The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) says it is appalled and saddened after African News Agency (ANA) chief executive officer Vasantha Angamuthu admitted it accepted money from the State Security Agency (SSA) to “provide multi-media training for SSA analysts and interns across Africa” and carry positive stories about South Africa and the 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,” the forum said in a statement on Wednesday.
This comes after Sydney Mufamadi, who chaired a high-level review panel tasked with investigating the SSA, on Monday gave the commission of inquiry into state capture details of the “special operations” that his panel was made aware of during their investigation.
His testimony included details of R84 million in funding allegedly meant for former president Jacob Zuma during his last two years in office and information on a project aimed at bribing judges to rule in Zuma’s favour.
Mufamadi also told the commission of R20 million paid to the ANC to write positively about Zuma, News24 reported.
In response to Mufamadi’s testimony, Angamuthu confirmed on Tuesday that “in 2016/2017, ANA 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”.
The ANA CEO further defended ANA’s position, saying the news wire was not a front for the SSA.
Sanef said on Wednesday: “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 forum added that the the South African Press Code was clear that conflicts of interest should be avoided, citing the quote: “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.”
Independent Media and its publications, including IOL, The Star and The Sunday Independent, are no longer signatories of the said 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,” the statement further reads.
Sanef was of the view that to protect innocent journalists and editors at ANA, who were in the dark about this deal, it’s of the 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,” the body concluded.