The Media Mill, 7 Quince Street, Milpark, Johannesburg

Media Ethics and Credibility Inquiry

ABOUT THE INQUIRY

Retired judge Kathleen Satchwell released and handed over the report of the Inquiry into Media Credibility and Ethics  to the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) during a virtual event on 18 January 2021.

The Satchwell Report written by Judge Satchwell and her fellow panel members, veteran journalist and author Rich Mkhondo and award-winning journalist Nikiwe Bikitsha was commissioned by SANEF on 22 June 2019 at the organisation’s annual AGM.

The Inquiry was proactively set up following the events surrounding the publication and subsequent retraction of a series of stories by the Sunday Times between 2011 and 2016, and public debates about reporting in newsrooms across the country. The terms of reference of the inquiry were to look at possibilities of ethical lapses across the industry and to find solutions to enhance quality, ethical journalism.

Please read the submissions / complaints made to Judge Satchwell as regards the report:

Errata

 Ms Pearlie Joubert

The use of quotation marks around the word friendship [“friendship”] in paragraph 8.9 of the Report has mischaracterized the professional association of Ms Pearlie Joubert with Mr Johan van Loggerenberg. The Panel wishes to express its regrets to Ms Joubert. This paragraph has now been corrected.

The Panel notes that Ms Joubert resigned from the Sunday Times in part because she did not want to be associated with the narrative being pursued by that publication.

Mr Paul O’ Sullivan

The Panel has received a detailed series of complaints from Mr Paul O’Sullivan dated 26 January 2021 and 27 January 2021. These concern his interactions with the Panel and the account of these presented in the Report; his relationships with Afriforum and the SAPS; his professional status and that of his organization. The full text of Mr O’Sullivan’s submission , together with the documentation he attached, may be consulted on the links below:

Paul O’Sullivan – 1

Paul O’Sullivan- 2

Mr Johan van Loggerenberg

The Panel has received a detailed series of complaints dated 19 January 2021 from Mr Johann van Loggerenberg. These concern the chronology and nomenclature of the High Risk Investigations Unit; the dating and import of reports on the so-called ‘rogue unit’ in both City Press and the Sunday Times; the findings of the ‘Khanyane panel’; the possible genesis of the Sunday Times stories; and the editorial role of Rob Rose. The full text of Mr van Loggerenberg’s submission may be consulted.

 Johann van Loggerenberg- 3

Dr Iqbal Surve

The Panel has received a complaint from Dr I. Surve, Executive Chairman of Independent Media, that neither he nor his private office, executive management or editorial leadership received any requests for consultation with Dr Surve, as stated in paragraph 9.94 of the SANEF Report.

The Panel stands by the contents of this paragraph.

Further, the Panel notes that SANEF publicized the establishment and work of the Inquiry and encouraged all persons and institutions interested in or committed to issues pertaining to ethics and standards of practice in the media industry to communicate with the Inquiry which, regrettably, the Independent Group failed to do so.

The National Association of Broadcasters

The panel received a submission from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The panel was not able to deal with the issues covered in the submission/ complaint as the Panel report was written before the arbitration mentioned was resolved. Please see link to the NAB’s submission.

2021 – NAB Submission on Media Ethics Credibility Report -Sanef_

Mail & Guardian

A complaint was received from the Acting editor-in chief of the Mail & Guardian (M&G) against SANEF, as publishers of the SANEF Report in relation to paragraph 4.62 of the Report which, summarized by the complainant, is understood to be “a claim that the political editor of the  M&G at the time wrote favourable stories out of self-interest. There is also the implication that the M&G did nothing about this until another publication published a story about the issue.”

Most seriously there is a complaint that the claims in this paragraph 4.62 of the Report were not tested by aright of reply being given to the M&G. It is correct that the Panel did not approach the M&G with the information made available to the Inquiry and offer the Mail and Guardian an opportunity to respond with its knowledge of and understanding of the issues dealt with in paragraph 4.62 of the Report.

This failure to offer a right of reply to the Mail & Guardian is an egregious failure of fairness and ethical practice in any profession and most particularly in the case of an inquiry purporting to examine ethics in the media practice which includes the right of reply to be offered to subjects of journalism. There can be no excuse for such failure. That the Report was written during the ‘lockdown’ occasioned by the Covid19 pandemic and under logistical constraints, some of which are set out in the Report, cannot justify such a glaring lapse in conscientious and objective preparation.

This failure cannot be laid at the door of SANEF which may be the initiator and publisher of the Report but bears no responsibility for the content. The Panel is solely responsible for the Report and the content thereof and the Panel tenders its unreserved apology to the M&G.

The Mail & Guardian has responded to the substance of paragraph 4.62 as follows:

“The M&G suspended Mr Letsoalo after coming into possession of the draft of an investigation into tenders awarded by the Passenger Rail Authority of South Africa (PRASA). This investigation, done by Werksmans attorneys, had at that point in 2018 not been formally released.

When questions were first raised in 2016, then editor Verashni Pillay, concluded that Mr Letsoalo was not in breach of the M&G editorial code in that he disclosed the dealings that underpinned the allegations against him. To be clear, after an extensive interrogation of his work over a number of years, there was no evidence that his prior business dealings with PRASA had in any way influenced the reporting on the utility.

Mr Letsoalo was however, told to not report on PRASA, or commission any articles on the utility, because of his wife’s continuing involvement with the utility. Given the seriousness of the subsequent Werksmans report, although it raised no new facts, Mr Letsoalo was suspended to give time for an independent investigation. This is in keeping with the M&G’s desire to hold ethical journalism to the core of what it does.

As such, the claim that “on publication of this story in Daily Maverick” Mr Letsoalo was suspended is categorically wrong.  When the DM first approached the M&G with questions, we noted that the issue had been dealt with before. We were also not sure of the veracity of the questions, given that they came from a private gmail account and in the name of someone unknown in this industry. We were as yet unaware of the finalised Werksmans report. This was then leaked to the M&G. it was on receipt of this that a suspension was instituted. All of this happened before the DM article was published.”

The Panel has responded:

The Panel notes the publication in the Mail & Guardian of 30 October 2018 under the headline “Mail & Guardian suspends political editor” of an article reporting on the results of the investigation conducted by Werksmans into the tender awarded to a joint venture that included a company of which Letsoalo was managing director. Werksmans concluded that such tender should not have been granted and also noted that Letsoalo had commissioned an article regarding PRASA. An investigation conducted by the then editor of the Mail & Guardian, Verashni Pillay, had found that Letsoalo had declared his business interests and was therefore not in breach of the editorial code.

The Panel further notes the publication in the Daily Maverick on 31 October 2018 of an article headed “The Mail & Guardian has launched a fresh investigation into allegations of unethical behaviour by one of  its senior journalists” which refers stated that there was evidence suggesting that Letsoalo was “not telling the whole truth when he claimed that he disclosed his business interests during the period 2010 to 2012” and reported that the current editor-in-chief Khadija Patel had ordered an independent investigation into the matter pending the outcome of which Letsoalo was suspended. The earlier investigation conducted by Pillay and Tromp had taken place after Werksmans attorneys had informed the Mail & Guardian
that Letsoalo had been managing director of a company involved in a joint venture in what had been found by Werksmans to have been an irregularly awarded tender. Pillay informed Daily Maverick that the “we were concerned that PRASA and Werksmans were trying to unduly influence our newsroom and prevent reporting on the costs of the investigation”. Pillay confirmed that subsequent to her and Tromp’s investigation Lestoalo was “asked to no longer write about PRASA or commission any work from staff or freelancers regarding the organization.”

On 3rd December 2018 a ruling by the Press Council, reported as Matuma Letsoalo vs Daily Maverick, referred to complaints laid by Letsoalo arising from the article of 31 October by reason of the ongoing investigation of Letsoalo. These complaints were dismissed solely by reason of the ongoing investigation which was now ordered by the new editor-in-chief, Khadija Patel.

On 12 December 2018, News24.com headlined an article “M&G editor sacked for breaching code of ethics” which stated that the Mail and Guardian confirmed that Letsoalo’s employment had been terminated. The online platform of the Mail and Guardian had reported that “the termination followed an independent investigation done into allegations of a conflict of interest. The M&G followed the recommendations of the investigator, by instituting a disciplinary hearing during which Letsoalo had legal representation”.

Based on the reportage of the Mail and Guardian itself and the quotations from its own former editor, Verashni Pillay, the Panel has no basis upon which it could correct paragraph 4.62 in the SANEF Report which summarises all the above events.

Once again, the Panel apologises to the Mail & Guardian for failure to approach them for its version of the story which is now set out in full.

Please see the full complaint from the Mail & Guardian below:

MG Complaint

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    Background

    SANEF called for the launch of the Inquiry in October 2018. See https://sanef.org.za/sanef-to-take-steps-after-sunday-times-apologies/. This was in the wake of the apologies made by the Sunday Times about the Rogue Unit and other stories. SANEF believed that it was an important moment for the industry to take time to examine ethics breaches and state and corporate capture of journalists across the industry – not just at the Sunday Times.

    Terms of Reference

    1. The purpose of the Inquiry shall include:

    a. Investigation of allegations of ethical breaches on the part of the media industry in South Africa and those obstacles to accountable and credible media practice in a democratic environment.

    b. Consideration of the occasion, nature, identity, reasons and impetus for any such breaches as well as solutions to the current problems confronting professional and ethical journalist practice.

    c. The inquiry shall consult with and consider the function and actions of media companies and owners, political parties and national/provincial/ local government, corporate and small businesses, advertisers and sponsors, civil society/community organizations/non-governmental organizations/members of the public as well as editors and journalists and purveyors of online information.

    d. The Inquiry shall have regard to the content and implementation of relevant Codes of Professional Ethics and best practice, both nationally and internationally, in contributing to professional and ethical journalistic practice locally and abroad.

    e. SANEF does not seek to apportion blame  or culpability  on the part  of individual journalists or media entities but seeks to  strengthen adherence to    ethical codes and practices within the media industry, enhance public confidence in the practice of journalism in this  country and  secure the role of  accountable, trustworthy, informative media free from manipulation by  partisan or secret interests in this  developing democracy.

    f. The scope of this Inquiry shall encompass broadcast, print and online publications including commercial and community media. The Inquiry shall not duplicate the enquiry into political interference in the South African Broadcasting Corporation but may refer to and rely thereupon where necessary. SANEF notes however that the report is still outstanding.

    The independent panel will be interviewing media ethics experts and academics, media owners, editors and journalists and further members of the public and interested parties including civil society stakeholders, political parties, government departments, business organisations and so forth.

    2. The process of the Inquiry

    The Inquiry shall, in its discretion, consult with all interested parties and stakeholders including by means of written and oral submissions, private interviews, use of the SANEF website, and such other channels as are appropriate.  All engagement shall be voluntary and shall, where requested, be conducted on a confidential basis.

    The Inquiry shall be supported by SANEF, its members and infrastructure which shall provide such assistance as may be required.

    3. The Report

    The Panel shall prepare draft(s) and a final report with its findings and recommendations to address the SANEF concerns of the media industry.  The report shall be delivered on or before the 30 April 2020 subject to such extensions as to time as may be required.

    4. SANEF Conference on Journalistic Professionalism and Ethical Practice within the Media Industry

    SANEF intends convening a conference of all media practitioners, stakeholders and interested parties during 2020.

    The purpose of the SANEF Conference shall be to discuss and debate:

    a. The state of the South African democracy and the difficulties and challenges confronting implementation of the promise of the South African Constitution.

    b. The role of the media – print, broadcasting and online – in strengthening the South African democracy.

    c. The challenges to appropriate, responsible, reliable, accurate, accountable, credible fulfilment of the functions of the media industry generally and in South Africa in particular.

    d. The Report of the SANEF Inquiry and any recommendations contained therein.

    e. Adoption of an action plan for the continued strengthening of the functioning   of the media industry with focus on enhancement of professional and industry best practice, strengthened implementation of ethical codes and protection from manipulation by partisan interests.

    Please find the terms of reference of the Inquiry here.