The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) on Sunday said it was "shocked" by Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe's "brazen" reported admission to Sunday World that he paid two of its journalists R70 000 to make a story about his sex life disappear.
Sanef said in a statement that brown-envelope journalism was completely counter to journalism ethics and it would be writing to Mantashe to ask him to reveal the names of the journalists involved.
The newspaper published a response from Mantashe, claiming that he declined to answer their questions about a love triangle story involving him, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Lerato Habiba Makgatho.
According to the response the paper published, he said he begged two journalists not to publish the story and paid them. He, however, would not reveal their names and said the publication could go ahead and write the story as that was his comment.
The newspaper ran the story as its lead story on Sunday, publishing WhatsApp messages purported to be between Makgatho and Mantashe.
The message to Makgatho from a contact saved as "Gwede Mantashe 2" reads that their relationship had already cost him more than R70 000 and he feared this could increase to R100 000.
In another message, Makgatho appears to break up with Mboweni.
News24 reported earlier this month that Mboweni was taking legal action against a woman he alleged was attempting to extort money from him.
According to letters by Mboweni's lawyer, Jerome Levitz, a woman had threatened to divulge WhatsApp and voice-recorded conversations between her and Mboweni.
The woman has reportedly been offered R100 000 to go public with the correspondence. The names of both the woman and the prominent businessman who offered to pay for the correspondence are known to News24.
Mboweni met the woman online, but maintains they never met in person nor had a romantic relationship.
EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi tweeted on Sunday that Mantashe should be held to account.
"Minister @GwedeMantashe1 just admitted to bribery of @SundayWorldZA journalists not to publish his “Tiger” story. I really don’t care much on the private life of the man. What should concern us is bribery of journalists. He must hand himself to the police & release the names!" he said.
Numbers for Mantashe were unavailable or went to voicemail on Sunday morning and he has not yet responded to a request for comment. The minister's spokesperson, David Shabangu, told News24 he had not discussed the matter with Mantashe, whom he said was in meetings for most of Sunday.
Claims are serious
Sunday World editor Makhudu Sefara said the paper took Mantashe's claims very seriously and that it was a pity he had not disclosed the names of the journalists.
It encouraged him to approach Sanef as it was holding an Inquiry into Media Credibility and Ethics.
Sanef said it would support the newspaper's investigation into the matter and its commitment to ensure all its journalists signed pledges to ensure ethical journalism.
It would also add a specific clause to its "draft rules of engagement" with political parties to call for politicians to support an outright ban on any form of brown envelope journalism.
"Sanef champions ethical journalism. We believe that if anyone has any evidence of unethical journalism – including the very serious breach of accepting funds for journalism – they should go to the Press Council," it said.
Any South African with evidence of journalists acting unethically or illegally could approach Judge Satchwell and the authorities. Submissions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Compiled by Jenna Etheridge