Atul Gupta. The Gupta family, main shareholder of The New Age, has close links with Jacob Zuma. (Picture: Leon Sadiki)
Cape Town - Is The New Age the Great Evil or just another newspaper trying to get off the ground, asks Grubstreet.
The newspaper has been mired in controversy since its launch two years ago because of the close links its main shareholders - the Gupta family - have with the family of President Jacob Zuma.
On its side, the paper maintains it aims to give the government credit where it’s due without being the ruling party's mouthpiece.
Its critics, however, liken it to the Citizen - a product of the infamous Info scandal of the 1970s.
The recent controversy around parastatal funding for New Age SABC business breakfasts has highlighted the issue.
In an interview with The New Age editor, Moegsien Williams, Grubstreet stated that the newspaper is "at war" with DA party leader and Western Cape premier Helen Zille, who pulled out of speaking at a breakfast and has called for a commission of inquiry into the funding of the paper.
Williams said: "It’s not a war. We are simply responding to some of the things she has done and has said… And she has responded and we have responded."
Said Grubstreet: "There hasn’t been that much to distinguish it (New Age) from the other newspapers in South Africa but now, with the row with Helen Zille, I detect a bit of a change.... You do seem to be leaning more towards supporting the ruling party."
Williams replied that "virtually all the newspaper companies in the industry tried to paint
The New Age in certain way. They try to portray The New Age as the ANC
"The noble intention of the proprietors and shareholders of this
newspaper were simply to provide a voice that will promote and defend
the interest of South Africa – that’s it.
"You can interpret that in many
ways.... And if I’m labelled as a pro-ANC newspaper and a pro-government newspaper, let it be so. The proof is always in the reading of the newspaper.
"It has given us in a perverse way a niche so I’m saying, as an editor, if I’m labelled in a certain way, there’s no use in trying to deny it or run away from it. The proof is always in the reading of the newspaper.
"The reality of the situation is that the ANC can quite correctly say that before the arrival of The New Age virtually every single newspaper would not give them the time of day… That is the perception of the ANC – that the press is this country have adopted the mantle of the political opposition."
Returning to the controversial business breakfasts, Williams said: "...our business briefings, they work for us. At the breakfast with (Police Minister) Nathi Mthethwa (last week) there were about 300 people if I’m not mistaken.
"I would assume that 95% of them paid an entrance fee and they are all registered now for a six-month subscription so every time we have a breakfast, we grow the subscription base by the number of people who attend.
"The sponsorships cover the rest of the costs. I’m guessing now but if you want to hire a venue at the Sandton Convention Centre, you’ll be out of pocket by about R150 000 to R250 000. We run a complete back office here to organise the event – about eight to 12 people – and that is costly.
"There’s the cost of the food that we serve and the audiovisual system – all these other costs in terms of staging an event like this. That’s where the sponsorship goes.
"It’s a model that works for the sponsor because it’s great marketing and branding. It works for us in giving a new entrant in the market a bit of a name and for SABC, it gives it content. They can fill almost an entire morning’s programme with it…"
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