News24

Argus horrified by Rasool claims

2010-06-30 21:15

Cape Town - A former political reporter on the Cape Argus has revealed that he took payments to write articles promoting the then Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool.

The newspaper, which said it was "aghast" at the disclosures, on Wednesday filled its front page with details of an affidavit by the ex-staffer, Ashley Smith.

In the document, Smith said Rasool had used him as his "front line of attack" against rivals in the African National Congress, particularly provincial secretary Mcebisi Skwatsha.

Rasool was ousted as head of the party in the province in 2005 by James Ngculu, and axed as premier in 2008 by the national ANC.

Last year, in what observers said was a direct result of the internal squabbling, it lost the province to the Democratic Alliance.

The Argus said Smith handed the affidavit to the National Prosecuting Authority on Tuesday along with a request for indemnity against any criminal charges.

In it, Smith said he had at the time, in addition to his Argus job, been a partner in a public relations company named Inkwenkwezi.

Although he had a one-third interest in the company, all the shares were formally held by an associate of Rasool's, Zain Orrie.

Smith said the understanding was that Inkwenkwezi would assist Rasool with media advice related to the premier's political survival in the ANC, and that in return the company would get business from the provincial government.

Promoting Rasool

He said he was also paid to write news stories that would promote Rasool and thereby damage Skwatsha.

The Argus said in a front-page editorial accompanying Wednesday's article that though it began a disciplinary inquiry against Smith when the allegations were first aired in 2005, he resigned before it was completed.

"The suggestion that reporters receive monetary compensation from public funds in exchange for supporting political agendas is about as damning a charge as you can level at journalists," it said.

"Naturally we are aghast and have to acknowledge a failing on the Cape Argus's part."

On an inside page, Independent Newspapers Cape editor-in-chief Chris Whitfield said: "Integrity in our reporting of news is our touchstone and we will not tolerate any manipulation of information, ever."

The newspaper said Rasool, now an ANC MP in the National Assembly, had denied the allegations and had added that he did not want to "(re)enter a battlefield I have happily exited".

He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

Skwatsha said he had not seen the Argus report, and would prefer to comment after he had read it.

The ANC's national office said it was concerned at the allegations, but appealed to everyone and the media in particular to allow due process to unfold.

"The ANC will then await such due processes before jumping to any conclusion on this matter," it said.