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COSATU FACES FRESH CLASH OVER MEDIA

16 Dec General

Kopano ke Matla, the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) investment company, was poised to invest in the media field, which could clash head-on with several powerful Cosatu affiliates with existing investments in the media sector, union sources said last week. Mairunisa Sheik, the Kopano spokesman, said: “We’re positioning ourselves to acquire a major controlling stake in the fields of journalism and media institutions. We’re … aiming for strategic, politically nuanced media – newspapers and television contracts.” Sheik said the acquisition would be announced early in the new year, and Cosatu unions would be offered a stake. Whether this offer will be taken up remains to be seen, as several Cosatu affiliates have already made investments in the media field through their investment companies. The most recent and controversial of these was the acquisition of e.tv, South Africa’s first free-to-air television licence which this week ran head on into trouble with the Independent Broadcasting Authority over its failure to broadcast a news programme, among other woes. These include the failure to broadcast news bulletins from December 1; not delivering enough children’s shows; broadcasting only in English; and exceeding its advertising quota. The Broadcasting Monitoring and Complaints Commission, an independent judicial body, will meet this week to decide what action to take. Trade union investment companies involved in the Midi consortium – the grouping which won the bid for e.tv’s licence – are the National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) Mineworkers’ Investment Company (MIC); the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union’s (Sactwu) Investment Group (SIG); and investment companies attached to the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the Communication Workers’ Union. The MIC and SIG have interests in Hosken Consolidated Investments, which controls 26 percent of e-tv. Investment companies attached to Numsa and the Communication Workers’ Union are involved in Vula Communications, which controls 25 percent, and the MIC itself has 4 percent. Beyond the embattled e-tv, Cosatu’s Communication Workers’ Union has a 10 percent stake in Kaya FM, which broadcasts in Gauteng, and the MIC and SIG have significant interests in Cape Talk Radio and Radio Highveld. Observers say the conflict within Midi has again highlighted the problems of existing union investment initiatives. This year, Cosatu resolved that union officials should not benefit from investment deals by getting shares in companies; that investments should be in productive rather than speculative areas; and that competition between union investment companies should be reduced. “Cosatu now has the policy instrument to address the problems,” a unionist says, “but it remains to be seen whether there is the political will to do so. “At the moment, guys have shares in the companies in which investments have been made. This doesn’t go down well, and some people feel the issue was not discussed properly. “Copelyn (Johnny, former Sactwu general secretary) and Golding (Marcel, former NUM acting general secretary) set the trend, and they became instant millionaires.” – Cape Town

Source: Business Report – Estelle Randall