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A pregnant journalistic silence – Nasrec’s ‘cash for votes’ story

24th October 2019 by Chris Bateman

I’m not sure what the public is meant to make of the tussle between Accountability Now’s Paul Hoffman, SC and Frank Dutton, a veteran investigator at the Zondo Commission, and three credible media bodies, regarding Independent Newspaper reporter Bongani Hans. You see, Hans reported some incendiary claims allegedly made by former KwaZulu Natal MEC, Meshack Radebe that votes of many ANC members were bought before the game-changing Nasrec conference presidential vote. What queers the pitch, and what Hoffman is perhaps unerringly zoning in on, is the blatant political propaganda record of Independent Newspapers in covering the internal ANC Zuma/Ramaphosa battle. He rationally points out that Radebe, (who denies the published claims), is named as the source in the story and that Hans verbally confirmed to him that he has a recording of the published claims. So why not provide it to the Zondo Commission or Dutton? Hoffman takes issue with the media bodies crying foul on the principle of a journalist protecting his sources. Sets you wondering what principle is paramount here; protecting a named source and perhaps sacrificing the truth, or forcing Hans’s hand to once and for all expose who’s lying? Hans’s inaction is doing him no service. I’ve been at the receiving end of a Section 205 subpoena, except my (unnamed) witnesses to police struggle-era killings gave us full affidavits in return for us providing them with senior counsel protection. We won. – Chris Bateman

By Paul Hoffman*

Besides Sanef’s faux outrage, we now have the Freedom of Expression Institute and Angela Quintal climbing on the iol band wagon. They are all wrong if they think that a journalist’s record of a published interview in which a source is named and directly quoted is beyond the reach of a subpoena.

Paul Hoffman Accountability Now
Paul Hoffman

The confidentiality of unnamed sources defense does not apply as the source is both named and his revelations are directly quoted.

Either former MEC Meshack Radebe, a friend of JZ to this day, told the iol reporter the truth or he did not. Whichever it is, criminality is evident either in the form of the bribery revealed or of deliberately and fraudulently peddling disinformation. The journalist is either duped, as in the Sunday Times hit squad and rogue unit stories, or complicit in the spreading of a story he knows to be false.

This is serious stuff. It goes to the JZ fight back campaign, the recapture of the state by him and the standards of ethics of journalists working in the SA political space. Or, if the original report is true, it impugns the integrity of the CR17 campaign and the ‘free and fair’ nature of CR’s ascent to the presidency.

There is nothing in the Sanef Code of Ethics that would preclude the SCC from issuing a subpoena on Bongani Hans duces tecum his notes and records of the interview with Radebe. To do so is not ‘strong arming’ at at all, it is simply a legally sanctioned way of establishing the truth in relation to a relevant and current aspect of state capture. The journalist has told me telephonically he has a recording of the interview.

No ethical and honest journalist should refuse to assist the SCC in its investigation which will expose either corrupt activities if the report is true or a fraud on the part of Radebe if it is not. Any journalist jealously guarding his good name and reputation would be hastening to prove the accuracy of his report to the SCC so as to avoid the inference that he is personally implicated in the publication of a false story containing disinformation being used in the so-called ‘fight back campaign’.

The knee-jerk reactions of Sanef, FEI and Quintal need to be exposed for what they are, which is a misguided meander down a dwaalspoor that is assisting those involved in criminality to get away with it.

It is fervently to be hoped that the SCC will not be dissuaded from issuing the necessary subpoena on the journalist’s records.

Paul’s initial email

If it is so that Sanef believes that the SCC is trying to get Bongani Hans to breach the Press Code by revealing confidential sources, then, nothing could be further from the truth.

Hans published a report in August 2019 explicitly quoting Radebe as having witnessed bribery of delegates to the ANC Nasrec conference in 2017. The report is replete with direct quotes of what Hans says he was told by Radebe.

We understand that when interviewed by Frank Dutton, Radebe denied having said anything of the sort attributed to him in the report published by iol.co.za under the byline of Hans. They can’t both be right about this.

I then wrote to Hans asking for him to confirm the accuracy of his report and to explain why Radebe would deny having given him the information. I specifically asked if he had any record of the interview. When Hans did not reply to the queries I raised with him I wrote a piece which Biznews published in which I remarked that the silence of Hans speaks volumes.

During the weekend after Biznews ventilated my piece, Hans phoned me, explained that he had somehow missed my email and that he indeed had a recording of the interview which confirms the accuracy of his report. He said he would have to speak to the lawyers of his employer before replying to my email to him.

I followed up by telling him that I would accept his apology for not replying timeously, if he answered the queries I raised with him in the initial email and that he could do so after he had taken legal advice.

I have not heard from Hans or indeed anyone representing him since. I have kept the SCC informed so as to enable it to follow up on obtaining the recording of the published interview.

Sanef apparently takes the line that the SCC is attempting to strong arm Hans into revealing confidential sources. What nonsense! The interview with Radebe has been published and has not been publicly repudiated as false. It is not confidential as it has received wide circulation in iol titles and in Legalbrief Today.

If Hans can show that his report of his interview with Radebe is accurate then either Radebe told him the truth or he was fabricating disinformation in order to prejudice team CR17.

Radebe’s reported assertion that he has left the ANC has not diminished his support of Jacob Zuma; he has publicly bewailed the cancellation of buses ordered to transport supporters of Zuma to Court when the application for a permanent stay of the criminal proceedings was refused two Fridays ago.

When the veracity of a published report is called into question by the person quoted in the report, an ethical reporter ought to be astute to protect his reputation by proving his report is of appropriate journalistic standard, he ought not to be crying ‘foul’ against the SCC for endeavoring to establish the truth on a matter that is clearly relevant to the ongoing efforts of those aligned to Zuma to continue their state capture project via the spreading of disinformation so as to weaken their opponents in the ANC, thus enabling them to retake control of the ANC.

Hans and Radebe can’t both be right about what was said in the interview as published. It is clearly within the mandate of the SCC to ascertain , via investigation, where the truth lies in the matter. No confidential sources will be revealed in that process.

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