SHARES in scandal-hit investment giant Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI) rallied strongly on Tuesday as CEO Johnny Copelyn moved to reassure staff that media independence at subsidiary e.tv was not negotiable. This followed further claims of political interference by a second departing director.

HCI shares shifted up 2.34% in steady volumes despite the vitriolic contents of the resignation letter written by nonexecutive director Barbara Hogan this week.

Copelyn is said to have e-mailed e.tv staff a reassurance that editorial independence and integrity at HCI’s key media asset were "not up for negotiation".

Free-to-air television channel e.tv is owned by Sabido Investments, part of HCI’s JSE-listed industrial subsidiary Seardel.

The reassurance came a day after suspended HCI executive chairman and co-founder Marcel Golding "resigned from his employment from the HCI Group" (but apparently not his directorship) after bemoaning, in court papers, increasing incidents of political interference in the news-gathering function of e.tv.

Golding — who has headed Sabido and e.tv for the best part of 15 years — was suspended after being accused of unauthorised trading in the shares of electronics goods distributor Ellies.

Hogan — a former minister of public enterprises — backed up Golding’s claims of increasing political interference in e.tv. She indicated she was party to a briefing where HCI executive director Yunis Shaik had claimed that the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu), a 32% shareholder in HCI, had lost patience with the editorial practices of e.tv.

Apparently Shaik had cited the failure to give prominent coverage to Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel’s pronouncements as an instance of such dissatisfaction.

Patel had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.

An HCI shareholder, who asked not to be named, said it was disappointing that a "respected and principled" director such as Hogan was stepping down at such a fractious point. "The points she raises can’t be easily fobbed off by shareholders."

"I am uneasy with the proposition that the discontent with Marcel’s leadership can solely be attributed to the alleged unauthorised trading in Ellie’s shares.

"Whilst the latter requires investigation, I am mindful of the briefing that Yunis Shaik gave me when he claimed that Sactwu, a significant shareholder in HCI, had lost patience with the editorial practices of e.tv, citing the failure to give prominent coverage to Minister Ebrahim Patel’s economic pronouncements, as an instance of such dissatisfaction," Hogan said in her resignation letter.

Hogan said she was uneasy about the fact that Sactwu later refused to approve any restructuring proposals which would have separated the media interests of the company from HCI. The proposals would have allowed Sabido to separate from HCI with Golding at the helm — a restructuring that had been endorsed by the HCI board, Hogan pointed out.

An HCI shareholder, who asked not to be named, said it was disappointing that a "respected and principled" director such as Hogan was stepping down at such a fractious point. "The points she raises can’t be easily fobbed off by shareholders."

Hogan also deemed unacceptable the suspension of Golding as CEO of Sabido without a formal report to the boards of HCI or Sabido.

"I am appalled at the unprofessional way in which the process to inquire into the Ellie’s trading matter has unfolded. That a sub-committee of the HCI board, that was appointed to inquire into the merits of the allegations, took it upon itself to take such drastic actions, such as the suspension of Marcel Golding as CEO of Sabido, a subsidiary of HCI without even a formal report to the HCI or Sabido boards, or even providing documentation in support thereof, is unacceptable to me," she said.

She added that Remgro, which is a substantial shareholder in Sabido, was also not kept informed of developments.

Remgro, although offering no official comment on developments, is thought to have backed Golding’s so far unsuccessful efforts to buy out Sabido from HCI/Seardel.

Hogan questioned why no immediate plan was put in place regarding management arrangements at Sabido after the hasty suspension of Golding.

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