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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

‘Threatening phone calls’ to Basson come back to haunt former journalist

Journalist Adriaan Basson faced intimidation from Bosasa a decade ago already.

Communications consultant Benedicta Dube – said to have been contracted by Bosasa Operations to pursue a disinformation campaign – has been implicated in making threatening phone calls to journalist Adriaan Basson in 2009.

This came after Basson – at the time with the Mail & Guardian’s investigative unit amaBhungane – exposed corruption involving the facilities management company and the department of correctional services.

In his testimony yesterday, Basson, now News24 editor-in-chief, told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture how he would receive abusive calls from people claiming to be Bosasa employees “saying I should stop my writing about Bosasa”.

“Some would make racist remarks that I was writing stories about Bosasa because I was white and racist,” he said. “Some would also say I was writing sh*t about Bosasa and this was to cost them their jobs.

“Some telephone numbers were known, some hidden. The articles I wrote caused discomfort and anger within Bosasa.”

The last straw in what Basson described as “threatening and intimidating” behaviour was when he received a call that led to a 19-minute conversation with someone who introduced herself as “a colleague in the media”.

He said: “On February 2009, I was on holiday with my girlfriend when a woman called and said she wanted to warn me about my Bosasa investigation, saying what I was doing was dangerous.

“Without introducing her name, she wanted me to confirm my identity number, address, names of friends, my place of birth and tertiary study records. Her accuracy showed she must have been reading from some intelligence document. She warned that she would kill me if I disclosed the conversation to anyone. My conclusion was that it was a Bosasa operation to intimidate and scare me.”

Using Google search and sources at Bosasa, Basson said he unmasked the caller to be Dube – formerly a Financial Mail and e.tv journalist, who later joined a public relations agency called Igagu Media.

‘Doing his duty’

Basson’s testimony of the intimidation he received after publishing controversial stories relating to corruption within Bosasa Operations could serve to highlight the fight against the media.

Basson’s testimony has received support from a media expert who said it was important to put it on record to combat “threats that journalists face”.

Media Monitoring Africa’s William Bird said it was unusual for a journalist to appear before a commission of inquiry but that they supported efforts that helped “combat” the threats that journalists face.

Bird said: “It seems his focus was not on giving evidence as much as it was about how he was intimidated and to highlight threats against him.

“To that extent, it is important that he appeared as it needs to be on record the risks and the threats faced by journalists in doing their job. We would therefore support efforts to ensure to help combat threats journalists face.”

Responding to the allegations that some journalists may have been complicit in state capture and spreading disinformation, Bird said it remained important to ensure a free press to thwart those who did not play by the rules.

“Inasmuch as some media have had their credibility challenged and undermined, we need to highlight the critical importance that media do play,” he said. “Had it not been for the media, we wouldn’t have the state capture inquiry. It doesn’t mean that media suddenly gain credibility because of that, but it does stress their critical role in democracy, and why, when they do err or undermine public trust, we really need to hold them accountable and work to ensure trust is rebuilt.”

– news@citizen.co.za

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