In pursuit of expanding their media empire and access to lucrative government advertising, the Gupta family planned to buy Primedia, the company that owns the likes of Radio 702 and Cape Talk, the leaked emails show.
Scorpio and amaBhungane reported that the Guptas made a play for Primedia in late 2014. This was prior to their attempts, as reported this week, to purchase the Mail & Guardian and reposition it is as a pro-government newspaper so that they could access more government advertising.
The emails, as published by Daily Maverick, show that the Guptas planned to merge with Primedia and list on the stock exchange in three years.
A presentation on the proposed merger from November 2014 reportedly said:
"As we grow we need to do bigger investments. Smaller ones become irrelevant. Bigger bits of big companies at acceptable prices. The Primedia merger is the biggest deal. Target investments that would show the company as a serious business partner and a significant player in the media industry.
"Where can we be together in five years? Primedia has gaps in their portfolio and we successfully entered television... Consolidation will be good for the [media] industry."
It is unclear what happened after a scheduled meeting in January 2015, according to the report, but the deal was not successful.
Primedia CEO Roger Jardine told Scorpio and amaBhungane on Tuesday:
"The board of Primedia never considered a transaction with the Guptas. I am not aware of any discussions between a director or shareholder of Primedia with the Guptas or their representatives."
Asked if he would consider a hypothetical merger with the Guptas, Jardine said:
"The board and shareholders of Primedia are very mindful of the need for a strong and independent media in South Africa. I can confidently state that if a transaction of this nature was ever tabled at our board it would receive no support."
The Guptas were also in negotiations with Iqbal Surve, chair of Sekunjalo, which owns Independent Media.
Surve reportedly offered the Guptas a large, conditional stake in the consortium that would ultimately buy Independent Media. In return, the Guptas would be able to appoint editors to various titles in the Independent Media stable, such as The Star.
The deal fell apart and Independent and the Guptas have reportedly been locked in litigation over it ever since.