Pressly: PIC no plaster for bleeding – Axeman targets Indy/eNCA

The media industry is changing as online batters the traditional media platforms reveue streams. And with 1200 Independent Newspaper staff being given Section 189 notices, the reality of the situation is starting to rear its head. Some may question the monthly salary of the owner Iqbal Surve in such instances, but R500 000 a month isnt enough to save a sinking ship – or ask where the R1.2 billion PIC loan (gift) has gone. And with mass retrenchments and salary cuts on the way, the axe doesnt stop there. eTV/eNCA chief operating officer Mark Rosin has warned that restructuring is on its way over there too. And of which may further compromising the quality of journalism as newsrooms face further juniorisation. Sad news indeed. – Stuart Lowman

By Donwald Pressly*

There is more bad news for journalism – and journalists – in South Africa. Especially in Cape Town where the plan apparently is to merge the Cape Times newspaper with the Argus. At the same time eNCA/eTV have announced plans that they are to restructure, and the Cape Town operations will, most likely be redeployed to Johannesburg. Or the staff will be retrenched.

Axeman_Lego_August_2016

One Independent staff member said on the strict instruction of anonymity that 1 200 staff at Independent Newspapers had received Section 189 notices in terms of the Labour Relations Act. This happened about 10 days ago. Basically the terms of retrenchment – or redeployment – are determined by workers in consultation with the Independent Management and unions conducted by the CCMA. The CCMA hearing is dated on pay day 25 August 2016, two weeks time. The staff member said that the idea behind the restructuring was that journalists that remain at Independent will be “multi-media” specialists: They will have to be able to tweet, Facebook and write a news story for IOL and even stories for the ever-declining newspapers.

Amid speculation that the Public Investment Corporation loan has now climbed to R1.2 billion – given to Sekunjalo Investment Holdings of Dr Mohammed Iqbal Surve – has not been sufficient to stave off  losses in the company. “The company is bleeding,” said an ex-staff member.  He gives an example of John Oliver, the Last Week Tonight host who complains that newspapers – and one can actually also include television stations like eNCA/eTV – have become so bogged down by the transition to multi-media environments that there are no reporters who are capable, or indeed, have the time, to investigate local stories or to uncover corruption.

Donwald Pressly, Cape Messenger editor.
Donwald Pressly, Cape Messenger editor.

They are too busy tweeting, zapping, buzzing, photographing, texting to have time for real journalism. Oliver also says that publications have become vulnerable to “dubious buyers” citing the example of billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Thousands would argue that Surve has poisoned the waters of Western Cape English-language journalism, in particular, by punting President Jacob Zuma and the tenderpreneur class in the ruling African National Congress at a time when the province – and city of Cape Town – have clearly rejected the ruling party.

Terry Bell, labour columnist and former writer for Independent’s Business Report, says he believes that the Cape Times will be merged into the Argus, which had moved from afternoons to mornings.  Insiders say that the sub-editing team at Independent’s 19 titles across the country was devastated last year by retrenchments and re-deployments and salary cuts last year. Now the entire staff are facing a review “for operational requirements”. It means that an employer – in this case Dr Surve – can base his retrenchments and redeployments on economic, technological, structural or similar needs of the company.

At eTV/eNCA, chief operating officer Mark Rosen said this on 8 August in a release to staff: “This (restructuring) process is necessitated due to the complex structure of Tech Ops being spread across two cities and two companies, Johannesburg and Cape Town, eTV and eNCA. In addition to this, NewsDay, eNews Direct and Zulu News broadcasts are split geographically, with the shows being managed from Cape Town.

This has resulted in particular logistical challenges. After a review of the current structure and the challenges it presents, the company  proposes a restructure to create an effective and efficient shared services function which will meet current and future business requirements. No final decisions will be made until the company has consulted with employees who may be impacted by such a restructure.” It is believed by senior staff the Cape Town operation will be closed down entirely.

This is bad news for journalism, for Cape Town and the Western Cape. It means that there will be compromised, juniorised news-rooms in this province at best – if they continue to exist at all. If the Cape Times does, indeed, close, few will probably miss it now that it has become a ruling party rag at best, a propaganda sheet at worst. But it will end 120 years of journalism history.

  • Donwald Pressly, Editor of Cape Messenger