by Gill Moodie (@GrubstreetSA)  The great thing about Twitter is that you get a direct insight into the minds of powerful people usually only accessible through an army of communications specialists or at least a very firm personal assistant – if they will let you in, that is.

In case you were chilling yesterday, you might have missed an extraordinary twissyfit from Iqbal Surve, the proprietor-in-waiting at Independent Newspapers, who instead of grumbling over his Sunday lunch took to Twitter to voice his extreme annoyance over a column written by Business Times editor Rob Rose. His first tweet went out:

I think what probably irked Surve about Rose’s column (which I must also note got it wrong when it said the M&G broke the news that the Government Employees Pension Fund, Mandla Mandela and Sandile Zungu were investors in Surve’s consortium; it was actually Business Day in this story) was this passage: Any fear that the Independent will be put to use serving the interests of its masters was only heightened by a nauseating article in the Independent on Sunday a few weeks back.

Slap bang on the front page, it starts: “Late on Friday night, Iqbal Survé phoned Mandla Mandela, the ailing statesman’s grandson: ‘Tell Madiba, Independent’s coming home.’” The cringing doesn’t stop there: “If there’s one thing that will make him get better faster, it’s this,” the younger Mandela responded. The article said the purchase was a “gift for Madiba”. Nothing like capitalising on Mandela’s illness to trumpet your ownership to the powers-that-be. Quite whether this represents the strongest front-page news was debatable. Unless Survé demanded it be run like that — which wouldn’t exactly be a victory for media independence.

And this from Rose:

When people close to the ruling party put in a pricey bid for a ravaged newspaper company, and demands secrecy, it should ring all sorts of alarm bells. Perhaps we’ll soon be reading about the “positive aspects” of last week’s Gupta report, and how “if there’s one thing that will make Jacob feel better about the Guptas, it’s this”.

But Surve didn’t leave it at his first tweet and went on to about Avusa (now Times Media Limited), the owners of the Sunday Times, copiously:


























There were a few more tweets from Surve in response to others in the twitterverse – some people tweeted in support for him; some challenged him. The DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko, for instance, waded in briefly for a polite, tongue-in-cheek interchange with Surve while Peter Bruce, editor of Business Day and publisher of BDFM (on whose website, BDLive, Rose’s column is published) stepped in with a few tweets, most notably:

Eina! Do I see the beginnings of a little feud here? Meanwhile, Andrew Bonamour, the CEO and one of the key shareholder of Times Media said only this (and it’s his third tweet ever):

Having interviewed Surve a couple of times, I think what irked him about Rose’s column is the assumption that Surve is close to the ANC and will, therefore, direct his newspapers to be ANC and government friendly when he counters he is own man and has friends and colleagues across the political spectrum.

And because Business Times is part of the Sunday Times and owned by Times Media, Rose’s column really got his goat because, as Surve has said before, he can’t understand why the industry put his bid to buy the Indie under such close scrutiny – and did not do the same when Bonamour bought Avusa.

I must say I see both points of view here.

On the other hand, it is quite natural that Rose and commentators such as Anton Harber are suspicious about Surve’s consortium because of the secrecy around the names of the investors and the structure of the consortium.

Surve says he cannot reveal this information until the current Irish owners of the Indie have their Extraordinary General Meeting on June 17 – when they will vote on the sale to Sekunjalo.

I’m sure then that there is more of this antagonism to come, which does not bode well for Surve’s intention to get the media owners in SA together to talk about nation building.

And this doesn’t end with yesterday’s Twitter event. This morning, part of Bruce’s column in Business Day – which would have been penned before yesterday – was about Surve’s speech on Friday night at the Sanlam Awards for Community Media. Bruce wrote:

His speech was a set of vacuous promises about transformation and a “new Africa” that litter most events of this kind, combined with a ringing declaration that no competitor was going to push him around. To quote one of “his” papers on Sunday: “And no editor-in-chief (that’s me) is going to tell us what to do because you are scared, because you have been appointed head of a group, and sole convener of this space,” he cried, the inner child clearly dominant at night.

“You’re afraid of real competition, real energy, real people coming into this industry, giving a voice to all South Africans,” he said, adding that Business Day was a “micro” newspaper because it sold only 30,000 copies a day. “Whereas Business Report, a supplement in Independent’s papers, had a million readers a day,” wrote the reporter. Actually, I listened to his remarks and he claimed Business Report sells a million copies a day.

He’ll get it right as he goes along.


Bruce also says:

My hope for Survé and our colleagues at Independent is that he is a man of his word and really does invest in them and that, by the time he does, he will have had the courtesy to tell them where the money comes from. Who makes up his consortium is of no interest. Where the money comes from is, because it will have to be repaid.

Owning newspapers is a sacred trust as far as I am concerned, and we would welcome competition. When newspaper houses go to war, all circulation rises, so bring it on!

Anyone checked Surve’s timeline this morning?

– SA’s leading media commentator, Gill Moodie, offers intelligence on media – old and new. Reprinted from her site Grubstreet.

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