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ICIRat10: How to run media organisations sustainably – Chairman, South Africa’s leading media conglomerate

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MANY media organisations are struggling to run their businesses sustainably and profitably because they do not have a defined purpose for their existence, Chairman Arena Holdings in South Africa, Tshepo Mahloele, said today in Abuja.

Mahloele was the keynote speaker at the 10th anniversary of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), holding at Transcorps Hilton.

He advised that while the media and other businesses target revenue generation, they must have a key purpose that sets them apart from their contemporaries and makes them sustainable to survive their founders.

He highlighted the need for the media to serve as agents of development in their countries of operation, while exposing sleazes and other ills in government and society.

He also urged media proprietors to desist from interfering with the outfit’s independence, while tasking journalists to be of high moral conduct.

Mahloele explained that in addition to its gatekeeping function, the media must serve as a thread for unifying all people and cultures in the society.

He also called on media owners in Africa to ensure they fight for the progress of the continent and not allow any region or government on the globe to silence or malign the black race.

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Speaking on the conference theme, ‘Media Sustainability’, the speaker shared his conglomerate’s experience from the era when the firms under the holding were conceived and how they have fared over the years.

“First, let me draw some experiences from our other businesses as the owner of Arena Holdings. The company is called Lebashe Investment. That business is building into the promise of leaving a legacy of a balance sheet. From the very beginning, the founder of that business has been pursuing how to build a sustainable media organization. 

Bongani Siqoko
Bongani Siqoko represented Tshepo Mahloele at the 10th anniversary of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), holding at Transcorps Hilton.

He said, “For them, it has always been about sustainability. LE of Lebashe comes from LE of legacy. BA is for the balance, and SHE comes from the ‘she’ in ‘sheet’. So, at Lebashe, we are building a legacy balance sheet. We are building a business that will outlive its creators. I was not there when they were founding the business, but it says one thing: all those who founded the business had the issue of sustainability in mind when they set up Lebashe.

“In our review, as Arena Holdings, building a sustainable media business goes hand-in-hand with being purpose-driven.”

He challenged media owners to be purpose-driven and think about how they could expand their businesses and attract high patronage.

He said firms must be clear about the reason for their existence, adding that there must be more to running a media business than selling and advertising things. 

He said, “Selling subscriptions, selling half-page ads and other pages, these are very important as they make our business financially viable. But I’m talking about a much bigger purpose. There must be a reason for your existence as a media organization.

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“This is important because if you take the time to study some of the most successful and sustainable businesses in the world today, you will see that they have one thing in common: they are purpose-driven.”

He listed Mercedez BenzJohnson & Johnson and Teslas as some of the companies that have excelled globally because of their purpose.

“So, what is your purpose? It would help if you asked yourself this question because it is imperative to have a purpose if you want your business to be sustainable. If you don’t have one, take your time to have one,” he urged.

Speaking about the firms under Arena Holding, Mahloele said the founders came up with new products under the Lebashe, despite foreseeable hitches they could face with competitors.

“We knew that to be sustainable, we needed to think differently, not in traditional ways. Our vision is to connect people of all countries and cultures. In Arena Holdings, we still struggle with this, but we want to get to a point where if you ask anyone in the organization, they will tell you we sell connections, we don’t sell newspapers,” he said.

Reiterating that the conglomerate was not selling its channels but connections, Mahloele stressed that the company’s mission was to enrich lives with content that informs, entertains and educates.

He urged media organizations to deploy technology to attract an audience, as, according to him, the era when the audience ran to get media content was gone. He said media channels are now devising strategies to gain an audience.

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The ICIR‘s 10th anniversary highlights the newspaper’s feats in journalism in Nigeria and beyond the nation’s shores within the limited time the company has operated.

Media proprietors, veteran journalists, and top government functionaries are attending the event.

The ICIR reports that many of its investigations over the years made remarkable impacts, compelling the government to react and address the abnormalities it raised.

But some of such reports peeved the government, which hounded the newspaper with state agents, including the State Security Service (SSS), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigerian Army, and the Nigerian Air Force.

In addition to the conventional newspapering, the ICIR runs a Fact Check Hub to help reduce misinformation.

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