The New Age lashes out at Zille

The New Age (TNA) has questioned DA leader Helen Zille's criticism of a series of their business breakfasts that reportedly cost millions of rands in public funds.

"Her attempt to analyse the business model... is flawed and far-fetched. Her comments are more in line with that of [a] politician wishing to score cheap political points," the newspaper's chief executive Nazeem Howa said in a statement on Wednesday.

Zille pulled out of a TNA business breakfast on Monday following reports that the event was funded with public money.

City Press reported that some of the biggest state-owned companies were paying millions to bankroll the breakfasts, hosted by the Gupta family.

According to the report, Transnet paid R17.5-million for 18 breakfast sessions and Eskom R7.2-million to sponsor six sessions between November 2011 and last year.

It was previously reported that Telkom sponsored 12 business breakfasts to the tune of R12-million in the 2012/13 financial year.

The SABC reportedly did not charge TNA a cent to broadcast the event live on SABC2.

Previously, Zille said, she was under the assumption that the events were funded by the newspaper and by members of the public who purchased tickets to attend.

"Now that it has come to light that the breakfasts are funded by public money... the DA cannot continue to participate," she said.

"These breakfasts must be very profitable for The New Age, which is owned by the Gupta family, who are in turn vocal supporters and funders of the ANC and President Jacob Zuma."

The opposition leader said it was unacceptable that public money be used to bankroll a privately owned newspaper, and indirectly fund the African National Congress.

Howa said Zille had ignored the fact that costs were attached to organising an "event of this nature".

"She should be assured that the sponsors of our business briefing do indeed pay for the marketing of the event, the cost of venue hire, catering and event management... Without sponsors such events will never take place and it is commonly agreed that the business briefings have transformed public discourse in this country."

Howa said the event allowed people to directly pose questions to President Jacob Zuma, Cabinet ministers, premiers, economic analysts, and sport celebrities.

He said it was interesting to see the amount of time Zille and competitor newspapers were spending on analysing the newspaper's business strategy and sustainability.

"The New Age's entry into a fairly set newspaper industry and its innovative approach to newspapering were bound to ruffle some feathers. Zille has identified with those who want to ensure the demise of a newspaper intent on projecting a positive image of South Africa and provide a forum for balanced news coverage and debate."

Earlier, the ANC and its Women's League demanded an apology from Zille, accusing her of lying about not knowing that Telkom sponsored a TNA breakfast briefing she attended last year.

On Tuesday, the newspaper released a video clip on its website of Zille thanking Telkom for sponsoring a TNA business breakfast in Cape Town in February last year.

Asked during an interview with Eyewitness News whether she had thanked Telkom at the breakfast, Zille said she could not recall doing so.

Zille said the ruling party was trying to deflect attention away from the fact that millions of rands had been siphoned out of state-owned enterprises for the events.

"This [Telkom's involvement] was not a sponsorship. When someone sponsors an event, they pay the cost of part or the entire event," Zille said.

"It has now emerged that these costs were more than covered by the ticket sales. So what was Telkom doing giving R1-million to a private company owned by a major benefactor of President [Jacob] Zuma and the ANC?"

Zille asked if the sponsorship was merely a convenient cover-up for this.