Sun Dec 04 14:17:25 SAST 2016

Caught up in a legal money web

Peter Delmar | 2013-09-12 01:25:07.0
Peter Delmar
Image by: The Times

Oh dear, this is all terribly embarrassing. Moneyweb is suing Media24 for nicking its stories.

An online business site, Moneyweb is a penny stock media operation that delivers good content to mostly local audiences for free. Since earlier this year Caxton, a traditional printer and publisher, has owned a third of it.

Media24 is part of Naspers, today a giant multinational that does almost everything media-related you can think of. Media24 also churns out internet content for free but, if Moneyweb is to be believed, apart from what it gets from its print journalists and the news wires, Media24 is loath to invest in generating its own copy.

In the media business it is accepted practice that you can lift your competitors' material from time to time, as long as you acknowledge where you've filched it from. It is perfectly acceptable, for instance, for the Wall Street Journal to report: "As one of South Africa's foremost intellectuals, columnist Peter Delmar, enlightened his millions of devoted readers in The Times newspaper today: 'Oh dear, this is all terribly embarrassing'."

But, as much as the world's media would love to reprint Delmar every Wednesday word for word, they can't because doing so would infringe the rights of the publishers of this newspaper who pay me a king's ransom for exclusive rights to my ineluctable wisdom and deathless prose.

I have a certain sympathy for Media24. They publish one of this country's best newspapers, one whose excellent journalists frequently produce big scoops that are followed up by the trailing English-language media without any acknowledgement of who got there first and without anyone being wiser because most people don't read Afrikaans.

This Moneyweb/Media24 spat is a bit excruciating for me because nobody likes to see their brethren squabbling in public. Then there is the fact that some stories at the centre of this latest court dispute concern extremely trifling matters.

For instance, in "Annexure RvN5.1" to the Moneyweb action we read that the applicant accuses the respondent of lifting its story about nothing in particular that didn't happen at the Woodmead McDonald's one day a year ago. The Moneyweb article is headlined: "McDonald's plans to launch McKitchen". The next day Media24 published online "McDonald's to launch McKitchen", with a referral to Moneyweb's original article. You can read the supposedly plagiarised original article and not have a clue what a "McKitchen" is. Or why it was a story in the first place.

The Fin24/Media24 "lift" repeats the Moneyweb intelligence that the "McKitchen is set to feature a modified cooking platform as well as new innovations to the front counter and beverages".

The poor, doubtless young, Moneyweb reporter was trying to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear that her news editor had sent her to cover. It didn't work and the "story" should have been spiked, but the media machine is a voracious beast that demands constant feeding.

Now two otherwise reputable news organisations are going to court over "new innovations to the front counter and beverages". That and a knock-off German castle in Hout Bay that a Russian bought for R23m (another article in dispute).

Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk acknowledges that when the Cape Town-based publisher muscled in on its genuine scoops about Defencex, an alleged pyramid scheme, enough was enough.

A court will judge the merits or otherwise of the Moneyweb action, and its decisions will be followed with great interest by those with an interest in media.

What's sad is that, while journalism and those who practise this worthy craft need every penny they can get, when reading Moneyweb's extensive court application, the phrase that kept recurring for me was "legal fees".

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