South Africa's Ruling Party Seeks Antitrust Media Probe Over Dominance

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress called on antitrust authorities to investigate the media industry, saying they were abusing their dominant market position to stifle competition.

“The Competition Commission should be approached to investigate uncompetitive behavior regarding monopolistic behavior, price collusion” and other transgressions by media companies, the party said in a discussion document on its website today. The issue will be debated at an ANC conference in Durban, on South Africa’s east coast, between Sept. 20 and 24.

The ANC, which has ruled South Africa since all-race elections in 1994, has complained about unfavorable coverage of the party and government. The SA National Editors’ Forum will respond to the ANC’s discussion paper once it has studied the document, Thabo Leshilo, the chairman of the organization’s media freedom division, said in an interview.

Naspers Ltd., Independent News and Media Plc, Avusa Ltd. and Caxton and CTP Publishers and Printers Ltd. all own newspapers and magazines in the country. The Gupta Group plans to start The New Age daily newspaper next month with the Times of India Group to rival the five largest newspapers in the country’s major cities, Essop Pahad, a former cabinet minister and adviser to the New Age, said July 22.

‘Lack of Independence’

A cursory scan of “the print media reveals an astonishing degree of dishonesty, lack of professional integrity and lack of independence,” the ANC said. “Some fractions of the media continue to adopt an anti-transformation, anti-development and anti-ANC stance.”

The party reiterated calls for the establishment of an independent media appeals tribunal that would be accountable to the ANC-dominated Parliament and investigate complaints against the media. That task is currently handled by a press ombudsman, who is funded by media organizations, and complainants relinquish the right to contest the findings in court.

“This situation is untenable,” the ANC said. “A balance has to be found which is fair and just and which is in the interest of all and not just the media.”

The ANC also criticized media companies for failing to draw up a plan to address a lack of racial diversity among their shareholders, and proposed that Parliament hold public hearings to assess how the issue can be addressed. Several industries, including mining, have adopted so-called charters committing themselves to racial transformation targets.

The “media, in particular print media, does not have, nor is in a process of, developing a transformation charter,” the party said. “This reality calls to question the commitment of print media to the transformation agenda, or, if such commitment exists, the will to implement it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net.

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