Probe continues as Manyi’s ANN7 gets the chop
Multichoice ditches the controversial Gupta-linked channel but regulator continues payments inquiry
An investigation into millions of rand in improper payments from Multichoice to the then Gupta-owned ANN7 will continue, despite Wednesday's announcement that the company had dumped the 24-hour news channel.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) announced last Friday that it would be probing the relationship between Multichoice, ANN7 and the SABC.
Yesterday Multichoice said it would not renew ANN7’s contract, which ends in August. This will leave the channel owed by Mzwanele Manyi in limbo and places the jobs of its staff in jeopardy.
Multichoice CEO Calvo Mawela said they would begin a bid process for a new black-owned 24-hour news channel.
“This has been a humbling experience for Multichoice. While we entered into an agreement for the ANN7 channel at a time when the extent of state capture was unknown, we fully understand the outrage of the public regarding endemic corruption in our country and accept we should have dealt with the concerns around ANN7 far more swiftly,” he said.
Icasa’s announcement followed an internal investigation going back five years into allegations that millions of rands were paid improperly to ANN7 and SABC, allegedly for assisting Multichoice lobby over the government’s set top box policy.
The payments came after the Gupta family allegedly assisted then communications minister Faith Muthambi in getting President Jacob Zuma to transfer certain broadcasting powers to her, allowing her to push through a decision in favour of unencrypted set top boxes, which benefited Multichoice and which was also contrary to the ANC’s policy on the issue.
Information gleaned from the #GuptaLeaks late last year revealed questionable payments, including an unexplained R25-million to ANN7 as well as an increase in Multichoice's annual payment to ANN7 from R50-million to R141-million.This prompted public outrage and allegations of corruption. The Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister for communications, Phumzile van Damme, laid a complaint with Icasa.
Last Friday, Icasa chairman Rubben Mohlaloga confirmed the complaints had been referred to the authority’s compliance and consumer affairs division for investigation.
ANN7 and The New Age newspaper were acquired by Gupta-aligned business executive Manyi last year through vendor financing in a bid to save jobs, he claimed. He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka said Multichoice’s announcement would not influence the pending investigation.
“They might have made an announcement, but they will still have to come to us and tell us if it is connected and what it is that they found,” he said.
Reacting to the announcement, Van Damme tweeted: “This was never about taking ANN7 off air. As egregious as its reporting is, their freedom of expression must be protected. I have the choice to protest against ANN7 with my remote control. What I want to know is why the payments were made. Let’s hope this is revealed.”
While not providing reasons for the non-renewal of the contract, Mawela said the investigation had found no corruption, but rather procedural flaws and mistakes. These included a failure to do a due diligence test on any channel ownership, and failing to act when concerns were raised about the owners of the channel.
“There’s also no doubt that we managed our communication of this issue poorly," Mawela said.
“While I am pleased that the investigation into the ANN7 contract did not discover any corruption or other illegal activity, the questions we have faced have been sobering. We made mistakes and must now embark on a path of restoring public trust.”
The Organisation for Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) welcomed the announcement, but voiced concern over Multichoice’s findings that there had been no corrupt activity.