16 October 2018
The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) met today with the management of Tiso Blackstar in the wake of the deeply disturbing developments in the Sunday Times newsroom.
While, SANEF welcomes the Sunday Times apologies, we acknowledge that the breaches of editorial standards have undermined public trust spreading beyond the publication itself, undermining the credibility of journalism for the public good.
While we applaud the editor Bongani Siqoko for owning up to the serious editorial lapses at the Sunday Times, that have had a devastating impact on many people’s lives, we believe this can only be the first step in rebuilding and regaining the public trust.
This is a moment for individual media houses to seriously introspect and review editorial systems to ensure that this debacle is not repeated.
SANEF will institute an independent investigation into issues of editorial integrity – details of the investigation will be revealed once a contractor is in place.
We will also be rolling out a major training campaign on media ethics for journalists.
We also note that the Sunday Times apologies have again led to calls for a Media Appeals Tribunal.
SANEF reiterates its opposition to a state-controlled system to regulate the media because of its inherent danger to media freedom.
We have opted for the Press Council, which is now an independent, co-regulation system, headed by retired judges. We believe the Council has proved effective with a quicker process of adjudication than that of the courts. Also, it is a cheaper process.
Over the years it has been overhauled to respond to public complaints.
Coincidentally complaints against the Sunday Times were laid with the Press Council. Below are the Council’s rulings on the three complaints:
- Johann van Loggerenberg vs Sunday Times (16 January 2016)
- Pravin Gordhan vs Sunday Times (15 December 2015)
- Ivan Pillay vs Sunday Times (16 December 2015)
All three rulings can be found on the Press Council’s website.
It is important to note that the Press Council, in terms of its mandate, dealt with these complaints and forced the paper to apologize before the recent October apologies.
Brown envelope journalism
In another separate matter, SANEF is concerned by allegations that there are journalists receiving bribes from newsmakers to stop them from publishing certain stories.
This is in violation of the press code that binds journalists to practice ethical journalism at all times, reporting the truth and being motivated only by the public interest.
We hereby call on all those with credible information and evidence of journalists accepting bribes to approach the public advocate at the Press Council, Joe Latakgomo immediately.
The press code states very clearly that journalists must avoid conflict of interest. The code reads:
The media shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the media’s independence and professionalism.
The media shall not accept a bribe, gift or any other benefit where this is intended or likely to influence coverage.
The media shall indicate clearly when an outside organisation has contributed to the cost of newsgathering.
Editorial material shall be kept clearly distinct from advertising and sponsored content.
On payment of information the codes sates:
The media shall avoid shady journalism in which informants are paid to induce them to give the information, particularly when they are criminals — except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and the payment is necessary for this to be done.
We expect journalists to abide by the code at all times and we expect editors to continuously ensure that training on the press code is done and journalists understand their obligations and responsibilities.
For more information please contact:
Mahlatse Mahlase – SANEF Chairperson
083 399 2852
Mary Papayya – SANEF Media Freedom Chairperson
082 379 4957
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director
082 926 6404