Former ANN7 editor Rajesh Sundaram, who was tasked with kick-starting the channel, has told the Zondo commission that the station obtained 100 hours of archived footage from the SABC at a “throwaway price”.
Sundaram was testifying for a second day at the commission of inquiry into state capture on Tuesday.
He told inquiry chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that, when he helped set up the station, he had concerns that a new station needed footage.
He claimed that Infinity Media shareholder Laxmi Goel had told him that the Gupta brothers and former CEO of Oakbay Investments, Nazeem Howa, had a “very sweet” deal with the SABC.
“He said 100 hours of footage would be given at throwaway price and he described [it] as peanuts,” Sundaram said.
“It was a little surprising for me, because the SABC was set to launch its own television station and we were a potential rival to the station for them to, at that point, take a ballistic position to give a huge supply of oxygen to a potential rival through this archival footage. I was very puzzled of why they would do it,” he said.
Sundaram told the commission that, during discussions with Howa, he [Howa] would boast that this was a deal that he had organised through his influence.
“That they didn’t have to pay a lot of bribes, it was done by taking people out for a meal or buying them drinks. The fact that the whole world knew that they had the blessings and the backing of the president would make things very easy for them,” he said.
He said Howa was excited that he had got such a great deal, adding that officials at the public broadcaster were so “stupid” because they did not have an effective system in place which would monitor how many minutes were being used.
“So, his assertion at that time is that they are stupid because they don’t have a monitoring system that could monitor how many seconds or minutes of the footage was being used.
“He [Howa] said there is no way the SABC could know how much footage was used.”
Sundaram also told Zondo that ANN7 had “conned” the SABC into giving them a contract which said that ANN7 would self-declare how many seconds of SABC footage were used.
“And I can tell you for a fact that there was no way to monitor this, either at ANN7 or at SABC.
“So, SABC would’ve had to go with the declaration that ANN7 got, and from day one, I understand from my conversations with Nazeem Howa, there was an intention on the part of ANN7 to give a figure that was much lower than what was being used, that was the sweet part of the deal.”
He said the SABC officials knew that the Gupta brothers were close to former president Jacob Zuma and they “didn’t want to come in the way of anything or didn’t want to face any consequences of showing any resistance”.
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