The board of the South African Press Association (Sapa) met last Friday to discuss the future of the agency, and its possible handover to Gallo Images.
“The Sapa board had a meeting last Friday at which Gallo Images gave a presentation on how Sapa could in future become part of the Gallo Images operation,” said Tim du Plessis, chairman of the board.
“The Gallo Images presentation was followed by an in-depth discussion. The board members representing the remaining media houses in Sapa will now consult with their principals and come back to the board with mandates. We don’t expect this to take very long. We hope to shortly be able to make an announcement on Sapa’s future,” he added.
The future of the 75-year-old press agency hangs in the balance after several of its members resigned, leaving it vulnerable in terms of funding. Sapa was formed by member newspapers in 1938 with a similar model to Reuters or Associated Press. It was designed as a cost saving mechanism for its member titles to share copy, with a mandate that stories covered would be “in the public interest”. Over the years, titles were bought and sold and eventually, the four major newspapers groups – Times Media Group, Caxton, Independent News and Media SA and Media 24 – became the its shareholders. Now TMG and Caxton have left, and Independent Newspapers goes in November.
Sapa is a not for profit company, meaning it can’t be sold. It’s value lies in its staff and its enormous archive of content.
Journalism professor Anton Harber recently told The Media magazine he thought press agencies needed to redefine their roles as “Information spreads so quickly in so many ways that agencies are no longer a primary source, just one among many. The value they offer is now more about editing and checking to ensure reliability”. Harber said it fills a “news vacuum” and said he hoped Sapa would “remake itself and find new ways to add value. Instead of just cutting costs, it needs to redefine its role for the age of social media”.
Du Plessis said it was vital to find a new home for Sapa. He recently told The Media Online closure was something they wanted to avoid. “The alternative to not finding a suitable new home for Sapa is closure – an option we desperately want to avoid, not only for the sake of the staff, but also because we remain convinced there is a role and a place for Sapa. The resigning members immediately became subscribers to Sapa. That tells you there is still a demand for what Sapa offers. And we know that demand is much wider than just the current SA media houses,” he said.
Gallo Images CEO, Bruce Stewart, said if it all works out, Sapa would be a “100% owned subsidiary of Gallo Images (Pty) Ltd”. He said “journalists would retain their editorial independence and at the same time “continue to uphold the Sapa values and principles set out in their mission statement” if their quest to acquire the agency is successful.
Photo: Sapa newsroom / Wendy Beukes
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