Naspers on ANN7-MultiChoice fiasco: ‘Stop baiting us — we did nothing wrong’

JOHANNESBURG — Watching the fiasco unravel regarding how and why Naspers-owned MultiChoice paid the Guptas millions of rands as part of a deal to carry the controversial ANN7 channel has been fascinating to observe. City Press (which operates under Naspers-owned Media24) ran a report recently saying that MultiChoice was planning not to renew a broadcast contract with ANN7 come June 2018. Clearly, there is unhappiness inside MultiChoice over the deal, but a recent report (interestingly coming out of another Media24 stable News24) went one step further and reported that MultiChoice made payments of “R50m to R141m” to ANN7 “after the (Gupta) family seemingly assisted former communications minister Faith Muthambi in getting President Jacob Zuma to transfer certain broadcasting powers to her, something MultiChoice was lobbying the minister for”. (This is an extraordinary link to make and, to be honest, requires more hard evidence.) In addition, a subsequent report on City Press has pointed to how MultiChoice entered a deal with the SABC regarding a news and an archive-based entertainment channel “in exchange for the public’s broadcaster political influence over digital migration”. The whole digital migration issue – which is fundamental to getting the SABC off of analogue airwaves so that mobile networks can use these radio signals for fast broadband – is already complex and fraught with enough obstacles. These latest allegations are making the saga more complex. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating stuff and it’s very interesting to watch how Naspers is responding to a debacle that emerged from among its own units… – Gareth van Zyl

The Board of Naspers today issued the following statement:

There seems to be persistent baiting of Naspers to intervene in the affairs of MultiChoice. While some reporting is no doubt driven by an honourable wish to expose corruption, some of it is clearly intended to apply pressure on Naspers to force MultiChoice to take the news channel ANN7 off the air.

That channel is closely associated with the Gupta family and, given the recent exposure of corruption linked to them, it is felt inappropriate that they should have a voice on television and that MultiChoice should facilitate that. A wide variety of issues, complaints and allegations have recently been made.

A logo sits on display inside the headquarters of Napsters Ltd., at the Media24 Ltd. office complex in Cape Town. Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

A few notes about that:

  • Some allegations are even at face value spurious or even malicious, for example reports that the Guptas have a stake in Takealot. Or that a public meeting of the top executives of MultiChoice and the SABC to negotiate satellite and DTT channel carriage – which was called by the SABC, conducted at their main premises, attended by their top echelon and duly minuted – was somehow clandestine and illegal.
  • Some allegations need more time to check thoroughly. We operate many businesses in 120 countries and need to respect the autonomy of our operating companies, where we have separate independent boards, plus partners or other shareholders. The responsibility for dealing with these allegations lies with the MultiChoice board. We have confidence in them handling the matter, following their governance procedures. Naspers is committed to strong governance and requires the same of its subsidiaries. Of course, once they’ve done that properly, they will report back to the Naspers board and the public.
  • A suggestion by ex-communications minister Yunus Carrim that Koos Bekker once met with him regarding encryption is perfectly accurate. Here are the facts: this meeting took place in Pretoria and was for the full duration also attended by Minister Pravin Gordhan, whom we greatly respect. Minister Gordhan can attest to the content of the meeting and whether any Gupta-related or any other illegal matter was discussed.
  • For the record, neither of Ton Vosloo, previous chair of Naspers, Koos Bekker, present chair, or Bob van Dijk, CEO, had to their best recollection ever in any country met any member of the Gupta family at any but public functions, never discussed anything with them, never even received written communications or a single telephone call from them.
  • We understand the frustration some people feel that a channel associated with corruption is still being broadcast. But the nature of a satellite platform is to provide the largest number and the most diverse voices for the public to choose from. The public decides what to watch. Media freedom and diversity are values worth protecting in an open democracy. We do not think it wise to terminate a channel that participates in the debate about ANC succession barely two weeks before the elective conference.

So, in conclusion, while we understand the frustration, we also suggest that further baiting of Naspers to override MultiChoice in this matter is not conducive to an open democracy.

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