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New Newspaper Hits South African Streets

A fish-and-chips shop owner holds a copy of the New Age Newspaper which debuted Monday 06 Dec 2010 in Johannesburg with denials it is an agent of the governing African National Congress, (ANC)

A new newspaper hit the streets today in South Africa. The New Age newspaper is owned by a family said to be close to South African President Jacob Zuma but its editors say the daily will be independent.

The first edition of the New Age newspaper sold briskly in its first hours on the streets. A crisp electronic version also opened on the internet.

The incoming Chief Executive Officer, Nazeem Howa, told VOA in order for the newspaper to succeed financially its editorial policy would have to be independent.

"Our editorial policy is really about sustainability and sustainability means that we have to attract readers. And if we are going to attract readers we have to be able to be relevant. We have to be credible. We have to be independent," said Howa.

The newspaper is owned by the Gupta Group which is run by a business family originally from India. They are said to be close to South African President Jacob Zuma. This has led to speculation that the paper would seek to counter criticism of Mr. Zuma and the ruling African National Congress.

Editor Henry Jeffreys in a note to readers said that the daily would not favor any political party or group. He said the newspaper would strive to be constructively critical and to expose bad government, bad business and corruption wherever it existed.

Howa said the news media in South Africa historically has been dominated by a few major companies which poses a challenge for any new publication.

"I think we've been victims of a positioning exercise by those newspapers. All they've tried to do is position ourselves [us] as too close to the ANC or too open to influence. And certainly I think the opposite is true," Howa said.

He said the proof of the newspaper's independence would be in its content.

"I would challenge anybody to look at this morning's newspaper and show us where we're pushing a particular party line or a particular political line. We're going to produce good newspapers. We'll be fair. We'll be accurate," Howa said.

The newspaper was to have launched in September but was hit by delays. A second launch date in October was also put off after five senior staff members, including the editor, resigned. No reasons were given.

Monday's edition contained a range of articles on national, local and international politics and business similar to other dailies. The opinion section contained pieces on AIDS, violence against women and the decline of morality.

Howa acknowledged the paper was launching in a difficult economic climate in which declining advertising revenue has obliged other publications to cut staff and pages.

But he said this would oblige management to operate efficiently which he said ultimately would assure its success.