Right of Reply: 20 questions Adriaan Basson won’t answer about links with Agrizzi #BosasaFiles

Adriaan Basson, editor in chief of news24, wrote in 2018 that his big break in journalism was establishing a link between Bosasa – a company founded by the Watson brothers – and Linda Mti, then the boss of Department of Correctional Services, which granted Bosasa more than a healthy share of tenders to undertake work for prisons. “With prisons being the unsexiest beat in journalism, we had to find something more than tender irregularities…,” he said in a column. Flash forward to 2019 to the Zondo Commission into State Capture: Bosasa’s former chief operating officer, Angelo Agrizzi, has been a star performer, with a view to keeping himself out of jail. He has made a variety of controversial claims about Gavin Watson, the company’s founder with close links to the ANC, and senior political figures. Watson died in a mysterious car crash in August, only hours before he was expected to give fresh information to the South African Revenue Service. Meanwhile, allegations from the Watson camp have surfaced about Agrizzi and others, including that Agrizzi had relationships with influential members of the media, backed by a friendly email from the editor-in-chief of news24, Adriaan Basson, asking him to check a draft of an article he had written about the prison’s tender. We asked Basson for details about his relationship with Agrizzi. He refused to answer any direct questions, instead asking BizNews to publish a right to reply without any changes. – Jackie Cameron

Dear Adriaan

We’re trying to get to the bottom of the evidence that Jared Watson is giving to the authorities and which was published as the Bosasa Files on Biznews this week.

Would you please respond soonest to these questions?

This email purports to be written by you and was sent to Angelo Agrizzi’s private email address. It looks like the draft of an article to be published on News24 and was a draft sent to Agrizzi to confirm he was happy with what would appear:

1. Can you confirm that you sent this email?

2. If so, why was it sent to Agrizzi’s private email address and how did you get this address?

3. What was the intention of sending this email to him?

4. Is this the only email of this nature you sent to Agrizzi?

5. Did you offer the parties being attacked the right of reply before publishing the article?

6. Have you ever changed details in an article prior to publication as a result of contact with Mr Agrizzi?

7. How often have you met Agrizzi in person? Where?

8. Have you ever been to Agrizzi’s home? How often? Have you ever been a passenger or driven one of his vehicles?

9. Has Agrizzi ever met any of your family members? If so, who? Where?

10. Has Agrizzi ever given you any gift or paid for a meal?

11. Did you ever ask Agrizzi how he accumulated his wealth? If so, what was his response? If not, why not?

12. How often have you used Agrizzi as a source for stories?

13. Do you usually send draft articles to sources prior to publication? Why?

14. How do you deal with responses from sources where you have sent an article to them prior to publication?

15. What is your organisation’s editorial policy where it comes to sending drafts of stories to sources and individuals and companies named in articles prior to publication?

16. “Agrizzi purports on numerous occasions that he has a close personal friendship with Basson since 2014.” What exactly is the nature of your association with Agrizzi?

17. You wrote that you “had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting Agrizzi a few times whilst covering the story for Beeld, the Mail & Guardian and later City Press. It was immediately clear to me that the brusque Italian was Watson’s henchman and in charge of doing his dirty work.” When and why did your relationship with Agrizzi change?

18. Is Agrizzi a source – named or unnamed – for your forthcoming book or any of your previous books?

19. Do you trust Agrizzi as a reliable source? Why? If not, why not?

20. Has Mr Agrizzi passed on documents and other information to you for use in your work for News24 or for your books?

Adriaan Basson: Right to reply

I am intrigued and perplexed by the recent actions of Alec Hogg, the editor/publisher/owner of Biznews, in relation to his “reporting” on Bosasa, a story which I have investigated since March 2006. Hogg righteously declares to his readers (who seem wholly unconvinced by his attempts to whitewash Gavin Watson’s legacy, judging by the comments on Biznews), that he stands for the truth and obeys the rules of his journalistic mentor Penelope Gracie to always get the “other side of the story”. Unless, it seems, the other side is something he doesn’t want to hear.

On Monday 23 September Hogg published a story that attempted to create the perception of an improper relationship between myself and Angelo Agrizzi, based on one leaked/hacked email I purportedly sent to Agrizzi in April 2016 of a draft story I wrote for News24. I cannot remember sending the email to Agrizzi, but even if I did, there is nothing to see here. It is not uncommon for journalists to show their stories to people who can comment on the veracity of facts in our reporting prior to publication. The final prerogative of what gets published always lies with the editor. If I sent a draft version of the story (that doesn’t deal with Bosasa or Agrizzi) to Agrizzi, the sole purpose would have been to invite comment on the veracity thereof.

I have never and will never take instructions from Agrizzi or anyone else to publish anything. Instead of peddling old lies to discredit my investigation of Bosasa and forthcoming book, that comprehensively deals with the history and modus operandi of the company, Biznews can read my evidence at the Zondo Commission, which is publicly available, if they want to know how I had approached Agrizzi.

Hogg’s approach to this story is peculiar. He didn’t seek my comment before publication. He also mis-presented my approach to him while researching my forthcoming book on what I consider to be Watson’s state capture cult called Bosasa. He misquoted me and inserted a private WhatsApp message between us into his article, without my permission. Would his mentor have approved of this? Then on Wednesday 25 September Hogg got his colleague Jackie Cameron to send me a list of 20 questions, after publication of the falsehoods, effectively asking me to break the golden rule of journalism: thou shalt protect thy sources. Biznews wants to know if Agrizzi was my source and what he told me. Good luck, Alec.

Smarter people have tried and failed to find out who my sources are. I recommend that Hogg and his colleagues take some time to study the judgment of Tsoka J in the matter of Bosasa Operations (Pty) Ltd v Basson, delivered in the South Gauteng High Court on 26 April 2012. The background to the case would interest you; Bosasa, then run by the powerful duo of Watson and Agrizzi, sued me for defamation while I worked on the Mail & Guardian. They took us to court and demanded that I reveal my sources who exposed their corrupt rigging of correctional services tenders. I refused and Judge Tsoka agreed with us. “[T]o order the defendants to reveal their sources would infringe their freedom of the press. Had it not been the defendants’ sources, the public’s right to know whether the plaintiff won the tender fairly would never have been known. The public would be poorer for it. The public interest will, in my view, be served by not revealing the identity of the defendants’ sources at this stage. The defendants have a valid objection to revealing their sources.”

Hogg is a Johnny-come-lately to the Bosasa story and Biznews is used to peddle a narrative that is simply not borne out by the facts. I don’t know what to call it, but it certainly isn’t journalism. I reserve my rights.

  • Adriaan Basson is editor-in-chief at News24.
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