Cape Town, South Africa – A major row has broken out between the government-backed New Age newspaper, and the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) which has called for a judicial commission of inquiry to look into the paper's funding.
DA leader Helen Zille, on Wednesday confirmed that she had written to President Jacob Zuma to request that he appoints an inquiry to investigate the matter.
Unlike other mainstream newspapers, the New Age is not audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, which verifies the number of copies a newspaper sells. In addition, it has experienced turmoil within its ranks with numerous high-profile resignantions.
According to Zille, the newspaper was almost entirely funded with tax payers' money, and claimed that 77% of its advertising revenue came from national and provincial government departments, and state entities.
She compared the issue with the apartheid-era scandal involving The Citizen, in which state money was used to set up and fund the newspaper.
Owners of the newspaper, which was set up three years ago, claim it has nothing to hide.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) also rejected Zille’s claim with spokesperson Jackson Mthembu describing her as a “liar and an unreliable individual”.
Meanwhile, the DA said it plans to question Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane after a report that her office spent nearly US$ 100 000 on a single breakfast briefing hosted by The New Age last year.
Zille’s spat with the newspaper began last week when she withdrew from its business breakfasts when she discovered they were sponsored by government parastatals, Transnet and Eskom.
She claimed it amounted to the channelling of public money to the newspaper, owned by the wealthy Indian Gupta family who are supporters of the ANC and President Zuma.