Viability crisis hits troubled Southern Times

THE Southern Times newspaper, a joint venture between Zimbabwe and Namibia, is battling to remain viable with information that the paper sold a mere 20 000 copies in the first two months of operation, reports from Namibia say.
FONT>


This means that the paper was selling a paltry 2 500 copies a week in the six countries where it is circulating. The Southern Times got off the ground through a partnership agreement between Namibia’s New Era and Zimbabwe Newspapers (Zimpapers) in September last year.


The Namibian this week said only 20 000 copies were sold in September and October last year.


Responding to questions in parliament last week, Namibian Minister of Information and Broadcasting Nangolo Mbumba was however upbeat, maintaining that the publication was “gaining momentum” and “acceptability” in the region as it was telling “stories from a southern African regional perspective”.


“It is imperative to point out that since the Southern Times only started its operations in September 2004, it would be inappropriate to judge its performance in a time-frame of six months,” said Mbumba, who was quick to point out the paper would become a “force to be reckoned with” in the near future.


Mbumba told parliamentarians that New Era, as 50% shareholders in the joint venture Namzim Newspapers Pvt Ltd, had contributed N$1 million, while Zimpapers had pumped in N$1,4 million.


To date, approximately N$600 000 of New Era’s contribution has been spent.


He said New Era did not plan to invest any further capital in the project for the next three years, as the joint venture company was expected to generate its own income.


Mbumba said a comprehensive income statement and other financial documentation of the operational expenses and income from all Sadc member-states where the Southern Times is sold, was being compiled.

Mbumba said New Era’s contribution had not come from state coffers, but from external sources.


The regional paper, which is a brainchild of the disgraced former Information minister Jonathan Moyo, has been hit by a serious financial crisis.


Advertiser apathy has seen the paper making huge losses and had to be bailed out by Zimpapers and New Era newspaper in Namibia.


There are now fears that the paper might collapse especially after the sudden dismissal of its anchorman, Moyo, from government last month.

Meanwhile, Bulawayo-based Weekly Times, shut down last Friday by the Media and Information Commission (MIC), has lodged an urgent application with the Administrative Court challenging its closure.


The urgent application was filed on Tuesday at the Harare Administrative Court by Coghlan and Welsh the lawyers representing the Weekly Times.

One of the lawyers Kucaca Phulu confirmed that papers challenging the closure of the newspaper have been lodged with the Administrative Court.


“We have filed papers challenging the paper’s closure and we are seeking an order compelling the MIC to allow the Weekly Times to continue publishing until the case has been concluded,” Phulu said.


He said the decision to shut down the paper was wrong and the paper will contest the decision on that basis.


Phulu however could not be drawn into providing more details on the urgent court application saying it was rather too early to comment on the matter. The MIC cancelled the operating licence of the Weekly Times after alleging that the paper’s owners made misrepresentations on the nature of the paper’s operations. — Staff Writer/The Namibian.


The MIC alleged that Mthwakazi Publishing House, the publishers of the Weekly Times, breached Section 71 (1)(a) of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) by not disclosing information to the commission.


When the Weekly Times produced its maiden issue early this year, the MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso instantly took a swipe at the newspaper saying it was “dedicated to partisan political advocacy.”


Mahoso in his statement announcing the banning of the newspaper said the Weekly Times failed to furnish his office with its accounts and bank statements that appear under Mthakwazi’s name.