POLICE were last night looking for an e.tv journalist following the shock suicide of a man who apparently put the channel in contact with "criminals" who threatened to rob tourists during the soccer World Cup, writes Sally Evans in The Times.
As controversy continued to rage over the eNews bulletin in which two "criminals" were shown making threats against foreign visitors, police confirmed that a Soweto man, Lucky Phungula, had committed suicide yesterday morning.
The 43-year-old left behind a suicide note that appeared to blame his friend and journalist Mpho Lakaje, who produced the controversial report, for making his life "a mess".
Police spokesman Inspector Kay Makhubela told The Times last night that police were trying to get hold of Lakaje.
"We need to speak to him to find out what actually happened with Lucky. We want to find out from Mpho what is this 'mess' Lucky talks about," Makhubela said.
Phungula's sister Irene found him slumped on the bathroom floor of his home in Zola, Soweto, early yesterday.
The note and poison were found near his body.
The note, written in English and isiZulu, said: "Mpho Lakaje you put me in [a] mess."
In a cellphone message to his girlfriend on Monday, Phungula wrote: "Mpho has put me through big trouble with this e.tv issue, I don't have a life."
His family showed The Times the note, in which the DJ told his two sisters, brother, nephew and 17-year-old daughter that he loved them and was proud of them.
He ended the note "Shap Shap".
Phungula's sister Edith said he had not seemed out of sorts and she was not sure why he would have taken his life.
"I saw him at church on Sunday and he seemed okay."
But other family members said Phungula had told friends of the trouble the journalist had landed him in.
"We tried calling Mpho but he hung up, we realised he was not acting normally," Irene said. "We are not blaming eNews, we just want Mpho to explain why he [Phungula] killed himself," Irene said.
Nephew Nhlakanipho told The Times that Phungula had "seemed nervous" over the last couple of days, but that he was not one of the so-called criminals featured on eNews.
"Lucky wasn't on TV, he was not one of the men interviewed. Mpho told Lucky to organise two people to go on television. Lucky didn't want anything to do with breaking the law. He always told me to stay in school and behave. I think he was nervous because of everything that was happening," he said.
The journalist could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Police say they will investigate "all possible avenues" that led to the suicide.
Makhubela told The Times at the Jabulani police station: "We believe that he [Phungula] might be one of the two men who appeared in the e.tv footage."
Police were searching for the second man interviewed.
Hawks spokesman Musa Zondi, said police were on the hunt for the second "criminal", but "if the man who killed himself was just the source, like e.tv said, who are the other two criminals?"
Zondi said there was doubt about whether there were, in fact, two "criminals" or just one, despite the channel stating there were two.
Government and media commentators were yesterday divided in their opinions about eNews's handling of the story.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the ANC insisted the channel should have handed over the criminals to police.
Media analyst Professor Anton Harber said: "There are two questions we have to ask. Was eNews wise in airing the story; was there enough public interest to merit treating criminals in this way and giving them the platform? That is debatable . and I'm not sure it was altogether wise.
"Then there is the question of the reaction of the authorities and the subpoenaing of the journalists. I think that we are looking to attack the messenger."
Mthethwa and national police commissioner Bheki Cele lambasted the channel, saying it was justifying the interests of and harbouring criminals.
On Monday, Lakaje and eNews group news editor Ben Said were summonsed to court under a section of the Criminal Procedure Act used to compel unco-operative witnesses to give evidence.
Media specialists slammed the move, saying it breached the principles of press freedom.
Click here to read the full report, posted on timeslive.co.za.