Independent Newspapers on Thursday accused Mail & Guardian owner Trevor Ncube of seeking a public spat because he had failed to acquire a portion of it.
“Since the failure of his attempted acquisition of a portion of our company, the tone and thrust of Mr Ncube’s newspaper’s coverage of Independent has been stridently negative, and M&G has sought to align itself to every anti-Independent cause going,” deputy executive chairman Tony Howard said in a statement.
He said this appeared to be an attempt to derail Independent’s restructuring and re-emergence under its Sekunjalo ownership and new management.
On Friday, The Star reported that the M&G was facing a cash crunch so severe that suppliers, contributors, and some staff had not been paid for months, and that it had defaulted on its rent.
Staff at the M&G believed the article may have been as a result of its phone calls to Independent executives this week enquiring about the owners of the Sekunjalo consortium, and the departure of staffers, for an article. The story had not yet been published.
On Tuesday, Ncube released a statement to “put the record straight”.
“A pattern is emerging that every time the M&G contacts Dr Iqbal Surve … or his executives, for a comment on a story they are working on, it is turned into an opportunity to attack me or my publications,” he said.
“I have avoided responding to these attacks because I strongly believe that the wider public does not benefit when publishers fight.”
Howard said the M&G had began “a disinformation campaign against Independent and Sekunjalo” after Ncube failed to acquire a portion of Independent last year.
He said Ncube had failed to provide answers to the issues raised in Independent reports regarding the M&G.
“We will equally not be intimidated or deterred by the actions and reporting of the M&G and other competitors on the steps we are openly taking to transform our business … into a growth-focused, proud multi-platform media and content company.”
Responding to Ncube’s claim that when M&G tried to contact Surve and Independent for comment on stories, this was turned into an attack, Howard said Ncube was being “disingenuous”.
“We can categorically state that the last direct conversation between Dr Surve and Mr Ncube took place last year shortly following our company’s acquisition by Sekunjalo, and it concerned only Mr Ncube’s failed attempt to buy three Independent titles.
“Mr Ncube’s seeming motive is to draw Dr Surve into a public spat, by suggesting that the latter was behind The Star’s stories on the financial health of his business.”
Howard said Surve had been out of the country and had no involvement in, or knowledge of what stories Independent journalists were working on.
“Mr Ncube claims not to instruct his journalists on what to write, and yet with his behaviour he is attempting to intimidate ours.”
Howard said Independent would not comment further on the transformation and repositioning of its business activities, as it was an internal matter.
Ncube declined to comment. — Sapa