The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is appalled and saddened by the admission of African News Agency (ANA) CEO Vasantha Angamuthu that they accepted money from the State Security Agency (SSA) to “provide multi-media training for SSA analysts and interns across Africa” and to carry positive stories about South Africa and the government.
Angamuthu’s admission comes after the testimony of Dr Sydney Mufamadi before the State Capture Commission of Inquiry. Mufamadi told the commission that about R20 million was paid by the intelligence agency to ANA to influence the national news narrative and to counter the bad publicity around former president Jacob Zuma’s government.
ANA is part of the Independent Media group, owned by Dr Iqbal Survé. The shocking revelation that a spy agency paid a media house for “training” and to report positively on the government is the latest in a series of allegations of unethical behaviour against Independent Media.
In their recent report on Media Ethics and Credibility, retired Judge Kathy Satchwell and her fellow panelists cited several occasions where Survé interfered with the editorial independence of editors and journalists in the group.
In reaction to Mufamadi’s testimony that ANA was paid R20 million by the SSA, Angamuthu defended ANA’s position, saying the agency is not a front for the SSA.
But she admitted to having had a contract with the SSA “to provide multimedia training for SSA analysts and interns across Africa, and to use its platforms, in particular the African Independent newspaper, to carry positive stories about South Africa and the South African government”.
This undermines the independence and credibility of the media in South Africa. It further erodes the trust that audiences/readers place on the media industry.
The generally-accepted rule in journalism is for paid-for content to be identified as such. That this did not happen in this case is worrying.
It is apparent from Angamuthu’s statement that she sees nothing wrong with a media house being paid to write stories that put a positive spin on the activities of the government.
The South African Press Code – to which Independent Media and its publications like ANA, IOL, The Star and The Sunday Independent are no longer signatories – is abundantly clear that conflicts of interests should be avoided. “The media shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence reporting, and avoid conflicts of interest as well as practices that could lead readers to doubt the media’s independence and professionalism,” states the code.
It is clear from Angamuthu’s admission that ANA did not comply with this basic tenet of ethical journalism.
SANEF understands that many journalists and editors working for ANA were not aware of the existence of this contract and were equally shocked by the revelations and admission.
To protect innocent journalists and editors from ANA, who were in the dark about this deal, it is of utmost importance that the details of the project and its participants be unearthed.
SANEF calls on Angamuthu and her bosses, in the interests of transparency, to make public the contract with the SSA, and to also provide a portfolio of stories published by Independent Media in executing this contract.
FURTHER CLAIMS OF SSA CLANDESTINE ACTIVITIES
SANEF is equally concerned about further claims of media manipulation by SSA. In a letter to the Zondo Commission by lawyers representing former SSA Director General Arthur Fraser among others, it has been alleged that SSA provided funding for the establishment of a certain broadcast media company where the agency seconded some of its members.
The letter, which has since gone viral on social media platforms, also claims that SSA money was used to purchase an online publication on behalf of certain individuals.
We do not name the broadcast media company and the online publication because the claims have not been put before the commission yet and, unlike in the case of Independent Media, those implicated have yet to respond.
We call on the relevant authorities to investigate these claims and make public their findings. We also encourage the two media companies to publicly respond to these allegations so as not to fuel further speculation.
SANEF believes that as the media we are not above scrutiny hence our call for transparency in this matter. Any allegations of manipulation or impropriety taint the entire media industry.
Following the release of the Judge Kathy Satchwell report on media ethics and credibility, SANEF plans to host several seminars to discuss issues of ethical breaches identified in the report including the recently revealed cases in the Zondo Commission. SANEF’s virtual council meeting in February will also be debating the way forward on the implementation of some of the recommendations of the Satchwell Report including an engagement with Media owners on critical issues of media freedom and the sustainability of ethical newsrooms.
Note to Editors: The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. We promote excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research and education and training programmes. SANEF is not a union.
For more information please contact:
Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Chairperson (073) 404-1415
Adriaan Basson – SANEF Deputy Chairperson (082) 562-2113
Mahlatse Mahlase – Secretary General (083) 399-2852
Nwabisa Makunga – Treasurer (082) 555-1972
Mary Papayya – SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957
Chiara Carter – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (082) 659-9162
Katy Katopodis – SANEF Gauteng Convenor (082) 805-7022
Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor (082) 571-3334
Asanda Ngoasheng – Western Cape Convenor – 082 610 9374
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – (082) 926-6404
Email: [email protected]