Over the past six months, the Democratic Alliance has been piecing together as much information as we have been able to verify on how The New Age is funded. The picture that emerges is alarming.
The New Age is almost entirely funded by ANC governments at national and provincial levels, which accounts for 77% of its advertising revenue stream alone, despite the fact that it has no audited circulation figures.
The New Age has received at least R64.6 million from the government in the form of advertising revenue and "sponsorships" since December 2010 - and these are only those payments we know about. For example, we have not yet had replies to our parliamentary questions from five government departments about advertising in The New Age. And since it has emerged that Premier Nomvula Mokonyane's office spent R683 000 in order to be given a platform to speak at one of the newspaper's breakfast briefings, there will be further follow-up questions about such sponsorships to all of the 14 Ministers and Premiers who have spoken at these events.
It is particularly disturbing that after the DA's questions in Parliament, the Editor of The New Age, Mr Moegsien Williams, made an appointment to meet a senior DA leader for the express purpose of getting the DA to "back off" from the Parliamentary questions. Mr Williams arrived at the DA leader's home together with Mr Atul Gupta and Mr Nazeem Howa, the chief executive of The New Age. The three adopted a heavy-handed approach, and said the DA should be aware of the fact that the Independent Group would soon be bought by a well-known ANC sympathiser and that this would be very bad for the DA. They suggested it would be best if the DA did not make an enemy of The New Age. The DA leader said the Party would continue asking questions in Parliament about the use of public funds.
The parallels with the apartheid-era "Infogate" scandal are inescapable. The Information scandal, also known as "Infogate" in the late 1970s, involved the covert channelling of public funds to the Citizen newspaper to subsidise a more "government friendly" English-language newspaper. The Citizen newspaper was originally made to appear as if it was a private business initiative of Mr Louis Luyt, a close associate and benefactor of the National Party leaders at that time. Both Dr Connie Mulder and Prime Minister John Vorster were forced to resign after a Commission of Inquiry found that they were aware of the public funding used to finance the newspaper.
All the evidence points to the same thing: the ANC are using public money (both overtly and covertly) to fund a newspaper which is openly favourable to their government:
At least R27 million was spent by government on advertising in The New Age in less than two years;
At least R37 million has been spent by government departments and state-owned entities on sponsorships;
Government departments and state-owned entities are reportedly coerced into buying advertising space, and buying The New Age at inflated prices.
Offices and institutions of state owned enterprises also serve as distribution networks for The New Age to boost its circulation figures, which the newspaper will not submit for audit.
We believe that the information we have collected so far represents more than sufficient evidence to warrant a full judicial Commission of Inquiry into the government's funding of The New Age.
Specifically, such an investigation should establish:
Precisely how much of The New Age's overall revenue is derived from the state; and
The legality of using public money to fund a pro-government newspaper that was ostensibly started by a benefactor of Jacob Zuma and the ANC.
The DA can reveal today, based on replies to parliamentary questions, that government departments and state entities spent at least R27 million on advertisements in The New Age between December 2010 and October 2012. The full breakdown can be seen below.
Public Enterprise (Eskom)
Public Enterprise (SAA)
Public Enterprise (Transnet)
Rural Development & Land Reform
Public Service & Administration
Science & Technology
DID NOT ANSWER
DID NOT ANSWER
DID NOT ANSWER
Arts & Culture
Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries
Water & Environmental Affairs
Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs
Women, Children & People with Disabilities
Justice & Constitutional Development
Higher Education & Training
Defence & Military Veterans
R27 087 796
The full extent of government's sponsorships of The New Age business breakfasts is also not yet clear. In a parliamentary reply, PRASA conceded that it funded eight additional business breakfasts, but did not declare how much was paid to sponsor these breakfasts. However, at the rate of R1 million per business breakfast that other SOEs paid, the PRASA sponsorship could represent another R8 million in payments to The New Age. The Department of Justice also dodged our parliamentary question, and several other departments and entities have not yet answered.
A DA analysis of advertising in The New Age conducted between 31 October 2012 and 15 November 2012 revealed that 77% of advertising in The New Age was paid for by government. A similar Mail & Guardian study over a different period found that 76% of advertising in The New Age was paid for by government.
Besides advertising in the newspaper, several state owned entities have paid at least R37 million in so-called sponsorships of The New Age's business breakfasts, which are also broadcast live on SABC at no cost to the newspaper.
It is likely that the money spent on The New Age by government that we know about is only the tip of the iceberg. Just today, documents emerged which reveal that Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane's office paid R683 000 to The New Age as sponsorship for the business breakfast at which the Premier spoke.
Did the other Ministers, Premiers and heads of SOEs who spoke at business breakfasts pay similar amounts? Indeed, the DA has verified that at least 14 other Ministers, Deputy Ministers, heads of SOEs and President Jacob Zuma have spoken at The New Age business breakfasts.
The influence of the Guptas over government was revealed in a February 2011 Sunday Times report which set out, amongst other things, how government departments and officials were bullied into advertising in The New Age. Recent reports also suggest that Minister of Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, put pressure on South African Airways to buy more copies than they needed of The New Age newspaper at almost double the price.
I have today written to President Jacob Zuma to request that he appoint a judicial Commission of Inquiry - headed by a retired judge - to investigate the funding of The New Age. The revelation that the apartheid government was funding a newspaper to peddle propaganda brought down a Prime Minister and a Cabinet Minister. If President Zuma truly wants to restore the integrity of his office, he will subject The New Age to the same levels of scrutiny.
Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance