BBC lashes out at MultiChoice after ANN7 ditch

2018-02-01 17:47 - Yolandi Groenewald
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Johannesburg -  The Black Business Council (BBC) on Thursday expressed worry that Naspers’ [JSE:NPN] MultiChoice had dumped the Gupta-linked ANN7, despite not finding any fault with the ANN7 contract itself.

The council said it was shocked at what seems to be the abuse of market dominance by MultiChoice.

MultiChoice on Wednesday announced that ANN7’s contract will not be renewed when it lapses in August and that the news channel will be taken off the DSTV bouquet.

This comes after an internal investigation cleared the company of corruption and explicit wrongdoing, merely finding that mistakes were made by executives in dealing with ANN7.

Instead a black-owned new news channel will be introduced, the company announced. MultiChoice's Calvo Mawela said tenders would be going out shortly to select a channel that would represent the majority of South Africans.

The new channel must be black, free from political interference and offer critical news coverage, Mawela said.

The action by MultiChoice flies in the face of South Africa’s Constitution, which guarantees media freedom, it said.

“It is concerning that MultiChoice is on record that there was no corruption involved with the contract, the council stated.

“Furthermore, MultiChoice has not stated that ANN7 was in any breach of the contract, yet such drastic actions have been taken.”

The alleged sins of the previous shareholders cannot be the burden of the current new black owner, the BBC said. A firm owned by Mzwanele Manyi bought ANN7 and The New Age newspaper  last year. Mawela said at a press briefing that MultiChoice has had discussions with Manyi about the decision to dump the channel.

The BBC said the consequential loss of jobs, which will happen when the channel closes, is unforgivable, particularly in the current economic climate.

“If Multichoice cares about the victims of colonialism, apartheid exclusion and oppression of black organisations such as ours, its attitude on the ANN7 matter could have been resolved different,” it said.

The BBC believes that, given what happened at MultiChoice, the council and its affiliates, including the Department of Trade and Industry’s (dti) Black Economic Empowerment division, are the appropriate forums to address radical economic transformation in the media sector.

“The leadership of the BBC will be approaching relevant authorities to challenge this monopolistic action,” it said.

MultiChoice’s investigation and resulting decision follows News24's #GuptaLeaks report in November, in which it was detailed how MultiChoice agreed to pay the Guptas' Infinity Media Networks a "once-off" payment of R25m in 2015. The payment was not deemed as corruption in the internal investigation, headed by MultiChoice board member Don Eriksson.

Criticism has been heaped on the company for funding a channel with dwindling viewership, which seemingly became a propaganda machine for the Gupta and Zuma families.

Mawela said the company would own up to the fact that critical mistakes had been made.The failure to conduct thorough due diligence around ANN7 and its ownership was mistake number one. Secondly, not raising concerns around ANN7 and its associates as they came to light, was another.

Yet, the investigators found that the commercial contract with ANN7 was within the accepted parameters of MultiChoice, Mawela said.

Payments made to ANN7, including an upfront R25m in 2015, were “neither abnormal nor unusual” when negotiating with TV channels about broadcasting on a network, MultiChoice said.

All relevant contracts were reviewed by the company and attorneys Webber Wentzel.

* Fin24 is part of 24.com, a division of Media24, which is a subsidiary of Naspers.

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