The SABC board has instituted a forensic investigation into claims made by a former ANN7 editor that the embattled news channel acquired access to the public broadcaster’s archives.
Rajesh Sundaram, who was brought to South Africa in mid-2013 ahead of the launch of ANN7 by the Guptas, was tasked with giving the channel a running start.
News24 published extracts from his book, Indentured – Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV, earlier this month detailing the extent of the Gupta family’s influence in the country.
The book contained allegations that ANN7 acquired SABC archive footage, with the SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini saying on Wednesday this was a serious matter.
“The board views this information in a very serious light and has instructed management to conduct a detailed forensic investigation into these revelations and to submit a report to the board,” Makhathini said in a statement.
He said the report and other relevant information would be submitted to the commission of inquiry into state capture headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo for inclusion in its investigations.
‘Treasure for peanuts’
In an extract from his book, Sundaram claimed that the SABC let ANN7 retrieve historic archive material worth millions, for “peanuts”.
He claimed that Laxmi Goel, a shareholder in Infinity Media said: “We know the people at the SABC, so we will get the footage at a very low rate.”
Rahul Singh, a senior video librarian from India, was sent with mini digital video format tapes and asked to bring back 100 hours of footage from the thousands of tapes at the SABC archives, he continued.
“The people at the SABC can be bought for a meal or a drink; they are willing to give away their treasure trove of historical footage for peanuts,” Goel is reported to have said.
Singh spent about a month going to the SABC every day and sitting at a video editing bay there and transferring all the valuable historical footage the SABC had in its tape library, continued Sundaram.
“By the time he resigned and went back to India, he had collected 60 hours of priceless archival footage from the SABC library.”
MultiChoice denies political pressure
News24 previously reported that the Guptas initially pushed for the channel 404 slot. They were beaten to it by the SABC, which launched its own 24-hour news channel shortly before ANN7.
“Channel 404 is the only vacant slot next to eNCA, but these people will not allocate it to us until we hit them with a stick on their head from the highest office. (Channel) 405 is Russia Today, and we will be pushed to a slot lower than 410, and no one will watch us,” Atul Gupta was quoted as saying in the book.
“It was telling how the Guptas were not willing to subject themselves to the quality control and technical checks that MultiChoice wanted, yet were willing to invoke the president’s office to put pressure on MultiChoice to give them the 404 slot.”
MultiChoice confirmed to News24 last week that it discussed allocating channel 404 to ANN7 between May 2013 and August 2013, but decided to allocate it channel 405 instead. MultiChoice denied that this was due to any political pressure.