News on News: Raymond Joseph on the threats he has faced in the lottery project

Kellen Voss, Sports Editor

Over the course of the semester, the Lanthorn will be conducting an editorial and column series titled “News on News” revolving around how news is consumed today, the concept of ‘fake news’ and the fight journalists continue to fight to have their voices be heard.

One of the few pieces of hope that Americans can find at this time, with many losing their job and running out of money, is pulling into a gas station, walking up to the cashier and purchasing a lottery ticket in hopes of winning big in this time of crisis.

Thankfully for Americans, the lottery in this country is not run by the National Lotteries Commission (NLC). The NLC is the only National Lottery Regulator and License holder in South Africa, and NLC regulates various lotteries including sports pools, society lotteries, raffles and competitions.

Not only have the NLC regulated the lottery, but they have also been involved in some shady practices, which may be explaining it lightly.

The minister of Trade and Industry in South Africa has requested a criminal case investigating the NLC partially due to the 2014 fraud warnings that we’re blatantly ignored. They paid millions from the Lottery directly into the foundation founded by the COO’s cousin and even more millions to the COO’s wife’s company. They gave R13 million to a museum that doesn’t exist. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to corruption.

The NLC has made some questionable payments for years now, and as you could expect, they haven’t been so kind to Raymond Joseph, an experienced investigative journalist who has been featured in CNN, The Guardian, AllAfrica, the Daily Maverick and GroundUp.

Joseph discovered that investigating the NLC would his main focus surrounded by his colleguages at a conference.

“Back in 2016, we were all at an investigative journalism conference in Johannesburg, and one day we were sitting around drinking wine and think of a story we could do that cross borders, boundaries, and be translated everywhere in the world,” Joseph said. “Looking at the lottery seemed like a bloddy good idea, so I took on the South African end of it, and I didn’t know at the time that the lottery was corrupt.”

Joseph started his investigation by looking into the annual winnings report. When he was confused by the organization of the findings of his findings, he turned to his daughter to help the project get off the ground.

“One of the big problems we faced was that every year, the lottery would publish a list of all the grantees who got money in that financial year,” Joseph said. “It was hard to find unless you get a way to extract it, and the naming protocol was all messed up. I sent it all to my daughter, who is a data journalist, and without her this project might not have legs.”

After looking over the data, Joseph realized that he had a potential gold mine at his finger tips from an investigative journalist’s perspective, especially with the hypocrisy on display by way of the NLC’s advertisiting.

“As it turns out, the people running the national lottery commission have got a lot to hide,” Joseph said. “They keep talking about their transparency, and they are anything but. As one of my colleagues famously remarked, ‘there’s transparency in the toilet water’.”

When first starting to conduct the investigation, Joseph and his colleguages found it suspicious that a few key we’re getting the majority of the winnings, and when they kept pressing for more data, the NLC refused to budge.

“We started looking at the bigger picture, saw who was winning money, and looked at the outliers,” Joseph said. “With each story, we gained more knowledge on what to look for. The more we began digging, the more we found out, the less information (the NLC) would give us.”

As soon as Joseph and his team had enough to publish, the NLC started attacking him personally, claiming that he was just bitter because he was no longer receiving funding for his role as an editor at a previous job at The Big Issue, a street magazine that Joseph had resigned from after 20 years.

“That’s when it started to get personal,” Joseph said. “Throughout this entire thing, the closer and closer we started to getting to proving the corruption, and once we published findings with leaked sources, the guy on the newsbox (from the NLC) started getting really aggressive. They started attacking us very aggressively. They put out that I was a disgruntled former receipt of lottery funding.”

As soon as Joseph was able to prove corruption within the lottery, we was threatened by lottery officials and had to run from them, attempted to lock him, and dragged his character and reputation through the mud

“We kept proving nepotism, and if it wasn’t corruption, we certainely proved conflict of interest,” Joseph said. “They weren’t dealing with the facts of what we were reporting, they couldn’t rebuke past facts, so they attacked the reporter.

“When looking into some of the businesses in the northern part (of South Africa), I was on the run, got locked in a place, and the people phoned for reinforcement,” Joseph said. “The cavalry came charging past me. The NLC put out an email saying that I was misrepresenting myself as working for the lottery commission. It was a consistent assault, and they kept claiming that me and my wife were benefactors of lottery money, which was far from the truth.”

Joseph was not afraid of these attacks, and for the first time in his life, he started blocking those coming after him on social media. It also proves his strength as a reporter that he never even contemplated the idea of suing the NLC for all these attacks.

“They would trash us and the whistleblowers on social media, but I had a policy that I don’t block people, I follow everyone because if you only follow people with people you agree with, you’ll be stuck in an echochamber,” Joseph said. “I just started blocking people cause the constant attacks and accusations became debilitating. One thing I believe is that reporters should never sue because it’s a tactice used against reporters all the time, and we speak with our pens.”

Constant threats, constant attacks on social media, potential arrests, constant pressure and invstigation from institutional powers, and attempts at damaging his reputation hasn’t stopped Joseph to this day. He has earned grants from journalism forums to keep him going, as he continues to fight the NLC everyday to get justice for those who have been wronged due to the corruption.

“I’m too thick skinned and maybe too stupid to walk away from a good story,” Joseph said. “You need a strong editor who is committed to the story, which I have one. I have a luxury that most journalists don’t have of being able to stick to a story for two and a half years. For all the hate a lot of people have supported me, and I’m thankful that I get to keep doing this investigation.”

When asked about what advice he would give to young journalists facing threats, Joseph preached to have thick skinned, be honest, and let the words you print do the talking.

“Along the way, people will pressure you,” Joseph said. “I have been threatened by gangsters ask me to leave these things alone or there will be consequences, and I wrote about that. The thing about threats is that when it happens to you, publish it in the paper and be honest. When people threaten you, it’s scary, but writing about it can diffuse the threat, and you can always come back to a story if you become uncomfortable. It’s all about stamina, if a story is worth doing, you have to fully commit to it. It will consume you, but look forward to an ending sooner than later.”