ANN7 man hits back

2013-10-07 00:00

THE embattled former consulting editor of the Gupta family’s new ANN7 television channel has hit back after a legal threat to sue him for damages relating to the station’s farcical launch.

In an exclusive interview with The Witness from India, Rajesh Sundaram said the lawyer’s letter from Infinity Media that he received on Friday was nothing but an attempt to gag him after he blew the whistle after suddenly resigning from the 24/7 news channel hosted on DStv.

When Sundaram left the station he made explosive claims of President Jacob Zuma’s meetings with station executives through the powerful and wealthy Gupta family and claimed there was a determined effort to ensure the station toed a pro-ANC editorial line.

“Your smear campaign against our client contains not only dishonest and untrue allegations but also divulge information which you were exposed to during your time of employment. If you continue to divulge this information we will proceed to apply for an interdict,” the letter reads (see cut-out).

It also said that Infinity Media — holding company of ANN7 — would claim damages from him. “As a result of your failure to fulfill your duties, ANN7 suffered damages which will be claimed from you,” the letter read.

Infinity Media vowed to pursue him in South Africa and in India.

But an unbowed Sundaram hit back over the weekend as he prepared his own legal response.

“I see the legal notice as a crude step to silence me. I am a witness to gross violation of various South African laws and international editorial practices, a witness to abuse of the staff. I quit to safeguard my reputation as a credible journalist,” said Sundaram.

He is writing a book called Indentured about his experiences at the station, which is due to be published in December.

He added that he had yet to be contacted by Home Affairs investigators probing alleged visa irregularities involving foreign staff working at the station despite the department saying it had completed its investigations. The findings have yet to be made public.

Sundaram said his e-mail complaint to Home Affairs about alleged visa irregularities had yet to be even acknowledged. He claimed some Indian staff had been fined R1 000 for working in South Africa on the wrong visa.

“The company was in my view violating laws and subverted national institutions. I believe I would be a party to the violation of those laws if I did not disclose them at the right forum in public interest,” alleged Sundaram, adding: “I am a journalist and I would never shy away from reporting what I believe are violations of laws and subversion of institutions.”

He also claimed that despite the three alleged meetings between the station’s executives and Zuma prior to launch, the editorial staff were also instructed to avoid reporting about the Democratic Alliance.

“Even leaders they perceived as a rival to President Zuma were not allowed to be featured,” he said.

He claimed Atul Gupta’s own decisions led to the station’s problem-plagued launch resulting in its becoming a laughing stock in South Africa. Sundaram said Gupta had ignored professional advice to delay the launch date and the critical need for training of staff.

Further, the launch had gone ahead despite not having 24/7 practice bulletins and at a time when the launch team was barely able to do 10 hours a day, said Sundaram.

“Mr Gupta had a capricious style of management that meant decisions were taken arbitrarily, professional advice was not considered and he micro-managed every department,” charged Sundaram.

Attempts to get comment from Gary Naidoo, the Gupta family spokesperson, were unsuccessful yesterday, despite several voice messages left on his cellphone.

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