LONG before The New Age opened its doors to business it was in trouble. Apart from the onslaught from established media – the white boys’ club as we call them – who went on a smear campaign against any new entrants, the two journalists Karima Brown and Vuyo Mvoko who were mandated to establish it struggled. It was rumoured at the time that they wanted an extension of the launch of the paper and the Guptas would have none of it. They even appealed to the African National Congress (ANC) to force the Guptas to extend the deadline and those who worked at the paper during its launch say they got no joy at the ruling party. The ANC told them they didnt control the paper, it’s said. They resigned even before the presses started turning but would not disclose why they left. And until the editorship of veteran newsman Moegsien Williams, The New Age was a revolving door – after Mvoko came former editor of Die Burger, Henry Jefferys, who was there for a few months. After him was Ryland Fischer and then Williams who stabilised the ship.
The New Age, like most newspapers, struggled to get advertisements and it developed a model by which it put together debates which were aired on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), and sold sponsorship deals to companies, largely state owned entities. That deal was cancelled about a year ago leaving the paper with very little, if any source of revenue. The decision by the banks to close-down Gupta accounts exacerbated the financial situation of the paper. The weeks after the banks’ decision was literally hell for the staff, who didnt know if they would still have jobs. The Guptas found one way or another to secure those jobs and again, things seemed to have stabilised until this past week when an announcement came that they should not report to work.
With the allegations of corruption against the family piling up, so too the deepening sinking hole for the publication and it’s sister television network ANN7. Mzwanele Manyi then bought the business through a company Afrotone Media Holdings. Then came the bombshell that Multichoice, whose deal brought in millions to the network, would not be renewing its contract with ANN7 when it ends in August. A fiery Manyi was said to have told staff then that they would still be in their jobs. Although the public at large welcomed the Multichoice decision, some press freedom pundits criticised the move. The South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) joined the voices of those condemning Multichoice’s decision.
You dont need to have have been close to the company to see the panic that hit those two entities. In a bid to appease the media industry, Manyi took several steps including apparently rejoining the press council’s system after the paper pulled out in 2015. He worked on the relationship with SANEF which had until then been cold.
Then came the announcement some five weeks or so ago of name changes. ANN7 would become AfroWorldView and The New Age would be AfroVoice. It must be said this was not to be the most upsetting for the media network’s loyal fans – and were they loyal! Some say ANN7 was a mouthpiece of the Guptas and former President Jacob Zuma but for many of its followers, it offered a different world view. Media diversity is an important aspect of a healthy democracy. I dont watch television except to watch football and had not really followed ANN7 but used to see its loyal fans on Twitter. I remember distinctly noticing that the ANN7 fans weren’t commenting about the new channel but instead I saw some posts praising Manyi for the new format, “getting rid of old analysts and bringing in new readers and analysts” and so forth.
As it turned out, the new television station had undergone a complete about-turn and in the process alienated its loyal fans and the staff who had stood by it with all the scandals. On learning that they should not report to work yesterday, the Afro Voice employees are said to have cried knowing the struggle ahead in finding work at the mention of the paper with Gupta association on their CVs. Many of them are young – it is the one most enduring picture as you entered that establishment – Williams had brought in many young Black people who wanted to be journalists, trained them and given them work – not the best salaries or work conditions – but they got the experience. I was always impressed that the Sports Editor was a young, spunky, African woman. So too was the photo editor. There were Black graphic editors, some of them women.
There has not been a statement released yet, but reports say the staff were called to a meeting on Thursday, some while still working on stories for this week, that they should not report to work for the month of July and would be paid for the month. This cannot be lawful. Firstly there seemingly was no consultations with staff as they would not have been shocked like everybody else. A month’s notice is also not enough time to announce the closure of a company.
The fact that there was a rebranding exercise some five or so weeks ago and closure of the paper now speaks volumes. But ultimately it is a lesson that the sustainability of businesses need more than just cosmetic changes. More importantly we cannot turn a blind eye to abuse of staff no matter the abuser.