African News Agency CEO Vasantha Angamuthu says the media organisation was not a front for the State Security Agency nor was it set up to be a propaganda vehicle for the ANC.
The African News Agency (ANA) may have been contracted to do some work for the State Security Agency (SSA), but the company was never a front for the SSA, nor was it set up as a propaganda vehicle for the ruling party, ANA chief executive officer Vasantha Angamuthu said on Tuesday.
Angamuthu was commenting on allegations made on social media after former minister Sydney Mafumadi’s testimony at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state capture.
Mafumadi, who headed a High-Level Review Panel into the State Security Agency, testified the panel had found evidence the agency wanted to infiltrate the media to counter negative news reports on former president Jacob Zuma and the ruling ANC.
He told the Zondo commission a letter, addressed to acting SSA director-general Loyiso Jafta requesting the declassification of some documents related to intelligence gatherings projects, contained serious allegations against specific members of the media.
Mufamadi mentioned ANA in the context of his revelations about Project Wave, which “involved infiltrating and influencing the media at home and abroad, in order, apparently, to counter bad publicity for the country, then President Jacob Zuma and the SSA”.
“In response to posts on Twitter and stories carried on competitor media platforms, that have asserted this startling assumption over the past 24 hours, I can confirm that the African News Agency (ANA) was not set up to be, and is not, a front for the State Security Agency (SSA),” Angamuthu said on Tuesday.
“ANA was set up in the days following the closure of the South African Press Association (SAPA), in order to fill that gap and to be positioned as a news agency syndicating African content to Africa, and the rest of the globe. SAPA’s assets, including an archive, were bought by the Sekunjalo Group.
“With major investments by Sekunjalo, ANA was established in 2015, into a newsroom that included many SAPA staff who were faced with losing their jobs.”
She said she had investigated the former minister’s claims that ANA had received funds from the SSA, but found there was nothing untoward about the agency’s dealings with the media house.
“I can also confirm that in 2016/2017 ANA had a contract with the SSA to provide multi-media training for SSA analysts and interns across Africa, and to use its platforms, in particular the African Independent newspaper, to carry positive stories about South Africa and the South African government,” Angamuthu said.
“But ANA was entirely unaware of any sinister motive by the SSA and did not participate in, nor would we have sanctioned, any business outside of our key focus, which is driving growth and development on the African continent using media.
“ANA’s capacity, capabilities and footprint on the Continent are what may have led senior leadership of the SSA to approach us to enter into a contract for the provision of multi-media training for some of their officials including analysts and interns.”
Angamuthu reiterated ANA had no knowledge of any agenda on the part of the SSA when it agreed to provide services to the agency.
“I would like to reiterate that at the time of entering into an agreement with the SSA, we were not aware of any sinister motives behind the approach by the SSA. If we were aware of such motives, we would most certainly not have entered into such an agreement.”
According to Angamuthu, the SSA was one of a number of government departments who were clients of ANA Syndication and paid to receive a news wire feed from the agency.
“In 2018, ANA shut down its bureaus in several African countries to evolve our business model to focus on building an African Partner Network, to give especially small African media houses a platform to on sell and/or distribute their content to the globe,” she said.
“The relationship between ANA and the SSA must be viewed in context. I am shocked by the narrative that is being peddled by some of our competitors, in that ANA is a front for the SSA. We will not be drawn into the factional wars within government and the ruling party.
“Since joining ANA in January 2020, my primary focus has been to provide a world-class multi-media news service to all clients in the country and on the continent. Despite this attempt to tarnish the image and reputation of ANA and its staff, we are determined to forge ahead with our mission for Africans to own the narrative about Africa and produce unique and original multi-media journalism,” said Angamuthu.