The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) expressed alarm on Wednesday at a statement by the chairperson of the board of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC), Professor Alfred Nevhutanda, that the NLC had asked the State Security Agency (SSA) to investigate journalists.
In a statement, Sanef said Nevhutanda had appeared before parliament’s trade and industry portfolio committee last week to claim that the NLC had “recently learnt” that the NLC’s computers were hacked and “information about projects since 2001 was in the US, with a backup in the Western Cape”.
He claimed this was the source of negative media reports about his organisation. He claimed journalists were being paid to write “fake stories” about the misspending by the NLC, with the intention of bringing down the organisation.
Sanef said his claims came soon after a story published in GroundUp by freelance journalist Raymond Joseph and community newspaper owner and publisher Anton van Zyl exposed alleged multimillion-rand corruption involving NLC grants, as well as the awarding of a lottery-funded contract to a company of which the brother of a senior NLC official was the sole director.
“Nevhutanda’s statements came against the background of an ongoing investigation by a group of investigative journalists into multimillion-rand grants to a variety of lottery-funded projects,” added Sanef.
“It appears the NLC either has no idea how independent journalism operates and, instead of investigating the alleged corruption that has been exposed, it resorts to attacking the journalists involved.”
They said it was equally disturbing that a call to civil tech organisation OpenUp was allegedly made by a person claiming to be involved with the NLC’s IT, asking them to take down a tool that had made 16 years of lottery grants keywords searchable.
“Ironically, all the data in the tool has been scraped from the NLC’s annual reports and is available in PDFs on the organisation’s website,” said Sanef.
The forum said Nevhutanda’s remarks reflected an “extremely dangerous attitude where the media is being blamed for the NLC’s inherent problems”.
“Rather than investigating why millions cannot be accounted for, the NLC has instead tried to cast doubt on the integrity of the journalists involved and has asked the SSA to investigate their sources.”
(Edited by Charles Cilliers)