The State Capture inquiry heard that former president Jacob Zuma played a huge role in launching and subsequently running Gupta-owned news channel ANN7.
On Monday, 3 June 2019, the Zondo Inquiry into State Capture heard that former president Jacob Zuma played a pivotal role in launching and running Gupta-owned news channel ANN7. According to former ANN7 editor Rajesh Sundaram, Zuma was the de facto editor-in-chief, holding meetings at his Pretoria residence in the run-up to the launch of ANN7. Sundaram alleges that the Guptas forbade any of the team members from mentioning his name.
“For discussions in team meetings where we had to make inputs and presentations with the senior management along with others, we were told by Atul Gupta not to mention the president by name. He said we should refer to him as ‘Number 9’. So I said why Number 9? Why not Number 3 or Number 7 or Number 10?. Atul said Number 9 was the code that was given to Zuma in the ANC intelligence grouping during the apartheid years, and that was a codename that he would want to use in this case,” he said.
Sundaram alleges that the first meeting between the ANN7 team – led by himself – and Zuma took place in Zuma’s home in Pretoria on Sunday, 22 June 2013. In attendance was Ajay, Atul, Infinity Media’s chief executive Nazeem Howa, The New Age newspaper editor Moegsien Williams and Sahara chief executive Ashu Chawla.
“We were ushered to a room in the residence. I saw Ashu Chawla already sitting with his cellphone plugged in the wall socket to charge. It was the first time I met him personally. Moegsien Williams, Nazeem Howa, Atul came in a few minutes later. Atul was impatient and wanted the meeting started already…saying the president can’t keep us waiting like that. We were told by Chawla that the president was in another room conducting meetings and will be in soon…he came in and sat after a few minutes. We found it a little funny that a head of state will have to attend to a new television station which had not been launched yet,” said Sundaram.
Sundaram went on to tell the inquiry that a second meeting was held a few weeks later, in July, with the same people in attendance. He said in the second meeting, Zuma provided feedback on the initial meeting before approving the station’s logo and suggesting names for journalists and presenters.
“Zuma wanted the station to be centred around him and the politicians who supported him,” he said.
“He said the mainstream media in the country was not doing, it was not giving an opportunity to come out with Zuma’s views, so they needed a station that would propagate his side and the ANC’s side on news events. He wanted it to have a semblance of credibility. He said it should not block out rivals, political parties that were rivals.
“He said the push in our favour should be subtle.”
Sundaram’s testimony is set to continue.