/ 6 June 2008

Allegations of corruption at Beeld

A series of anonymous letters from employees and former employees of daily newspaper Beeld to the board of its holding company, Media24, has accused Beeld management of “serious corruption” and fingered its former chief executive, Lucille van Niekerk, as being “seriously implicated” in an internal audit report.

The employees appeal to the company’s shareholders to intervene. “It is recommended in the [audit] report that steps be taken against [Van Niekerk]. In the meantime she has been promoted to the senior manager of Rapport,” the letter says.

Van Niekerk is now chief executive of RCP Media, a Media24 subsidiary that publishes Rapport and City Press.

The letter goes on: “Hear our plea as dedicated employees and some former employees for your urgent intervention in a matter of ongoing corruption that could hurt share values. We thought that lessons would have been learned after the Media24 magazine scandal.”

This refers to the revelation earlier this year that titles in the magazine section of Media24 had fraudulently inflated their circulation figures.

Company sources say Van Niekerk was investigated for selling fake ads in an attempt to reach the advertising targets while she was Beeld’s advertising chief (until three years ago). She then became Beeld CEO and in January this year was promoted again.

“Many of us was [sic] a part of the investigation and know the truth,” the letter says. “For to [sic] long we have been silent victims of the Beeld scandal. We do not want to hurt our company, we want to save it. Act soon or we will have to release more info.” Several such letters have been received by Media24 management in the past six weeks.

Media24 insiders said Van Niekerk was extremely unpopular among some staffers, who called her “Lucifer”. Others said she had simply attracted jealousy because she flaunted her high income. One former employee alleged that complaints about Van Niekerk were ignored because she had contacts in the right places.

Approached for comment, Van Niekerk said the allegations were “ludicrous” and that she has to deal with chauvinism from the men and jealousy from the women because of her management position.

Media24 CEO Francois Groepe confirmed that the letter had been received, but declined to give details of how the matter is being handled.