JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s social development ministry has provoked an outcry after admitting it agreed to pay state broadcaster SABC 149,000 rand ($12,200) of public money to conduct a lengthy interview with its scandal-prone head last month.
The SABC aired the interview with Bathabile Dlamini, an ally of President Jacob Zuma and senior figure in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), on a popular talk show just a week before the ANC elected its new leadership.
Dlamini was sharply criticized by South Africa’s top court last year for her role in a fiasco which threatened the payment of welfare benefits to 17 million people. She was re-elected to the ANC’s national executive in December.
Dlamini’s spokeswoman said it was normal practice for the social development ministry to pay to get its message across and that the interview was not been timed to coincide with the ANC leadership conference.
A spokesman for the SABC said the interview was filmed for an entertainment program and that 149,000 rand was not a large sum for such an interview.
He said the SABC had decided not to accept the cash from the government and recognized it had broken its editorial policies.
As president, Zuma appoints the board of the SABC. His presidency has been tarnished by a series of corruption scandals, including allegations that Zuma’s friends have influenced government appointments. Zuma denies any wrongdoing.
Anton Harber, a professor of journalism at Wits University in Johannesburg, said the Dlamini interview had harmed the SABC’s journalistic credibility because the broadcaster had not disclosed that it was paid for.
Harber joked on Twitter: “Welcome to the SABC, Madam Minister. Are you an interviewee today, or a client?
Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Richard Balmforth