The South African National Editors Forum has raised concerns about a
R5-billion bid by government officials for the company that owns The
Times and the Sunday Times, writes Xolile Bhengu in The Times.

Koni Media Holdings wants an “outright purchase” of Avusa, Business Times reported yesterday.

Raymond Louw, chairman of the the forum’s media freedom committee, said he was not convinced that Koni was motivated entirely by business interests.

“This is deeply alarming, as the company [Koni] is composed of prominent civil servants, and this may be an attempt to bring their own opinions to the Sunday Times,” he said.

Koni Media is owned by President Thabo Mbeki’s political adviser Titus Mafolo, foreign affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa, former chief of state protocol Billy Modise and businessman Groovin Nchabaleng.

Louw said: “We are not suggesting that they are out to suppress press freedom but, as civil servants, they represent government’s viewpoint and they could use the publications as a platform for government propaganda.”

The Avusa group also owns the Sowetan, Sunday World and Daily Dispatch, and has a 50percent stake in Business Day, and the Financial Mail.

The Mvelaphanda Group, owned by businessman Tokyo Sexwale, recently announced its successful conclusion of a R1.4-billion deal with fund manager Allan Gray for a 30percent stake in Avusa.

Louw expressed concern about the vague details of the Koni offer.

“Where did [Koni Media] get the money from? ” Louw asked.

Business Times reported last year that Koni Media had approached the Public Investment Corporation for funding.

Prakash Desai, CEO of Avusa, would only confirm that the company had received correspondence from Koni Media.

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