Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma has “secretly” toured the studios of the new Gupta-owned 24-hour news channel, 48 hours before it hits the airwaves.
The Star can on Wednesday reveal he spent about an hour at The New Age’s Midrand headquarters on Monday, where he met Atul Gupta and other executives and editors.
The visit - unusually not made public by the Presidency or the ANC - has raised fears that Zuma is endorsing the privately owned news channel.
According to well-placed sources, he visited the state-of- the-art studios of Africa News Network7 (ANN7), scheduled to go live on Wednesday on Multi-Choice’s DStv channel 405.
Sources said several senior ANC leaders, including two national executive committee members and at least one cabinet minister (whose names are known to The Star), visited The New Age’s headquarters this month alone.
ANN7 has apparently committed itself to focus on “constructive, nation-building stories in the interests of building a culture of unity and pride in South Africa”.
The channel is owned by the powerful Gupta family, who are linked to Zuma and his family. The Gupta brothers are business partners of Zuma’s son Duduzane and also employ some of the president’s family members.
The Guptas previously attended ANC conferences. They also donated R400 000 to DA leader Helen Zille.
The family were at the centre of a political storm in April when they allegedly used their closeness to Zuma to secure the Waterkloof air force base outside Pretoria to land a plane carrying their Indian wedding guests.
Insiders, general workers, security guards and gardeners at the Corporate Park West business complex - which houses The New Age and ANN7 offices - confirmed that Zuma had been there.
A source said: “Zuma was there with his entourage to view the studio. He apparently met Atul Gupta, Jimmy Manyi and (New Age boss) Nazeem Howa. Only specific people were allowed, and security was tight.”
Manyi, journalist Chantal Rutter-Dros, kwaito star Arthur Mafokate and TV personality Gerry Rantseli-Elsdon are among ANN7’s presenters.
A gardener who works for a company opposite the complex said the main street leading to the channel’s offices, Lechwe, was closed off for the duration of Zuma’s visit.
“I saw his (Zuma’s) cars there. The owners of that place are his friends. His son also works there,” he said.
Gupta family spokesman Gary Naidoo failed to respond to written questions.
Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, on Tuesday confirmed the leader visited the ANN7 studios, saying that was part of the president’s drive to “promote relations and understanding” with the media.
He sidestepped questions on whether the visit was official or private and whether it was a sign that Zuma endorsed ANN7.
“Promoting media diversity is one of the key functions of the Presidency. The Media Development and Diversity Agency, for example, reports to the Presidency. It is for this reason that the president visited the new TV channel, ANN7.
“Recently (August 1) the president also attended the launch of the new SABC 24-hour news channel to support the addition of a new voice in the industry,” Maharaj said.
He denied the Presidency treated Zuma’s visit as secret by not releasing any statement about it.
“The president does visit newsrooms, and this is never publicised. For example, the last time he visited Independent Newspapers for lunch with editors hosted by The Star, it wasn’t publicised by either The Star or the Presidency. He has also been to the former Avusa, Media 24, I TV, Primedia and others. He makes time… to promote relations and understanding.”
Maharaj said Zuma had been scheduled to launch a pro-youth Workplace promotion for The Star recently, but “unfortunately he couldn’t honour this commitment due to unexpected travel”.