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Brown-envelope journalism

A shareholder in a top media services company has alleged in a taped conversation with former Western Cape premier Lynne Brown that Cape Town journalists are being paid cash ‘in brown envelopes” to write and influence stories for ­political ends.

Former accounts director at Hip-Hop Media, Vukile ­Pokwana, claimed in the marathon two-hour tape that an executive editor at the Cape Argus newspaper, Joe Aranes, is among those being paid through provincial government contracts to manipulate the news.

Listen to excerpts from the taped conversation

‘I am saying, Premier, Joe Aranes does that, but I was saying to Thabo [Mabaso, a former Cape Argus journalist] now, he is so weak. This thing of handling brown envelopes, he still does it until today. … Brown envelopes, Premier, they are nice … you can blow it, you can drink every day, feed off other ­habits,” Pokwana told Brown.

In 2006 the Cape Argus suspended Aranes and another senior Cape Argus journalist, Ashley Smith. They were subjected to an internal disciplinary hearing to investigate their links with a media company that has a contract with the provincial government. Smith resigned and Aranes returned to work.

Approached for comment this week, Aranes told the M&G: ‘I have nothing to say to you; bye.”

A copy of the bombshell tape was recently leaked to the Mail & Guardian. It was made eight days before the general election on April 22 this year, when Brown was still premier.

Current PetroSA spokesperson Thabo Mabaso, a former senior journalist at the Cape Argus and provincial government spokesperson, was also present at the meeting.

Pokwana was traced to the Eastern Cape, where he now lives. He said he had been unaware he was being taped while meeting Brown. ‘I’m shocked,” he said. ‘This is the first time I have heard I was taped.”

Pokwana told the Mail & Guardian he had not ‘seen money change hands”. He declined to answer questions about the allegations he made on the tape, but confirmed he still has shares in Hip-Hop.

‘Your line of questioning is a yawning chasm to what transpired during my meeting with the former premier, Lynne Brown,” Pokwana responded in an email. ‘I met Brown in her official capacity as the then-premier of the Western Cape and if I was recorded without my knowledge, as you imply, during our meeting, then she is more qualified to answer your questions.”

Brown confirmed the authenticity of the tape. ‘I had this conversation and meeting with Pokwana, but further I do not want to comment,” Brown told the M&G this week.

On the tape Brown asks Pokwana whether his company is being used as a vehicle for the paying of journalists to manipulate the news.

‘Let me level with you. This thing is very simple,” answered Pokwana. ‘Let’s just say that there is a payment of journalists. But how are you going to prove it when I come to you with a brown envelope?”

The meetings to hand over the ‘brown envelopes” took place in public places, including Catu, a city pub popular with journalists, ­Pokwana told Brown. Pokwana mentioned the names of journalists from other newspapers who, he alleges, are also implicated in receiving payments to manipulate the news. Radio journalists were also being recruited, he claimed.

In the tape Pokwana told Brown about political and business figures allegedly linked to the payment of journalists and explained that he wanted to leave Hip-Hop and move to the Eastern Cape. He had been told his life was in danger, he claimed.

Cape Argus editor Gasant Abarder said he had heard the tape but was not allowed to take notes or have a copy of it. ‘We will investigate this if we have proof, but I can’t action anything until I have the tape.”

Abarder said any journalist paid to write or influence stories to satisfy party political ends would be immediately dismissed.

The M&G is in possession of documents that reveal that Roger Friedman, of multimedia agency Oryx Media Productions, was asked by a lawyer representing the Cape Argus to assist in the disciplinary hearings of Aranes and Smith in 2006.

However, Friedman, who founded Oryx with photographer Benny Gool, refused.

Lawyer Jacques Louw asked Friedman to outline disclosures that either Smith or Aranes had made to him and to confirm an invoice for R100 000 from Inkwenkwezi Media for consultancy services rendered to the premier’s office.

The invoice was sent to Oryx when it won a contract in the premier’s office. A letter from an official in the office suggested the invoice should be referred to as ‘specialised media service/consultancy”.

Smith’s wife, Joy van der Heyde, was one of two directors of Inkwen­kwezi. The other was Zain Orrie, who now owns Hip-Hop. Inkwen­kwezi has since shut down.

Orrie said he would need a copy of the tape to comment on the allegations made by his former partner, who is understood to have left the company two months ago. In a fax to the M&G Orrie declined to answer written questions.

Hip-Hop had contracts with the Western Cape government during and after the tenure of premier Ebrahim Rasool, who was fired by the ANC in July last year. When Brown took over as premier, she confirmed in a provincial legislature reply to the Democratic Alliance’s Robin Carlisle that five provincial departments had spent R44-million over 30 months on Hip-Hop.

In the M&G last week, the ANC’s chief whip in the legislature, Max Ozinsky, explained that he and former ANC provincial secretary Mcebisi Skwatsha had helped lead a campaign to make Rasool premier. The ANC has ‘temporarily” suspended Ozinsky and Rasool for attacking each other in public.

‘Rasool became intimately involved in briefing journalists and at least one senior journalist from the Cape Argus, but I believe more, benefited financially from their proximity to a web of companies contracted by the province,” claimed Ozinsky. ‘I don’t make this allegation lightly; there is proof. ”

On the same page in the M&G Rasool is quoted as reacting to claims by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille that Ozinsky and Skwatsha had leaked information to the DA about a social transformation project he had initiated: ‘The admission by Zille … gives an insight into the effect of the Faustian pact between some in the ANC and the DA.” Rasool could not be reached for comment.
Abarder responded — on Tuesday’s front page of the Cape Argus — to Ozinsky’s article in the M&G: ‘We have in the past consistently invited Mr Ozinsky and his ANC colleagues to provide us with proof to this end … The Cape Argus also investigated the matter and this resulted in the resignation of one senior journalist. But we have found nothing to substantiate Mr Ozinsky’s claim that Cape Argus journalists benefited financially.”

Attempts to contact Ashley Smith, who was dismissed from the SABC in Cape Town and left its employ at the end of June, were unsuccessful.

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Glynnis Underhill
Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country.
Mandy Rossouw
Guest Author

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