Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo dragged media over the coals for allegedly disseminating portions of former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi’s sworn statement to the commission of inquiry into state capture.
Before Agrizzi began his fifth day of testimony before the commission, giving his evidence on Tuesday, Zondo addressed the commission, levelling stern criticism against journalists and editors.
Zondo referenced articles published in certain newspapers over the weekend, which contained allegations against high-profile state officials, including Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. The allegations formed part of Agizzi’s evidence, but the details of these claims had yet to be revealed in his oral testimony.
Regulation 11(3) of the commission’s governing rules stipulates that:
“No person shall without the written permission of the Chairperson
(a) disseminate any document submitted to the Commission by any person in connection with the inquiry or publish the contents or any portion of the contents of such document; or
(b) peruse any document, including any statement, which is destined to be submitted to the Chairperson or intercept such document while it is being taken or forwarded to the Chairperson.”
Regulation 12(2)(c)(ii) goes on to state that any person who contravenes Regulation 11 “is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction … to a fine, or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months”.
“I want to start off by saying that I have the highest respect for many journalists and editors and newspapers who conduct their business professionally and in accordance with the law,” Zondo said. But Zondo expressed his disappointment at certain journalists allegedly breaching the rules of the commission by publishing aspects of Agrizzi’s statement.
Members of the media have previously landed in hot water with the commission for publishing articles based on statements that were not yet public.
On Tuesday, Zondo questioned whether journalists and editors had chosen to publish these articles in the interest of the public.
He added that it seemed newspapers are more interested in making money or in beating out their competitors by getting the scoop on allegations of state capture. “But there is nothing in the public interest,” Zondo said.
“It is wrong. It is unacceptable. It undermines the work or the commission. And for what? A scoop, to make a profit.”
Zondo said that if any newspaper takes issue with the commission’s regulations regarding the dissemination of witness statements, they should take court action.
The Mail & Guardian, Media Monitoring Africa and the Daily Maverick are currently preparing a legal challenge against the commission concerning the right of the media to access documents submitted to the commission, as well as the media’s right to publish such documents.
The legal challenge will argue that it is unacceptable for the commission to make witness statements available to the media only after a witness has testified and to make statements available without their relevant annexures.
“There are many journalists and editors for whom I have the highest respect. I thank them for their professionalism and what they are doing,” Zondo added.
On Monday, Mokonyane’s lawyers slammed the commission for the alleged leaks of information contained in Agrizzi’s sworn statement.
Those implicated in Agrizzi’s testimony had not been notified by the commission because of security concerns. On the first day of Agrizzi’s testimony, it was revealed that he had allegedly received a number of threats on his life in the days leading up to his appearance.
Agrizzi told the commission Mokonyane had received gifts and favours from Bosasa from as early as 2002. These were allegedly made in exchange for her “protection” of the controversial service provider.
“Our client is of the view that her constitutional right to be heard before the commission resolved to deviate from rule 3.3 [the rule that tasks the commission with notifying implicated persons] denying her access to Mr Agrizzi’s statement has been breached,” Mokonyane’s lawyer’s wrote in a letter.
According to the letter, Mokonyane “felt betrayed by the fact that the newspapers … had access to the contents of the affidavit and expected her to respond to such allegation.”
“It is apparent to our client that there are officials of the commission who are bent to undermine the integrity of the commission and tramp on the rights of implicated persons,” the letter adds.