The NewsHawks say Trevor Ncube, the chairman of Alpha Media Holdings, “prostituted journalism for money” by supporting then-vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa when he moved to topple his former boss, Robert Gabriel Mugabe. In a Twitter thread, seen by Pindula News, TheNewsHawks track Ncube’s journey in the Media to date. This is happening as Ncube has just announced that he is quitting the Presidential Advisory Council post which he held since 209. We present the full thread below:
When Zimbabwean publisher Trevor Ncube lost control of South Africa’s investigative newspaper, M&G, in 2017 to return home, he tried to leverage his media group, Alpha Media Holdings, to exert insidious influence inside President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime, but it did not work.
Ncube’s story is particularly of huge public interest given that he had doggedly fought for media freedom and stood for liberty, democracy and human rights during the late ex-president Robert Mugabe’s era, values that informed and underpinned the Zimbabwean liberation struggle.
Having arrived into journalism in 1989 through the top as Financial Gazette assistant editor with no media and reporting experience, Ncube quickly manoeuvred to become editor of the paper after Geoff Nyarota was dismissed by the publisher Elias Rusike, a Zanu PF member, in 1991.
In 1994, Ncube won editor of the year award with only five years experience in media because he had a good team around him. Usually with five years experience one would still be a reporter, either junior or senior reporter, depending on talent, work ethic and performance.
After some editorial clashes with Rusike, Ncube left the Financial Gazette with his team and went to form the Zimbabwe Independent with him as editor in 1996. The team included Iden Wetherell, Barnabas Thondhlana, Basildon Peta, Sunsleey Chamunorwa and Joram Nyathi, among others.
By his own account, Ncube was a rookie and didn’t even know how to write editorials as an editor as he had no reporting experience. Wetherell then taught him how to write. Being a dynamic man, he fast learnt the ropes and took charge. He ran the paper well until he left in 2002.
In January 2002 the Guardian (UK) sold the M&G operation in SouthAfrica to Ncube. After that Ncube had to relocate to Johannesburg to take over as chairman and chief executive of the paper from the outgoing Govin Reddy. Back home, Wetherell became Zimbabwe Independent editor.
In terms of the deal, Ncube’s company, Newtrust Company Botswana Limited, would acquire a majority share of 87,5% in the M&G’s publishing company MG Media from UK-based Guardian Newspapers Limited. The Guardian would continue to hold a 10% stake in the M&G.
As part of the deal, Ncube would acquire 35% of the M&G Online, the internet publication of the M&G. The other 65% was owned by internet service provider M-Web, then the largest player in the South African dial-up subscriber market.
Commenting on buying the paper with the help of a US investment fund, Ncube then said:
My company’s long-term vision is to be a regional media player and the M&G with its strong presence in the Southern African region has presented us with an opportunity to set this in motion.
The Mail & Guardian is a quality product that has a proven track record in the democratic transformation taking place in South Africa and in the continent’s rebirth. Indeed, the Mail&Guardian is a giant symbol of press freedom.”
The sale was announced after a two-and-a-half-year search for a new owner as the Guardian wanted to sell not to the highest bidder, but to someone who would safeguard the paper’s editorial independence; a person who would not start prostituting editorial integrity for money.
Bob Phillis from the Guardian Newspapers Limited made that clear:
We didn’t just sell to the highest bidder. We interviewed about 10 groups of potential buyers, but they didn’t meet the criteria we had set for the continued editorial and financial independence of the M&G.
Guardian Newspapers is proud and privileged to have been able to support the M&G over the years… the money we have put in has been a privilege because the M&G has carried the flag of independent journalism in South Africa like nobody else.
Ncube ran M&G well initially, but then overeached himself in his ambitious online and regional expansion programme in his bid to become an African media mogul. The paper, funded by the New York-based Media Development Investment Fund, started making losses – back to square one.
A month after Mnangagwa’s November 2017 coup, Ncube lost control of the broke M&G and went back home to run the equally struggling Alpha Media Holdings in a deal that involved the New York fund taking a majority stake, while exiting his Zimbabwean operation which he is running now.
Upon arrival back in Harare broke, Ncube quickly tried to gain tight control of his papers to leverage them to offer support to Mnangagwa’s regime and subsequently became an adviser. His new role had clear prospects of financial rewards; it was not mere national service for him.
Prior to his political capture by Mnangagwa, Ncube had already sung loud enough for his supper, while throwing media ethics out the window to support a Zanu PF faction plotting a coup. He worked, tweeted blood and sweat backing the coup, damaging his credibility in the process.
To show support for Mnangagwa, Ncube took his favourite editors to the President’s Office to pledge and demonstrate that he would back the regime to the hilt. They naively took photos and paraded themselves with him. Even at the state-owned Zimpapers, they don’t do it like that.
This triggered a fierce battle for the control of Alpha Media Holdings editorial policy and department: Ncube on one side supported by his acolytes, his mostly incompetent managers and sycophants, who would support anything to keep their jobs and steadfast editors on the other.
Editors and reporters in the newsroom were mainly resisting the Mnangagwa capture even though some of them were already compromised by support for the coup. Due to their resistance, Ncube would sometimes get frustrated and lambast them on Twitter much to the shock of readers.
Journalists were clear the editorial should remain independent and impartial even though some would sometimes in the heat of political battle in a polarised society take sides with Zanu PF factions and politics which had become a national issue as Mugabe faced a tragic endgame.
After throwing everything but the kitchen sink in support of Mnangagwa, Ncube, claiming he did it because he wanted to offer public service, push reform and resolve Gukurahundi, decided to go for the jugular: Remove the editor-in-chief and use Mugabeist divide-and-rule tactics.
In so doing Ncube did a lot of damage to his reputation and the credibility of newspapers, as well as the media and journalism in general. He did what Mahatma Ghandi warned against a long time ago: Prostituting journalism for money and/or influence by joining the gravy train.
Yet in the end, as Ncube has now admitted, his mission to capture media in service of a coup-minted dictatorship and repression was a disastrous failure. He didn’t get the TV and radio licences that he badly wanted or money, but his reputation and credibility are left in tatters.
By joining the Mnangagwa regime, it was clear Ncube didn’t just want to serve Zimbabwe he now naively romanticises, but to revive his financial fortunes, get TV and radio licences, become a media mogul and exert political influence to protect his interests Rupert Murdock-style.
But as it now turns out it didn’t end well; it all ended in tears for Ncube. This is an instructive lesson for all democracy/freedom advocates and activists out there: Don’t abandon the struggle or good cause for opportunistic and short-term benefits as Bishop Abel Muzorewa did.
Source: Pindula News