Hired to spin the truth
Agrizzi’s testimony suggests Bell Pottinger was not the only agent of state capture propaganda
Companies have the right to hire spin doctors — sorry, communication specialists — to argue their case. But what are the limits? In some ways, the situation is like a criminal accused having the right to an attorney. But there are no legally enforceable rules specific to spin … sorry, communications specialists. Often they are former journalists who provide good information, and journalists still in the profession rely on them more than they’d care to admit. But there are limits.
This week, at the Zondo commission on state capture, Angelo Agrizzi, former COO of facilities management company Bosasa, revealed that several journalists and communications specialists were on the payroll. He named three: Benedicta Dube (who has passed away), Pinky Khoabane and Stephen Laufer; and two whom he only knew as "Ntuli" from the Sunday Times or The Star and "Bongs" from the Eastern Cape. It seems members of the Bosasa spin team were expected to behave a bit like Mafia enforcers, chiefly against Adriaan Basson, now editor-in-chief of News24, who was then working on stories involving Bosasa for the Mail & Guardian.
Basson says people from Bosasa phoned to ask or demand that he stop writing about the company, pleading that their jobs were on the line. Most creepy was a call from someone who pretended to be on his side. She mentioned personal information such as where he was born. She said she would "kill" him if he revealed the call. It was artful but in the end an obvious attempt at doublespeak.
Basson googled her number and discovered it belonged to Dube, who was a "communication strategist" at Igagu Media at the time. Khoabane has denied on Twitter she ever met Agrizzi (he did not claim that she had) and has said she wants to cross-examine him.
Laufer, a former journalist and spin doctor for companies involved in the arms deal, told reporters that he fired his then client because he wasn’t prepared to perform the "unethical activities" it demanded. How’s that for spin doctoring?
Just as the Bosasa testimony has revealed that state capture was larger than the Gupta family, Agrizzi’s testimony suggests the spin aspect of state capture was larger than Bell Pottinger. It goes to show that in every act of corruption there is always a parallel battle over the truth.