TIMES Media has joined its peer Caxton in withdrawing from hearings of the task team that is investigating the transformation of the print and digital media industry.

The issues due to be dealt with, the company said on Monday, were also the subject of an investigation by the Competition Commission.

The decision of Times Media not to make an oral submission prompted the task team to postpone indefinitely this aspect of the public hearings, which had been scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

But the task team said on Monday it would continue the hearings on Wednesday and part of Thursday to hear other stakeholders. These will include the government, the African National Congress, sector education and training authorities, the South African Audience Research Foundation and advertisers.

The Competition Commission notified the four major media groups — Times Media, Independent Newspapers, Media24 and Caxton — in December last year it was investigating allegations of anticompetitive behaviour against them.

In view of this investigation, Caxton decided last month not to make submissions to the task team on issues of transformation and Times Media followed suit last week.

Project director of the task team Mathatha Tsedu believed that Times Media and Caxton could have made submissions in areas not subject to investigation by the commission, as the task team’s mandate was much wider than competition issues.

The task team — established by Print and Digital Media South Africa in August last year — would meet the organisation’s leadership to express its views on the developments and seek a way forward.

One of the terms of reference given to the task team — which has held public hearings throughout the country — was for it to investigate alleged anticompetitive behaviour by the major companies against smaller emerging independent publishers.

Allegations were made that the print media in South Africa was untransformed and that the major publishers inhibited new entrants through buyouts or squeezed them out of the market through cut-throat pricing.

Small publications have also cited difficulties in getting access to government advertising because they are unable to prove circulation as the process is too expensive.

It was these allegations that the major newspaper groups were asked to address.