Cape Town - Former communications minister Yunus Carrim on Friday evening reiterated that Naspers chair Koos Bekker had lobbied him to drop set top box encryption when he was in Cabinet, saying it was "bizarre to suggest that Bekker was hands-off from MultiChoice’s vigorous campaign to change government policy on encryption".
But Bekker, speaking to radio host Bruce Whitfield of 567 Cape Talk and 702, dismissed claims that he had applied improper leverage to change government policy as "crap".
The latest back-and-forth between Bekker and Carrim comes after the Naspers board earlier on Friday put out a statement, decrying what it termed the "persistent baiting of Naspers to intervene in the affairs of MultiChoice".
The Naspers statement came in the wake of media reports, including by News24, that MultiChoice paid R25m to the ANN7 news channel, when it was still owned by the controversial Gupta family.
MultiChoice, which is owned by Naspers, also allegedly increased its annual payment to the channel from R50m to R141m.
These reports stemmed, in part, from the #GuptaLeaks.
The DA, meanwhile, earlier this week requested that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa investigate separate reports, based on board minutes from a SABC meeting in June 2013, that MultiChoice "sought to pay the SABC R100m for its 24-hour news channel in exchange for the public broadcaster's political influence over digital migration".
The Naspers board, in its statement on Friday, said that while some of the reporting on claimed links between Naspers and the Gupta family was an "honourable wish to expose corruption", other allegations were "even at face value spurious".
The board argued that while it understood the "frustration some people feel that a channel associated with corruption (ANN7) is still being broadcast", in the interests of media freedom and diversity it would not take it off the air.
It also confirmed an earlier announcement by MultiChoice that its audit and risk committees will be conducting a probe of the ANN7 contracts.
The Naspers board statement also referenced "a suggestion" made by Carrim about a meeting between him and Bekker, but did not say when or where this "suggestion" was made.
Carrim on Friday evening told Fin24 that it referred to comments he recently gave to the Mail & Guardian.
"Koos Bekker was aggressively involved in pushing for dropping encryption. That’s the only issue he ever discussed with me," Carrim told the Mail & Guardian in the week.
In its Friday statement, the Naspers board noted that "a suggestion by ex-communications minister Yunus Carrim that Koos Bekker once met with him regarding encryption is perfectly accurate".
"Here are the facts: this meeting took place in Pretoria and was for the full duration also attended by [former] minister Pravin Gordhan, whom we greatly respect. Minister Gordhan can attest to the content of the meeting and whether any Gupta-related or any other illegal matter was discussed," stated the board.
In response, on Friday evening, Carrim put out a statement in which he appeared to take umbrage at the suggestion by the Naspers board that he had, in his interview with the Mail & Guardian, implied a Gupta/Bekker connection.
"I did not refer to any specific meeting or who was there. Nor did I say or even hint that anything Gupta-related or illegal was discussed at the meeting," he said. "To link my comments to those calling for the removal of ANN7 from DStv is rather disingenuous."
"Mr Bekker conveniently forgets the meeting we had in Cape Town within a month of my appointment which he requested and MultiChoice CEO, Imtiaz Patel several times urged," he said.
Patel is listed as one of the attendees of the meeting between the SABC interim board and MultiChoice from June 2013. Fin24 could not independently confirm the veracity of the SABC document. But Naspers has said it would be spurious to suggest that a "public meeting of the top executives of MultiChoice and the SABC to negotiate satellite and DTT channel carriage" was somehow illegal.
"Bekker’s main purpose was to persuade me about the folly of set top box encryption, and seemed irritated that I would not agree with him and chose instead to refer the conflicts about it to a mediation process to seek a compromise," said Carrim in his statement Friday.
A Naspers spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Bekker told Whitfield it was not unusual for big business to interact directly with government officials.
"We interact with the government every single day. We are debating as of now, probably 10 policy elements with five government departments," he said.
Speaking of the time he met with Carrim to discuss encryption, Bekker said the way the meeting had been described was "a typical allegation of extreme malice".
He said Gordhan was present at the meeting from beginning to end.
"If there is one person in the country I respect it is Pravin Gordhan," he said. "So if there is any suggestion he will attend a meeting where either Gupta business is transacted, or improper leverage applies, or anything illegal discussed, that is complete cr*p".
Bekker added that he took the minutes of the SABC interim board meeting with MultiChoice - that the DA wants investigated - to two lawyers and asked if they showed any representation of criminal activity or wrong.
Bekker said the lawyers responded that there was nothing criminal or wrong included in the minutes.
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