EXCLUSIVE: Gupta linked ANN7 news channel a “stolen concept”

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Ayanda Mdluli

JOHANNESBURG- Keith Thabo, the current president of the National Association of Manufactures in Electronic Components (Namec) has revealed in an explosive interview with Africa News 24-7 that controversial businessman Atul Gupta “stole the idea” to establish ANN7 as a 24-hour news channel.

This incident occurred when his organisation pitched the proposal to him almost a year before the embattled television channel was launched.

According to Thabo, the conceptualisation of ANN7 as a broadcasting entity was pitched to Atul Gupta by Namec and he pulled a fast one on his organisation.

“We submitted a proposal to him and pitched an idea about starting a 24 hours news called African News Channel. We were the first people to go to him with this idea that required a R200 million investment to start up and then seven months down the line they launched a 24-hour news channel called ANN7 with striking similarities. These guys never knew anything about broadcasting. We were shocked when it was launched but because of the political dynamics and power that the Guptas wielded at the time we had to let it go,” he said.

Thabo claims that they were duped by Atul Gupta who told Namec executives that they had presented an “excellent idea” and reassured them that it was a good and lucrative opportunity for all parties involved. Following a series of meetings that looked as though the launching of the channel may finally come to fruition, Atul Gupta, allegedly went AWOL, and launched his own channel that was allegedly funded and sustained by state resources.

“The idea of ANN7 as a 24-hour news channel is not an original concept. They changed a few things here and there. Ours was supposed to be multi-lingual with a specific focus to both national and provincial issues. For them to say they own this thing or they came up with it is false. We have market research papers that we paid for. In order for that channel to exist, it was because of Namec,” said Thabo

Mzwanele Manyi, the current owner of ANN7 and The News Age declined to comment. Explaining that he had nothing to say on the subject.

Thabo has since said that Namec is in talks with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to establish a free to air channel that does not rely on MultiChoice’s platform. This is to avoid the battles that ANN7 is going through with Multichoice, the owners of the DStv platform. Recently, Multichoice terminated its contract with ANN7, sparking outrage and polarising certain sections of South African society who consume news and who are hungry for an alternative narrative to channels such as eNCA which is notoriously anti-black.

Multichoice’s audit and risk committee terminated ANN7’s contract because of its association with the Guptas, journalism standards and low audience ratings among other factors.

“We are not going on that route of being on Dstv because we are seeking a licence from Icasa for a free to air channel. If ANN7 had their own licence no one would have been able to switch them off and to start a channel in this business you are looking at a R300 million initial investment which is why you need a licence that comes from Icasa to ensure that you have independence from Multichoice. If ANN7 had their own licence only Icasa could switch them off. People must understand what they enter into. That is what people who got involved with the Guptas did not understand about Multichoice. This is why its also important that as soon as digital migration is done, black business must get free licences. That is the only way to deal with monopolies, not to go on someone else’s platform and dictate,” he said.

Thabo is also the subject of a leadership squabble with the Black Business Council. He is accused of having failed to stand up for ANN7 at a meeting with Multichoice executives because one of their members, Mzwanele Manyi took over ownership of the channel after the dramatic exit of the Gupta brothers in the media industry in SA.

Thabo described the intention to suspend him as irrational, because the current structure, as it stands has no powers to suspend him.

“It is their lack of interpretation over governance of federal structures of BBC that should be questioned. Secondly, the so-called decision was not endorsed by the council. This decision was made by BBC chair Sello Rasethaba and Secretary General George Sebulela. They do not have the powers to do that,” he said.

I was in that meeting representing ICT companies in my capacity as the portfolio committee chairperson of the BBC

“Multichoice explained why they are canning ANN7 and highlighted that interested parties should do their own bids and our members should not miss that opportunity. I understand that when running a channel on someone’s platform and you do not have a licence to run a tv station then you are not a player. How can I have someone on my platforms that competes with me? If you are on my platform you need to enhance my business. I still view ANN7 as a Gupta channel that is fronting black people. The value of that company was placed at R450 million. If it was truly about empowering black people how do you allow a fellow black to inherit a debt of R450 million,” asked Thabo.

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