Tag: Naspers

The dirty underbelly of the Naspers darling

MultiChoice and Naspers are in the crosshairs of public opprobrium for playing tough tackle in their negotiations to protect their market dominance.

“This company is aggressive and entrepreneurial. We often go with our gut,” says a MultiChoice executive to explain revelations of the company’s negotiating tactics, which have landed its parent company Naspers in a mighty pickle.

Naspers is facing three investigations: a litigious class action by a US law firm is exploring the allegations; a parliamentary inquiry on the scale of the Eskom probe is being planned for early 2018; and MultiChoice’s board is engaged in a probe to get to the bottom of the allegations.

MultiChoice and Naspers are in the crosshairs of public opprobrium for playing tough tackle in their negotiations to protect their market dominance, but the company says this is standard lobbying. Here’s a recap of what’s bugging the global Internet and media company:

An investigation by News24 into the #Guptaleaks emails revealed how a company regulatory affairs honcho wrote policy for government that landed up on the email servers of the Gupta family after being mailed through by former communications minister Faith Muthambi.

A set of minutes, which the DA calls secret, but which MultiChoice says never was, alleges that MultiChoice tied an agreement to pay the SABC for digital channels to support for a position that excluded encryption and protected the company’s position.

MultiChoice’s support and contracts with the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronics components in return for their lobbying against encryption.
Analysts say industry incumbents who write policy for government engage in regulatory capture — this is where private interests drive public policy. In mining, a similar trend is apparent. Special interests that are not immediately visible to the public motivate the writing of draft laws and practices such as aggressive inspections and work stoppages.

Standard lobbying

Executives at MultiChoice who spoke to HuffPost SA on condition of anonymity are taken aback at the allegations. The company would not formally respond as lobbying and regulatory affairs are part of the ongoing probe at the company. (See statement below.)

One said that companies often wrote draft policy positions for government as part of the lobbying process. Broadcasting is complex and the South African state’s governance thereof has been sclerotic: there have been five communications ministers in the eight years that President Jacob Zuma’s been in office.

“In lobbying, we are saying what we think the law should say.” As to how the email landed up on a Gupta company server, an executive said: “Faith Muthambi told us she didn’t like those people [the Guptas] at all.”

The executive says only 10% of its recommended policy proposals ended up in the final law, which clarified what the respective functions would be of Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele and the communications minister after Zuma split the department in two.

“[It’s true], though, that we lobbied everyone and their dog on encryption,” said an executive. This is a separate policy to the one that ended up in the hands of Gupta man Ashu Chawla.

ANC MP and former communications minister Yunus Carrim says Naspers chairperson Koos Bekker “…almost saw himself as an adviser to me [on encryption] as somebody new to the sector. And yet, because of his vested profit and other interests in the pay-tv sector, he obviously couldn’t play any such role.”

A DStv decoder for you, you and you

As a young MP, Carrim sat on parliament’s communications committee. One day, he remembers a furious Frene Ginwala, who was the National Assembly speaker, calling out MPs for taking MultiChoice’s gifts of decoders for MPs. She said it was absurd because “we have to make policy impacting broadcasters”.

Carrim would like to see an end to gifting by MultiChoice and other government-facing companies, which depend on public regulation or licence to operate.

In my experience, there seem to be various forms of ‘regulatory capture’ including perks to MP’s and the preparation of documents for other stakeholders to advance MultiChoice’s interests.
Yunus Carrim
He says the lobbying become more aggressive as certain members of the ANC study group were courted by MultiChoice to take positions against encryption, even though the ANC policy at the time was for conditional access to the set-top boxes that will enable converting old TVs for digital television.

“Of course, business should lobby government as vigorously as they want, but they can’t seek to buy government policy. Lobbying should be within reasonable limits and within a generally accepted framework of ethics,” says Carrim.

DA MP Phumzile van Damme says establishing a code of conduct for public policy lobbyists is essential and will be part of an investigation into state capture in the communications sector in the new year.

MultiChoice responds

We note that your questions deal with the parameters of an acceptable level lobbying. We think it is inappropriate to deal with that at this time, as the MultiChoice Board’s Audit and Risk committees are specifically and currently reviewing these matters. We don’t want to pre-empt or influence the outcome of that process. The audit and risk committees are chaired by an independent non-executive Director. Their report will be submitted to the MultiChoice Board on completion of the review. When this process is concluded, we will communicate the outcome.

We believe that no improper conduct took place in our meeting with the SABC. It was not a clandestine meeting. The meeting was held at the request of the SABC, on their premises and was recorded. Top management and board members of both parties were represented. No kickbacks were paid. It was a negotiation meeting and the final decision on our proposal lay with the SABC Board.

As you know, the Constitutional Court has found in favour of the Minister’s policy. Ultimately, the SABC considered its position and decided to enter into the agreement. Our position on encryption of set-top box for digital migration was well known and had been in the public domain.

We have a long-standing relationship with the SABC dating back to the early 1980s. The parties have bought and sold content from and to each other for many years and will continue to do so.

By Ferial Haffajee, Editor-at-large for HuffPost South Africa

E-commerce and media giant Naspers and its pay-TV arm MultiChoice could now be facing a possible class action suit in the US after a law firm there announced it was starting an investigation on behalf of investors into Naspers.

In the latest fallout in the widening scandal involving allegations of corruption, collusion and undue corporate influence from Naspers’ MultiChoice unit to allegedly influence South Africa’s long-stalled digital migration switch from analogue to digital TV, US law firm Pomerantz has launched a search for investors who want to start a class action lawsuit against Naspers.

Pomerantz said its investigation on behalf of Naspers investors concerns whether Naspers and certain of its officers and/or directors have engaged in securities fraud or other unlawful business practices.

In its public statement issued on Tuesday it said: “On December 1, 2017, Naspers reported that its wholly-owned television unit MultiChoice had initiated an investigation into whether improper payments were made to ANN7, a South African news channel owned by the politically-connected Gupta family.

“According to local media, citing leaked emails, MultiChoice substantially increased its annual payment to ANN7 from R50m to R141m over the past two years.

“On this news, Naspers’ American Depositary Receipt price fell $3.05, or 5.58%, to close at $51.60 on December 1, 2017,” Pomerantz said in the statement.

Naspers acknowledged Pomerantz’s statement and told Fin24 on Tuesday that adjustments in global tech markets took place at around the same time Pomerantz highlights.

Naspers re-iterated that it takes the recent media allegations about MultiChoice SA seriously. It however pointed out that MultiChoice SA has many minority shareholders and the responsibility for dealing with the matter lies with the independent MultiChoice SA board.

“The MultiChoice South Africa board has therefore instructed its audit and risk committees to assess whether or not there have been any corporate governance failures at MultiChoice in regard to the ANN7 matter and report back to the board,” Naspers said in an emailed response to questions.

The ecommerce and multimedia giant said it has confidence in the MultiChoice SA board to deal with the matter, following their governance procedures. It said it will verify that the MultiChoice SA board has addressed the matter adequately.

“The MultiChoice Audit & Risk committee has confirmed the action it is taking in response to the allegations in the media. As stated above, once they complete their work following their governance procedures, they will report to the MultiChoice board, and after that has happened the Naspers board will consider whether it is satisfied with the action that the MultiChoice board has taken.”

Source: Thinus Ferreira and Fin24

Caxton: the Naspers antithesis

Caxton and CTP Publishers & Printers, which is still earning most of its keep from newspapers, magazines and printing and packaging, could well be regarded as the antithesis of Naspers. Whereas Naspers has been ripped away from its print-media roots by an array of technology investments, Caxton still seems content to tinker with its (well-managed) traditional operations.

That’s not to say there’s not much to like about Caxton. In fact, there may be more than a few contrarian market watchers who prefer the conservative vision of Caxton prime-mover Terry Moolman to the all-conquering global thrust of Naspers chair Koos Bekker.

Caxton, on a trailing earnings multiple of around 10 times, may seem a fair rating, noting the changing media landscape. It’s worth noting the company’s operations are still churning out convincing free cash flows, and the allocation of this capital will determine Caxton’s long-term viability. The fair value of cash and cash equivalents topped R1.9bn, with cash generated by operating activities increasing over 20% to R782m — equivalent to around 195c/share. There was a R356m investment in property, plant and equipment – a large portion of this earmarked for the packaging divisions to facilitate a restructuring of the Gauteng operations. Caxton also made several acquisitions during the year, spending R158m. Perhaps the most eyecatching event is listed under the R85m investments and loans to associates. Though the most significant seems to be a 30% investment in Universal Labelling, the far more intriguing tilt is the shareholder loans made to “rapidly growing” fibre-to-home associate Octotel.

Caxton notes that Octotel will have connected more than 50,000 homes by the end of the year, making it the Western Cape’s largest independent open access fibre operator. Post-balance-sheet events may also raise market interest. Though the R11m acquisition of self-adhesive label business Tricolor in the Western Cape reinforces the old-economy tag, Caxton made a big move in clinching a 50% stake in Private Property SA, one of the leading digital real-estate portals, for R123m.

Caxton is clearly a business at an interesting juncture. I suspect the share price, which (aside from an odd spike) has dribbled downwards for five years, may find some traction fairly shortly.

Safety in numbers

Stellar Capital Partners (SCP) has pretty much been defined by its investment in JSE-listed Torre Industrial. That masks the fact the company did a rather good deal in buying out security technology firm Amecor, now apparently the subject of two takeover bids by other investment companies. Amecor delivered normalised earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) of R52.3m for its year to end-March — justifying SCP’s purchase price of around R270m. If Amecor is for sale, could SCP — noting prevailing economic conditions — ask north of R300m? Market talk is that SCP may be offering Amecor in a package deal, with the stake in electronics manufacturer Tellumat tossed in as well.

Over the rainbow

RCL Foods is still counting on chickens, and executives seem determined to dismiss notions that the Rainbow poultry business will be put up for sale. This is despite the industry looking anything but the picture of plump prospects, with cheap imports still flying in and an ill-timed outbreak of avian flu.

RCL’s recent results, though, did show the poultry segment looking slightly pluckier, with a stronger second-half performance. The business model change — which will result in a volume reduction, with quick-service restaurant offerings favoured over commodity offerings like individually quick frozen — will hopefully yield further margin improvements.

It’s encouraging, too, that RCL’s chicken business is once again excelling in the “freezer to fryer” section, where market share at the end of June grew to a category-leading position of almost 40%.

By Marc Hasenfus for BusinessLive

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