The Print and Digital Media Transformation Task Team has started its work investigating the state of media ownership and media diversity in South Africa, a controversial and touchy topic to say the least.
Tasked with a mandate to assist the industry to develop a common vision and strategy for transformation in mainstream, small private and community media businesses, the PDMTTT is in the process of hosting hearings into the issues, and receiving submissions on the subject, while travelling around the country to hear what people have to say.
And so the news that one of the big four print media companies, Caxton, had pulled out of the PDMTTT was greeted with some shock. But, says non-executive chairman of the company, Paul Jenkins, the reasons have less to do with the work of the task team than with a Competition Commission decision to investigate suspected anti-competitive behaviour by Caxton, Naspers, Times Media Group and Independent Newspapers SA.
Jenkins was quoted as saying the reason for Caxton’s withdrawal from the PDMTTT was because it overlapped with the work of the Competition Commission. But, he told The Media Online, “We only said we would not be making representations as we preferred to address the issues at the Competition Commission.
“The lack of media diversity and concentration of media ownership are central themes in the criticisms directed against the print media. There are four major media players, with the largest being Media24, that has a market share of close to 50%.
“The allegations from the Competition Commission are of market sharing and sharing of information between the major players. The behaviour being investigated allegedly goes back to before 1999. In addressing the issues of media concentration and lack of ownership diversity, it is necessary to analyse the same facts and circumstances that are being investigated by the Competition Commission,” he said.
The media companies have been given a February deadline to respond to the allegations. So far, Caxton is the only company to pull out of the PDMTTT.
“We prefer to act individually based on our own advice,” Jenkins says. “It seems from a PDMTTT press release that the other media owners are also considering their approach to the matter.”
A Competition Tribunal hearing in March last year set the scene for allegations of ant-competitive behaviour. The hearing was about a proposed merger between Media24 Limited, Paarl Coldset and the Natal Witness Printing and Publishing Company.
“The Competition Tribunal approved the merger subject to conditions to protect the limited public interest issues that fall within the remit of the Tribunal,” Jenkins says. “The merger nevertheless represented a move towards more media concentration, with Media24 gaining even more market share and control over a media group that had been independent for 160 years. The investigation has just started, and the Caxton has yet to respond.”
Jenkins says the PDMTTT has accepted its withdrawal from the process. “Our position is understood. It is not anti- transformation and the reasons are very cogent and legally based,” he says.
The other three print media companies are continuing their participation but have asked for a postponement to the end of February to allow for full consultation with their lawyers. PDMTTT has granted the postponement.
Caxton fully supports the work of PDMTTT, Jenkins says. “The PDMTTT will surely assist in understanding the issues facing our industry,” he says. “As such, it will be a step forward for our industry. We continue to support the objectives and the process.”