The extent of editorial meddling by the Gupta family in the running of the now-defunct television news channel ANN7 is set to dominate proceedings at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, when former editor Rajesh Sundaram today takes the stand before Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
The Gupta family’s media empire, the television channel and The New Age newspaper, were used as a way to draw government funding in the form of paid advertising, the bulk of which was derived from the Free State government under Ace Magashule’s rule as premier.
According to earlier testimony by National Treasury’s director of operations and implementation of financial systems, Ian Gilliland, the Gupta family pocketed R260 million in government advertising that went to ANN7 and The New Age – with the Free State paying R99.6 million from 2004 to 2018. Proximity to Jacob Zuma is believed to have been used by the Guptas as leverage to force government officials to yield to requests for advertising in the family-owned media entities.
Sundaram, who was brought from India to South Africa to lead the setting up of the new television channel, clashed with the Guptas over editorial interference and wrote a book, Indentured – Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV, which detailed how:
- Zuma played a key role in the creation of the news channel.
- Gupta business associates fraudulently handed South African jobs to Indian nationals.
- ANN7 lied to MultiChoice on the news station’s readiness to launch.
- The Guptas, with a political and commercial agenda, micro-managed and abused staff at ANN7.
Sundaram, an experienced journalist with a degree in journalism from the University of Delhi, had worked for top Indian and international media houses before being head-hunted by the Guptas to lead a 24-hour television news channel in SA.
Lured with promises of a unique professional challenge to empower young black reporters and to train technicians in the use of the latest news-gathering technology and broadcast systems, Sundaram found himself no longer able to tolerate the Gupta family meddling in the editorial affairs of the news channel.
In his book, he tells of a discovery that the influential family and the presidency were inextricably linked in a bid to create a propaganda tool that would only advance a political agenda and loot state coffers of millions of rands.
The flagrant disregard for the law, flouting of work visa regulations and exploitation of workers were among key reasons he cited in the book for his resignation.