Zimbabwe’s media, starved of any real competition since the collapse of the Daily Gazette, could be in for a big surprise.
First, Associated Newspapers Zimbabwe has just announced it is launching a series of weekly newspapers before its daily in February. Whispers say, another publisher could beat them to that deadline and launch another daily. And one of South Africa’s largest media companies, Times Media Limited, is coming. Whispers say, TML is planning to takeover one of Zimbabwe’s longest established publishing companies, Thomson Publications, whose flagship is the mass circulation monthly magazine, Parade.
Thomson also publishes several other magazines mostly on behalf of professional associations like the CZI Industrial Review, the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce’s magazine Commerce, the Chamber of Mines Journal, Zimbabwe Chartered Accountant, Computer News, Motor Trader, Fleet Operator, Zimbabwe Engineer to name a few. Its strength seems to be on the advertising hold it has on the market because of its specialized publications.
TML, the whispers say, may be taking at least 49 percent of Thomson and may appoint a chief executive to run the operations with one of the current Thomson directors being second in command. TML has been scouting the Zimbabwean market for some time and was reported to have been keen on taking over The Financial Gazette when the Modus empire collapsed three years ago. But Rusike, who bought The Financial Gazette eight years ago and tried to expand it into a publishing empire that was challenging Thomson’s, decided to hold on to The Gazette, selling the magazine publications to various takers and closing down the Daily and Sunday Gazettes. Sources say, were it not for the huge debts incurred by the daily, Rusike would have been home and dry now because The Financial Gazette is doing quite well.
TML is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange under the industrial-media sector. According to Profile Media’s Stock Exchange Handbook, TML is an integrated media group publishing newspapers, niche journals, magazines, hosting exhibitions and has interests in the electronic media. It employs over 1 700 and was founded in 1939. Now chaired by one of South Africa’s most powerful blacks, Cyril Ramaphosa, TML owns the biggest circulation Sunday paper, The Sunday Times, as well as the business daily, Business Day. It also owns other newspapers such as the Daily Dispatch and Eastern Province Herald. Other popular brands include African Business Channel, Computaform, Computer Faire, Computing SA, DMX, Elle, Evening Post, the Financial Mail, I-Net, Longevity, MIMS, Mining, National Circulation Services, Network World SA, New Equipment News, Out There, Site and Road, TIS, Transport Management, Weekend Post and Wiel.
Its coming into to Zimbabwe could therefore mean an expansion of the present Thomson portfolio but there is wide speculation that they may be aiming higher and may even be thinking of starting a daily paper. The Herald has had no competition since the collapse of the Daily Gazette. People’s hopes were raised when black business tycoon Roger Boka announced he was going to start his own broadsheet daily and hired former Herald and Ziana editor Farai Munyuki to steer the project. But with the collapse of his bank and virtually his entire business empire it is doubtful that he will be able to go ahead with the project.
Zimbabwe has been starved of any real competition in the media, except among the weekly papers. The Zimbabwe Independent, though established to challenge the Financial Gazette, is no real challenge since the papers are published on different days. The Mirror, though published on Mondays when it was launched thus also not directly competing with any other weekly, is now in direct competition with The Zimbabwe Independent since the two are now published on Fridays.
The coming in of TML could, however, turn the tables. If it starts a daily, this will provide competition to The Herald but any new paper coming on to the market must be adequately prepared because it is very difficult to crack the paper’s 100 years on the market. But Thomson or the new company seems to have an answer to that. The Insider understands that the company has hired former Herald Advertising manager, Brian Gamble, who was later promoted to group advertising and public relations manager. His vast experience at the Herald should enable him to adequately challenge them because he has the know-how and TML, obviously has the cash resources. At the weekly paper level, the TML could also provide a lot more competition especially on content. If they have done their homework right, it should be very easy to recruit some of the best qualified journalists, either dissatisfied with the low salaries at the media or the “newsroom” politics which they think is stifling them professionally.
TML’s biggest problem is whether they would be allowed to buy a stake in Thomson. Since independence, the government has tried to keep a tight rein on who owns the media in the country and they have been particularly against foreigners. The coming in of ANZ could provide the opening media barons have been waiting for.