Sunday Times and The Times will lose their bite if Koni buys Johncom, warn media watchdogs, writes Borrie la Grange in The Times.

A bid by former and serving government officials to buy the parent company of the Sunday Times and The Times has provoked comparisons with the Information Scandal of the 1970s.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Koni Media Holdings, which is owned by President Thabo Mbeki’s adviser, Titus Mafolo, Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa, former chief of state protocol Billy Modise and businessman Groovin Nchabeleng, last week made a R7-billion bid for Johncom.

Johncom also owns the Sowetan, the Daily Dispatch and The Herald, and 50 percent of Business Day and the Financial Mail.

In the late 1970s, the apartheid government injected millions of rands into The Citizen newspaper to sway opinion and counter the negative coverage it received in the independent Rand Daily Mail.

Raymond Louw, a former editor of the Rand Daily Mail, now media freedom councillor of the SA National Editors’ Forum , said: “It is following the path of the apartheid government.

“It is not desirable that government officials and former officials have potential ownership of a company with major publications in the private sector. They are steeped in government and ANC policies.

“I cannot imagine how Mafolo, for instance, would allow a newspaper to publish stories like those on Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang,” Louw said.

He was referring to a series of Sunday Times exposés on the health minister, including one that appeared under the headline “Manto: A drunk and a thief”.

Louw said the proposed bid “would place journalists in an invidious position in which they might not be able to play the role of government watchdogs.”

Mamoepa, responding in his personal capacity, yesterday denied government involvement in the bid: “The suggestion that President Thabo Mbeki and the government are behind the deal is as ludicrous as it is laughable.”

Click here to read the full report, posted on the Sunday Times website.