By Chibamba Kanyama
Minister of Information and Broadcasting Dora Siliya is quoted in News Diggers as having said Times of Zambia is insolvent. She never minced any words in describing the situation: ‘I cannot sugar-coat it for you; Times of Zambia is in a bad situation, it is in a very bad situation. In fact, at this point it is insolvent, bankruptcy is the word…We are saying that Times of Zambia, your problems are real there and no matter how much Government puts in there, if the order is not working, ….the equation is not going to work.’
This is a strong message that places the newspaper in a worse off position as all creditors will now be panicking. Times is now between the rock and the hard place: not making the decision now implies the liabilities will worsen by the day; a serious erosion to shareholder funds and taxpayer obligations. It also means deciding to close the paper will call for release of huge funds to retrenched staff, honouring of other creditor obligations immediately (possibly the same amount of money required to turnaround the company). If the company is insolvent, it means even if the paper sold all its assets today, it cannot pay Napsa, ZRA, creditors and employees.
Government, through the IDC, should make the decision sooner than later. By implication, the Minister is saying Times of Zambia cannot survive in its current state even if new funds were injected (possibly the same for other many parastatals). The IDC, the current parent company to Times of Zambia, should absorb all current liabilities of the paper, embark on a turnaround strategy, undertake a feasibility study on business viability, invite equity partners (who will leverage the long rich history and goodwill of the paper), reduce the payroll and encourage a much more independent editorial policy.
Despite a huge shift in the media market in favour of diversity in media platforms, with extra innovation, Times of Zambia is viable. We should appreciate that Times of Zambia, like any other parastatal, is in its current state largely to non-recapitalisation from inception. The newspaper industry survives on the back of investment and re-investment in a five-year circle. IDC, acting independently, has among the best technocrats to make a firm decision on Times of Zambia.