Former senior sales representative at the SABC Josias Johannes Scott on Tuesday dismissed a claim made during testimony at the commission of inquiry into state capture that the national broadcaster had sold archival footage to the now-defunct Gupta-owned ANN7 for “peanuts”.
Testifying ahead of Scott, ex-consulting editor Rajesh Sundaram, who headed the editorial team at ANN7, told the commission that the SABC had sold the Gupta channel 100 hours of footage at “throwaway prices” – also described as “peanuts”.
However, Scott said ANN7 paid R140,000, excluding VAT, for 2,000 minutes of footage, stating that if the Gupta news channel had obtained the footage for peanuts it had not been through him.
“Chairperson, if that person got it for peanuts, he didn’t get it from me. A, and B, I stuck to the agreement which I had with Nazeem Howa [Oakbay CEO],” Scott said.
The chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, said the claim made by Sundaram should be investigated.
Evidence leader at the commission senior counsel Thandi Norman said she was only aware of a forensic investigation done into the matter.
Zondo said what should be established was whether the agreement Scott got into with Howa – R70 per minute of footage – was the norm at the time.
Scott also told the commission that it was the first time that the SABC offered a client a discount for footage.
Before the long adjournment from 1pm to 2pm, Scott testified that the SABC had offered ANN7 a rate reduced from R100 to R70 per minute and had waived a R500-per-hour “technical charge”.
Scott also told the commission that he held discussions with Howa via email and that he, Scott, was not aware of any agreement the SABC concluded with Howa.
ANN7 settled all of its invoices with the SABC, Scott said.
Scott told the commission that he would email officials at ANN7, asking for a declaration of how much footage they had used, as he did with all other clients, due to the unfortunate cost of installing a microchip in each and every tape that would monitor how much footage a client had used.
“So you rely on their honesty,” Scott said.
Scott explained that a microchip was “planted” on to a tape which would then register the usage of the tape on to a computer.
“Chairperson, I am not aware of anybody who has used any footage without declaring,” Scott said, adding that those he had worked with – production houses and broadcasters, among them – tended to be “very, very honest”.
“I’ve never had any problems with any footage declarations, never,” Scott said.
Zondo questioned what mechanism was in place to ensure that dishonesty in a declaration would be found out.
“Nothing really, except for me who would follow up via email on a regular basis,” Scott said, conceding that there was no way the SABC “could have sent somebody out” to various offices to check all the footage.
“We relied on the honesty of the clients,” Scott reiterated.
Zondo further questioned what could have been done if the SABC “did not trust a client” and sought to check how much footage that client had used.
“Chairperson, I could have asked them for a DVD burnt-in timecode copy,” Scott said, explaining that this copy would tell the SABC how much of the footage had been used.
Zondo asked the witness if this was an option the national broadcaster could have made use of at the time the transaction with ANN7 took place, to which Scott replied yes.
“I could have asked them for a copy … of what they have broadcast,” Scott said, which would have equalled 12 DVDs a day since the channel broadcast for 24 hours, he explained.
“When I approached them after [Nelson Mandela] passed away they immediately responded and they came back and they declared, the honest way, that they had used 27 minutes of [SABC’s] footage. I trusted them,” Scott told the commission. However, he conceded that he could not be certain that ANN7 had been honest about this.
Zondo highlighted that in the process the SABC “could have been robbed” of an opportunity to make revenue through the footage because clients could be dishonest about how much of the footage they had used without the broadcaster being aware, which Scott accepted.
Scott further agreed that there should have been a method in place to monitor the footage that was sold.
However, he said from the day he assumed his duties – in 1995 – the SABC had “faith and trust in the client”, which Zondo questioned, asking how they trust someone when there is “no track record to rely on”.
The commission adjourned on Tuesday and will continue to hear the Transnet-related testimony of Dr Jonathan Bloom from Multipurpose Business Solution on Wednesday.