Inaccurate reporting by the media fed misperceptions about the e-tolls system, Sanral chief executive Nazir Alli complained.
Before continuing the South African National Road Agency Limited’s (Sanral) presentation to the e-tolls review panel in Pretoria, Alli today said he was disappointed when he saw a newspaper story indicating that Sanral was “broke”.
The Star newspaper reported this morning that Sanral had told the panel yesterday it was broke and warned the country would be in serious trouble if it was not able to pay its R20 billion debt.
Elements of the Sapa news agency’s reports from the hearings were incorporated into the newspaper report. These included a statement by Alli that South Africa would be in “serious trouble” if the e-tolling debt was not settled, and that “there is no new money”.
The Star reported that in Transport Minister Dipuo Peters’ presentation to the panel on Tuesday, she said motorists could pay up to an extra R3.65 per litre of petrol to repay the debt.
Alli said at no point had the minister ever said that was what was needed to repay the debt on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.
“This is how perceptions are created, by misinformation, then we have to deal with how you try and regress the entrenched views that are created by misrepresentation,” he said, showing a copy of The Star newspaper to the panel.
“To deliberately not check your facts and turn around and call our [transport] minister a liar and deliberately mislead the public, I think is unfair and uncalled for.”
He appealed through the panel that they ask the newspaper to print a correction.
Sapa editor Mark van der Velden said the news agency stood by its own reporting on the hearings and that Sapa had never reported Sanral saying it was “broke”.
“That would have been an interpretation based on the statements reported,” he said.
Sanral today employed a prominent public relations firm to issue a lengthy and urgent press statement claiming the reports showed “a lamentable understanding of the business”.
Van der Velden said Sanral was misdirected in asking the review panel to order a correction just because it claimed the reports were wrong.
“It is welcome to rather take the issue to the press ombudsman, who would look at the issues objectively.”
The panel was established by Gauteng premier David Makhura to examine the socioeconomic impact of the freeway improvement project and the electronic tolling system set up to fund it.