Sunday World and Lottery corruption: time for an inquiry

Former editor of Sunday World Makhudu Sefara has not explained what happened

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The National Lotteries Commission was implicated in massive corruption. Illustration: Lisa Nelson

Makhudu Sefara, the editor of TimesLive and deputy editor of the Sunday Times, has written an attack on GroundUp and our lottery reporter Raymond Joseph in response to an article we published last year. But he has failed to address our central point: that Sunday World, which he edited, got an inexplicably large amount of Lottery money and wrote stories favourable to the Lottery.

Sefara edited Sunday World in 2019 and 2020. He had previously served as spokesperson for fugitive from justice “Prophet” Shepherd Bushiri, and editor of The Star and Sunday Independent. After Sunday World, he joined TimesLive. He currently is on the management committee of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF).

There is so much diversionary noise in Sefara’s 3,000-word article that it’s easy to lose sight of the critical issue: The Sunday World received a massively disproportionate amount of National Lotteries Commission (NLC) media funding (which was flagged by the Auditor-General as irregular). In the same period, the Sunday World published a series of propaganda pieces in support of the NLC.

Joseph, together with Anton van Zyl, explained this in detail in a report GroundUp published on 3 August 2023 titled: Exposed: The Sunday World’s lucrative partnership with the Lottery.

Since 2018 GroundUp has been exposing corruption in the NLC. Joseph has been our lead reporter on the story. For this, he has won nearly every major journalism award in the country. In our over 230 articles on the lottery, the vast majority exposing corruption, we are yet to be alerted to a serious material error. Court cases and ombud complaints against us by those we have exposed have collapsed or been dismissed.

Lottery corruption was one of the worst examples of state capture. We have exposed hundreds of millions of rands of misappropriated funds. There has been so much corruption that what we have reported is only a fraction of what took place. The real amount stolen is likely billions of rands.

But the story has taken a turn for the better. The worst fiends in the Lottery management and its board have had to move on or been given the boot. The Special Investigating Unit has frozen properties and taken action against Lottery thieves. The new board and management have admitted the seriousness of what happened, and committed to cleaning things up. They seem serious.

The Sunday World scandal

Here is the crux of Sunday World’s unethical behaviour. Further details can be read in our original article.

In 2021 the NLC spent 46% of its media budget on Sunday World. Yet the paper had an average weekly circulation of less than 32,000. By comparison, the Sunday Times, with an average weekly circulation of more than 117,000, got about 1% of the NLC’s media spend, as did Media24, despite News24 being the largest news site in the country. Over three years, from 2020 to 2022, Sunday World received R24.7-million from the NLC for adverts. No reasonable explanation has ever been offered for this.

Here are examples of how Sunday World presented Lottery propaganda as news:

Several people have raised their concerns about this with SANEF. Former journalism professor Anton Harber, for example, has written a formal complaint to SANEF. We have raised the issue in a SANEF meeting. What is needed is an independent inquiry into the Sunday World’s relationship with the NLC.

We journalists are rightly quick to condemn a perceived threat to media freedom. But we should also take action against credible allegations of corruption within our ranks, especially after the extremely serious findings in 2021 of the SANEF-commissioned Inquiry into Media Credibility and Ethics.

Correction on 2024-02-07 13:42

Minor corrections were made after publication including the deletion of a bullet point describing an article from 2018, before the relevant funding period.

TOPICS:  National Lotteries Commission

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