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Johannesburg - The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) on Wednesday said that it was alarmed at a statement by the chairperson of the board of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC), Professor Alfred Nevhutanda, that the NLC has asked the State Security Agency (SSA) to investigate journalists.

Nevhutanda, who was appearing before Parliament's trade and industry portfolio committee last week, said that the NLC had "recently learnt" that its computers had been hacked and "information about projects since 2001 was in the [United States] US, with a backup in the Western Cape". 

Parliament has asked Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies to look into the use of the R140 million proactive funds by the NCL following negative media reports.

Nevhutanda said journalists were being paid to write "fake stories" about the misspending by the NLC, with the intention of bringing down the organisation.

This is after a story published in GroundUp -- by freelance journalist, Raymond Joseph, and community newspaper owner and publisher Anton van Zyl -- which exposed alleged multimillion-rand corruption involving NLC grants, as well as the awarding of a Lottery-funded contract to a company of which the brother of a senior NLC official was the sole director.

Nevhutanda's statements also follow an ongoing investigation by a group of investigative journalists into multimillion-rand grants to a variety of Lottery-funded projects.

In a statement, Sanef said it appeared that the NLC either had no idea how independent journalism operated and instead of investigating the alleged corruption that had been exposed, it resorts to attacking the journalists involved.

"Equally disturbing is a call to civil tech organisation OpenUp by a person claiming to be involved with the NLC's IT, asking them to take down a tool that has made 16 years of Lottery grants keywords searchable. Ironically, all the data in the tool has been scraped from the NLC's annual reports and is available in PDFs on the organisation’s website," it said.

"Nevhutanda's remarks reflect an extremely dangerous attitude where the media is being blamed for the NLC's inherent problems. Rather than investigating why millions cannot be accounted for, the NLC has instead tried to cast doubt on the integrity of the journalists involved and has asked the SSA to investigate their sources."

The NLC’s role is to regulate all lotteries and distribute funds via agencies to good causes and infrastructure projects such as schools and early childhood development facilities. It was empowered in 2015 to grant funding proactively to worthy causes without the need for applications. 

African News Agency (ANA)