Koos Bekker. (Supplied)
Cape Town - Naspers on Friday said that what it termed a "persistent baiting of Naspers to intervene in the affairs of MultiChoice" was caused, in part, by a desire to "force MultiChoice to take the news channel ANN7 off the air".
This comes after reports by the media, including News24, that MultiChoice paid R25m to the ANN7 news channel, when it was still owned by the Guptas.
MultiChoice, which is owned by Naspers, also increased its annual payment to the channel from R50m to R141m.
READ: #GuptaLeaks: How MultiChoice paid the Guptas millions
On Thursday advocacy group The Right2Know Campaign said it was "deeply worried by recent media revelations of suspect correspondence between, and dodgy payments from, MultiChoice to SABC and ANN7".
It said it intends to lodge a complaint with the Public Protector and has asked Parliament’s communications committee to launch an inquiry.
The Democratic Alliance, meanwhile, said it would write to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa to request an investigation into reports that MultiChoice "sought to pay the SABC R100 million for its 24-hour news channel in exchange for the public broadcaster's political influence over digital migration".
The party had also requested that the MultiChoice/ANN7 TV contract be made public, a Parliamentary inquiry be set up, and the Public Protector probe the controversial procurement process of government-sponsored set-top-boxes
Some honourable, some spurious
The Naspers board, in a statement on Friday, said that while some reporting on links between Naspers and the Gupta family were an "honourable wish to expose corruption", other allegations were "even at face value spurious" .
This included the claim that the Gupta family has a stake in online retailer Takealot.com.
Takealot denied the allegation last Friday, calling it a "#fakenews story".
With regards to other allegations, the Naspers board said the MultiChoice board needs "more time to check [these] thoroughly".
"The responsibility for dealing with these allegations lies with the MultiChoice board. We have confidence in them handling the matter, following their governance procedures," it said.
"Naspers is committed to strong governance and requires the same of its subsidiaries. Of course, once they’ve done that properly, they will report back to the Naspers board and the public," it said.
MultiChoice, meanwhile, has already announced that its audit and risk committees will be conducting a probe.
READ: MultiChoice to probe payments to ANN7
The board said that a statement by Yunus Carrim, chairperson of the standing committee on finance, that Naspers chair Koos Bekker once met with him regarding encryption was "perfectly accurate".
"Here are the facts: this meeting took place in Pretoria and was for the full duration also attended by Minister Pravin Gordhan, whom we greatly respect. Minister Gordhan can attest to the content of the meeting and whether any Gupta-related or any other illegal matter was discussed."
The board said that neither its previous chair Ton Vosloo, nor its current chair Bekker or nor its CEO Bob van Dijk had "to their best recollection ever in any country" met any member of the Gupta family at any but public functions.
It added the three senior executives had "never discussed anything with them, never even received written communications or a single telephone call from them".
The board said that it understood the "frustration some people feel that a channel associated with corruption is still being broadcast".
Last month civil rights body OUTA called on MultiChoice to axe ANN7 from its bouquet of offerings.
ANN7, started by the Gupta family, is now owned by Mzwanele Manyi.
READ: Guptas sell ANN7 and The New Age to Mzwanele Manyi
"On behalf of thousands of concerned South Africans, we ask you to rethink your continued broadcasting of the ANN7 channel. Accordingly, we remind you of the plight suffered by Bell Pottinger, KPMG, SAP, McKinsey and others, who believed that hiding behind confidentiality and contractual clauses would suffice as reason to continue their unacceptable conduct,” OUTA head Wayne Duvenage said in a letter to MultiChoice CEO Mark Rayner last month.
The ANC Women's League, however, defended ANN7.
"ANN7 is the first black-owned television channel in South Africa. Its existence is important for the transformation of media industry as a whole. The ownership, management and control of media industry must be transformed in favour of majority of black South African," its secretary general Meokgo Matuba said on November 22.
New ANN7 owner Mzwanele Manyi, meanwhile, tweeted that calls to axe ANN7 were a "plot to KILL ANN7 for expressing views that are different to WMC media."
The Naspers board on Friday said that "the nature of a satellite platform is to provide the largest number and the most diverse voices for the public to choose from".
"The public decides what to watch. Media freedom and diversity are values worth protecting in an open democracy. We do not think it wise to terminate a channel that participates in the debate about ANC succession barely two weeks before the elective conference," it said.
It added that while it understood South Africans' "frustration", "further baiting of Naspers to override MultiChoice in this matter is not conducive to an open democracy".
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