New age dawning for ethnic media

Southnews’ acquisition of black paper New Nation may start the ball rolling for serious expansion of the UK’s ethnic media business.

Just before New Nation launched last November, with a pledge to deliver a more measured brand of black journalism, its rival publication Weekly Journal issued a press release headed: “Hasta la vista Murdoch!”, promising to see off the new threat.

A year on, after flagging sales and falling profits, New Nation is being given another chance by the Southnews group, owner of the Croydon Advertiser and 34 other London-based papers, which has bought it from proprietor Elkin Pianim.

The Murdoch clan, or more precisely Rupert’s son-in-law Ghanaian born Pianim, who launched the newspaper, is unlikely to come back to Britain’s black community for more.

Vanessa Summers of black communications agency ASAP, which handled the PR for the launch of New Nation, suggests the Murdoch family has had its fingers burnt over the way Pianim approached the black media market.

She says: “There is discontent over the way he broke so many promises about the paper, and left so many talented people without jobs. I doubt whether the black community would welcome him, or any other member of the Murdoch family, back.”

Not a good start for a 26-year-old self-starting media owner who wants to make an impression on his father-in-law and who recently revealed plans to launch a black TV station in the UK. Unfortunately, Pianim is uncontactable, as is his wife Elisabeth Murdoch.

Summers says she was suspicious when Pianim said in an interview with The Guardian earlier this year that if the newspaper didn’t turn out significant profits in the first year, he would review his involvement in it.

Pianim, who runs a media owning company called Idaho Partners with Elisabeth, and is also general manager of BSkyB broadcasting, has ditched other acquisitions too. He sold two Californian TV stations for 30 per cent more than the price he had paid in 1994 after just one year.

After failing to achieve sales of more than 20,000, Pianim sold the New Nation for 1m. Despite his show of outward enthusiasm to create an upbeat black tabloid, which would attract more display advertising, Summers wonders whether he used the newspaper as a way of making a quick buck and that he had planned to sell it from the start.

Or maybe he simply didn’t realise what a difficult market ethnic media is to crack. The Voice, Britain’s leading black newspaper, sells about 45,000 issues a week, but it consistently fails to attract enough display advertising.

Gary Gurmeet, managing director of Southnews group’s Ethnic Media Group, which owns The Caribbean Times, Asian Times, Asian Eye and has just bought New Nation, says mainstream advertisers have not yet recognised the strength of the ethnic market.

He says: “There are 2.8 million Asians in Britain, which is the largest visible ethnic group in this country. A large majority of them are under 35, highly educated and hold professional jobs. They also have their own specific cultural needs: Indian films and Bhangra music are both huge industries in their own right.”

Tetteh Kofi, publisher of New Nation and ex-head of development for The Voice, says: “We believe we can broaden the base of our display advertising because there are significant opportunities for clients. Telecommunications is one area which should be exploited because most black or Asian people will have friends and relatives abroad whom they regularly call. Then again, car ownership, especially among black people, is growing all the time.”

Summers says the problem is getting advertisers to identify with one particular group. She says there is one upmarket car company which black people are particularly attracted to, but it refuses to target them through advertising because it wrongly perceives the British black community as being working class.

She points to the US, where most of the advertising for the UK’s ethnic press actually comes from, and says UK advertising agencies should learn from its example. “The reality is the UK ethnic community is expected to double to 6 million in the next 30 years, and this fact needs to be exploited,” she says.

Kofi says Southnews’ new Ethnic Media Group will now be better placed to alleviate these problems. With four titles in its stable, it can concentrate on spreading the message across the whole market.

It may also give New Nation a break. Commercial pressures and the cost of producing a newspaper took their toll when it was independent, but it will now be able to share resources and overheads with the other papers in the group.

Summers reckons we are about to witness a new era of ethnic media conglomerates, with interests in television and radio, as well as magazines and newspapers. She expects a black television station to follow in the wake of the successful Asian channels, which include Zee TV, AsiaNet and Namaste.

Ironically, Murdoch has aspirations for the UK’s Asian market. His Asian satellite broadcasting company Star TV, which he bought from a Hong Kong conglomerate in 1993, is a major user of AsiaSat 2, a telecommunications satellite which covers the whole of Asia, Russia and the Middle East. Currently broadcasting 60 channels to 53 countries in seven languages, there appears to be little to stop it moving into the UK, one market where Murdoch’s pay-TV empire looks really healthy.

Kofi says the expansion of the Southnews media group could be the most significant move in ethnic media yet: “It could be the start of something really big and the first chance we’ve had to make use of the opportunities. I wouldn’t be surprised if larger media owners follow suit.”

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