A former editor at ANN7 has revealed that former president Jacob Zuma was directly involved in the creation and editorial policy of the controversial Gupta-linked news channel.
In a new tell-all book, Indentured – Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV, journalist Rajesh Sundaram claims that Zuma shaped the policies at ANN7, suggested the name of the channel – Africa News Network 7– and even went so far as to play a role in appointing presenters.
In the book, Sundaram writes that he arrived in South Africa days after the infamous Gupta Sun City wedding in 2013. He was then appointed as editor of the then unknown Infinity Media Networks – ANN7’s official name.
Sundaram claims that Ajay Gupta told him that Zuma had suggested the name “Africa News Network” for the TV channel during a meeting in 2013.
During the meeting, Ajay is alleged to have said: “The name [Africa News Network] was already taken, so we decided to call it ‘Africa News Network 7’. We must make the president feel important and tell him that we are taking suggestions given by him seriously. He will like it if we seek suggestions from him on how to run the news channel. He would like to see us as his own channel.”
According to Sundaram, Zuma’s suggestions extended to employees for the Guptas’ consideration. Zuma reportedly suggested that the Guptas should consider then government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi as a talk show host on the channel.
“He will be most suited for your talk shows. If you want, I will speak with him as well,” Zuma is quoted as telling the Guptas.
Sundaram says Manyi did not do well during his interview.
“Jimmy [Mzwanele] failed miserably when he did his test interrogation with Atul on the Waterkloof issue. Nazeem [Howa, senior Gupta executive], the top editorial team, me and Atul himself knew he was stiff on camera and reluctant to ask tough questions.”
Although he was not suited for a presenter job, Howa allegedly insisted that Manyi be hired because “President Zuma will have it no other way”.
In the book, Sundaram writes that Zuma cautioned against making ANN7 look like a propaganda channel.
“We must not convert this into a publicity channel for the ANC and me. If we do that, we will have no credibility. You must present the views of the opposition and my rivals in the ANC as well. The push in our favour should be subtle. You are a seasoned journalist. You know how that can be done,” Zuma is quoted as instructing Sundaram.
Sundaram’s two-year contract as editor ended in August 2013. He cites illegal and unfair labour practices, as well as undue political interference in editorial decisions and policy as his reasons for resigning.