ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu. (Conrad Bornman, Gallo Images, Rapport)
Johannesburg – The ANC’s head of the sub-committee on communications, Jackson Mthembu, says he agrees with calls for an investigation into claims that pay-TV MultiChoice bought influence over the government’s digital migration policy, through payments to the SABC and ANN7.
Mthembu was speaking to journalists at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters ahead of the party’s 54th national elective conference, on Tuesday.
His comments come amid fears that MultiChoice and its parent company Naspers could face a class action in the US after a law firm there announced that it was investigating the companies on behalf of its investors.
Several political parties have called for a Parliamentary investigation into the claims as well, with the DA approaching the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to launch a probe.
"If there were any attempts to influence government policies by anybody, that matter should be investigated," said Mthembu.
He added that an investigation needed to show who did what, with individuals being called to account for their roles in the scandal.
When asked if the damning allegations should be viewed as state capture by journalists, the ANC parliamentary chief whip said that if someone wanted to influence government policies for their own personal or corporate benefit, then they were indeed trying to capture the state.
Mthembu said claims that some ministers ignored the political party and government’s positions on set-top boxes, which were meant to be encrypted in the process of digital migration, should also be probed.
But he cautioned against labelling them guilty before any findings were made.
"We should not jump the gun, accusing ANC cadres prematurely," said Mthembu.
He said space should be given for an investigation.
"We need to sift truth from fiction and then the ANC must say how we deal with the investigation."
Time to close chapter on media appeals tribunal
Mthembu said it was important to allow Parliament to take into account the outcomes of the Press Freedom Commission when looking at the proposal to establish a media appeals tribunal (MAT).
He said this was due to concerns the ANC had over the "self-regulation" mechanisms in the media industry.
He added that the ANC would ask its colleagues in Parliament to prioritise the matter so it could be finalised.
"We need to bring this matter to a close. It's been 10 years," he said.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, who joined Mthembu during the briefing, said many, including the media, got a fright when they heard MAT, and often equated it to state control.
He insisted that the ANC was not trying to control the country’s press.
"There is always fear, paranoia from the print media," said Kodwa, who added that many understood where it came from, given the country's past when the apartheid regime controlled the country’s media.
"We all know that past and we don’t want that past of controlling the media and so forth", added Kodwa.* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER