and final agreement being signed by both parties. Pending a further announcement, the detail of the heads of terms shall remain confidential.”
The Irish media group had earlier revealed plan to sell its South African business in July 2012. It had sold its British title The Independent, as well as interests in India and closing money-losing newspapers in Ireland to pay off its $559.7 million debts.
Confirming the deal, Survé, the leader of the Sekunjalo Consortium said “I am delighted that I have the opportunity to bring these newspapers, this national asset, back to South Africa. I am bringing Independent back home.”
He believes the ailing print media could be transformed into a growth industry with particular opportunities in vernacular newspapers and digital convergence.
According to Business Report, an INM-owned company, INM SA does not have an editorial charter protecting editorial independence. Instead editorial independence is governed by the letters of appointment of the individual editors of group titles, which states they have full responsibility for the editorial and commercial content of the newspapers. Editors also sign an internal code of practice.
Survé intends to deal with questions of editorial independence by setting up an independent advisory board that would consult with management, editors, and staff and outside the business to define editorial charters.
He said he was open to approaches from the group’s staff, which had already extensively discussed establishing a staff trust which could take a share of the company to offer incentives to employees and involve them in decisions around developing the company.
“We must reflect the views of everybody and newspapers must support democracy and the growth of the economy. You must have many divergent views in a newspaper.”
Survé however says, his link to South Africa ruling party, ANC will not tamper with his strong personal commitment to editorial independence.
“I am a businessman and I have run Sekunjalo with integrity,” Survé said.
INM has been a major player in the South African media with its newspaper titles which include, Business Report,The Star, the Pretoria News, Cape Argus, Cape Times, Daily Voice, Daily News, The Mercury, Saturday Star and Sunday Independent and the Zulu-language paper, Isolezwe.