Newspaper betrayed source: NGO

2001-03-19 19:41

Cape Town - The South African chapter of an international non-governmental organisation on Monday lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman in which it accused the Sunday Times of betraying an arms deal source and jeopardising his life.

Press ombudsman Ed Linington confirmed he received the complaint from Terry Crawford-Browne, of the Economists Allied for Arms Reduction.

In his complaint, Crawford-Browne alleged the newspaper "betrayed assurances" that it would not reveal the identity of Bheki Jacobs, believed to be the author of documents alleging that top ANC leaders took kickbacks from weapons manufacturers in return for facilitating the R43-billion arms deal.

'A flagrant violation'"The betrayal is a flagrant violation of the ethics of journalism, but given the extreme sensitivity of the arms investigation, has also jeopardised Mr Jacobs's life."

Crawford-Browne facilitated a meeting at his Cape Town home between Jacobs and a Sunday Times reporter last year.

In a separate statement on Monday, Crawford-Browne said Sunday Times editor Mike Robertson had threatened that the newspaper would take legal action "should I expose the fundamental lapse of ethics".

Robertson on Monday denied there was any lapse of ethics and said Crawford-Browne was welcome to lodge a complaint with the ombudsman.

He said he had threatened legal action after Crawford-Browne made slanderous remarks about the Sunday Times reporter's relationship with the National Intelligence Agency.

Linington said he would await a reply from the Sunday Times before deciding on any action.

'Sunday Times humiliated'

Crawford-Browne claims he set up the meeting between Jacobs and the reporter after the newspaper's "humiliation in being forced to apologise on December 3, 2000 to Minister Essop Pahad and ANC Chief Whip Tony Yengeni following earlier reports of their attempts to squash the arms acquisition investigation".

"The Sunday Times... has betrayed e-mail and telephonic guarantees not to identify Mr Bheki Jacobs. Jacobs was introduced to a Sunday Times reporter on December 14, following requests for assistance by the newspaper to expose political pressures being applied against it by government ministers and officials."

Crawford-Browne said he only set up the meeting after he received assurances from the reporter that she would not identify Jacobs as her source.

"The Sunday Times betrayal has unleashed a witch hunt against Jacobs, and may have jeopardised his life," he said.

For the past two weeks, the Sunday Times has run with stories about Jacobs, the latest headlined "'secret agent' sowed fear and loathing".

Jacobs 'highly trained operative'

The latest report quoted former ANC MPs, who accused him of distributing bogus intelligence documents about cliques in the tripartite alliance plotting against President Thabo Mbeki.

Meanwhile, the Mail and Guardian claimed that despite attempts by the presidency to rubbish Jacobs, he was a highly trained intelligence operative, who until the end of last year, was reporting to the South African Secret Service and NIA.

The newspaper quoted unnamed sources saying they believed Jacobs had been deliberately exposed because some government leaders had been annoyed by his sharply critical reports. - Sapa