Newspapers are suffering losses, the government is threatening the press and the print industry desperately needs a real leader. Hoosain Karjieker has taken on the challenge. He speaks to Peta Krost Maunder.
Until recently Hoosian Karjieker’s name was unfamiliar in the industry. In fact, right now some of you may be asking: “Who?” But you won’t be for long if this determined guy – whose day job is CEO of the Mail & Guardian (M&G) – can carry out his ambitious plans.
It is with his new hat as president of Print Media South Africa (PMSA) that he intends making his mark. He took the PMSA reins in August 2011 when former Avusa CEO Prakash Desai’s term ended. But PMSA doesn’t have an impressive track record. In two years, they haven’t managed to get the ‘Power of Print’ campaign off the ground and not because they were madly busy with anything else, according to Karjieker.
“I don’t want to run PMSA lethargically as it has been run before, with no disrespect to my predecessors,” he says. “But there simply is no point in having an industry body with all this power and do nothing with it, particularly because there is so much that needs to be done.”
Karjieker’s intention is to run this organisation like “a corporate”. His expertise is in the business side of media. He holds a bachelor of Accounting Science degree, a diploma in internal auditing and another in project management. He has spent most of his career in the media, starting with MultiChoice in Cape Town where he was ultimately in charge of finance in the company’s IT division. He then joined the M&G as financial director in 1999 and became COO until he was appointed CEO in 2009.
And for a while, he represented the M&G on the board of the PMSA only as an alternate to Trevor Ncube, owner of the M&G and former CEO, who is Karjieker’s mentor. “I plan to use a lot of what I have learnt from Trevor, like making sure we have a strategy to achieve the vision and mission and using management tools to make it happen, among other things,” he says.
The first thing on his to-do list for PMSA is transformation. “I went to the Pica Awards recently and I was shocked that the room was filled with white people getting awards, giving awards and even the band was a white band singing in Afrikaans,” Karjieker says. “If parliamentarians had been there, they would have been horrified. We are all a bit apprehensive about the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications’ demands but when you are confronted with this situation, you realise there is work to be done.”
A lot has been done in the newspaper sector, he says, but it certainly needs to be honed. “We are still not well represented in terms of female and disabled people. In terms of ownership, we aren’t doing so bad but that is due mainly to Avusa.”
He explains that there has to be a real understanding about what government wants to see in terms of transformation. “They speak of transformation of voice and we believe that is happening. There is a large representation of black voices. We also have internship programmes.”
His second biggest target is dealing with the problems relating to the South African Advertising Research Foundation (SAARF). “SAARF plays a critical role but we need to deal with its funding issues.” He is mandated to stand by the decision not to participate in the levy system. “We prefer the pay-as-you go option,” he says. “SAARF must give us a budget and we will pay for the research and even more if we need specific work done. But we won’t just hand over a set amount. I am all for engagement with SAARF and we won’t undermine them. We simply need a funding option that works because we all need to watch the bottom line closely and can’t afford to be bound by percentage revenue output.”
SAARF is one of a number of organisations that fall under the auspices of PMSA, although like the South African National Editors Forum, the Audit Bureau of Circulation and the Press Council, PMSA has no control over them.
“There have been issues in the operational structures because they are administered and funded by PMSA but they don’t report to it. So, there are a lot of individual needs that become a complete nightmare in a corporate environment,” says Karjieker.
He believes there is a need to unpack and restructure the whole organisation. “I can’t be president of an organisation that operates like this because I can’t work in chaos.” He explains that PMSA needs to take into account the roles the various bodies play and some – like the ombudsman –need to be totally independent. Karjieker is not one to give up so he is determined to make it all work.
But it can’t be easy to get much done with just four PMSA meetings a year. Karjieker admits to being frustrated by all the discussion and little decision-making that goes on. “The exco, though, does hold monthly meetings to manage the operations of PMSA so we do have better control.” However, he explains that it is essential for the board to find a consensus and agree to the role PMSA has to play. “The board needs to be enthusiastic about it and the objectives we must fulfill.”
Obviously, because the different media owners have different priorities, there are difficulties in consensus that makes decision-making tough. “I find this very frustrating because issues were just rolling over and not being properly dealt with.”
It was exactly for this reason he put himself forward for the senior position. “I had thought about being president when it was discussed and I sensed I would get asked to take this on,” he explains. “We are at a point at the M&G where things need to be managed carefully so initially I was not interested but then I thought about it and realised I should take it on and get this right. So, I accepted the nomination.”
He has given himself a few months to put the PMSA house in order before going all out in dealing with the sector’s problems. He is not planning to be shy and retiring about this either.
Previously, PMSA played a quiet background role on issues of press freedom but that is changing now. “I have been canvassing to be more vocal about it. We support the initiatives in place to challenge the Protection of Information Bill and we are going to play a meaningful role in this,” he says. “PMSA should participate in taking this issue to the Constitutional Court to ensure press freedom can exist without a stranglehold. This is not an ‘old boys’ club’ that just exists. We are going to make a difference and make our industry more appealing.”
He is committed to the Press Freedom Commission’s work and believes that once it is complete, South Africa will have a world-class self-regulation system that others will want to emulate. “To maintain press freedom, we have to do this to make sure our house is in order.” He believes that it is the media’s under-investment in the past that has led to the situation we are in and we must now get the best practice to defend press freedom internally.
Newspaper groups, he says, are individual organisations doing their level best and working to “their own bottom lines and sustainabilities”. Some can’t invest in training now because they are cutting budgets. “But at the M&G, we exist because of training and investment in journalism so we can’t cut down on that. Training is something you see your return on.”
He says, as in the M&G’s ethos, PMSA is about building a culture that will live long after those who are there. Despite his allegiance to newspapers, he won’t ignore the issues of magazines. “Small magazine publishers’ big issue is competition and there are a lot of practices underway by the big guns to keep small publishers small. There is a lot that can be done to help this situation. We have to ensure the various conversations happen and that we get constructive solutions,” he says.
In terms of print media tackling the threat and incorporation of online, he admits that some organisations are digging in their heels making decisions across the board difficult. “But while developing online and launching apps is expensive, I believe we (at least at the M&G) have to invest carefully to remain relevant.”
He has assumed full responsibility for getting all of these projects up and running through exco and then the various committees. “I am putting in place corporate processes and will implement them in an association to make it work,” he says. “People need to feel there are platforms where essential things can be dealt with and PMSA needs to be more vocal about what it does and can do.”
Karjieker appears capable of this, partly because he doesn’t come across as ‘a big talk’. In fact, he looks like the quiet, hard-working type. “I am an accountant by nature, after all, but I have learnt at the M&G about the bigger picture,” he says. “I am quiet by nature but hellishly enthusiastic about getting things done.”
He intends PMSA to be transformed within five years when a younger group of individuals will take control of the sector “where online will play a more dominant role, bandwidth will have increased and transformed media consumption”.
“When I leave PMSA, it will work effectively and decisions will be made quickly and the main issues we are dealing with now will be sorted out,” he says. He has hit the ground running so here is to hoping he can pull it off.
This story was first published in the March 2012 issue of The Media magazine.