Friday, February 8, 2013

New Age's Moegsien Williams & a Question of Morality


Dear South African Newspaper Readers,
         I want to share this with you although it concerns a question of morality I would love Moegsien Williams to answer.
         Last year Williams became the 4th editor of the fledgling and controversial, two year old New Age national, daily newspaper.  It is owned by the Gupta family which has been accused of benefiting substantially from their links with President Jacob Zuma and the ANC Government.
         It is keeping its circulation figures secret so it evidently has nothing to brag about and needs all the help it can get.
         It claims to focus on the positive side of news and to only make constructive criticism of our leaders. Could this be the definition of a government lap dog?  
         Ryland Fisher, the New Age editor who resigned after just 17 months to be replaced by Williams, said this of him: He is a respected name in South African journalism and it says something about the New Age that they can attract a person of his calibre.
         He certainly has a long and distinguished career on papers that would have been more likely to attack the South African government than to praise it. He has been the Editor in Chief of The Star, the flagship of the Independent Newspaper Group, and he was also in the hot seat at the Cape Argus, the Cape Times and the Pretoria News. His other achievements include being Chairman of the International Press Institute and Vice Chairman of the South African Editor’s Forum.
         With that kind of background it is hardly surprising that he was a member of the Press Council’s task team that last year compiled a 98 page report ostensible to improve South African journalism.
         But its real purposed appeared to be to tweak the existing Press Council’s mechanism so that the newspaper industry could go on policing itself in the face of mounting pressure from the Government to replace it with a statutory, media appeals tribunal.
         Not having read the report I can only assume that one of its aims was to also try and maintain the utmost integrity among journalists.
         So in view of Williams’ vast experience of newspapers and being an adviser to the Press Council, the question I want to ask him is this: If a freelance journalist submits a story to a paper he is editing, does he think it's morally right to print it under the byline of a member of his own staff?
         A couple of years ago The Star, which Williams was editing at the time, carried splash after splash about the horrific deeds of orthopaedic surgeon Dr Wynne Lieberthal. It was a huge story that I knew something about.
         I was a journalist, turned private business investigator, who looked into the doctor’s nefarious activities long before the stories about him broke in the media. My inquiries related to a life insurance scam so I had thoroughly researched the doctor.
         And having once worked for The Star as a reporter I gave it a report about Lieberthal, which was a development the paper had not yet cover.

        The story was used quite big but not with my byline on it. It was credited to a Star reporter who had done a lot of the previous reports on Lieberthal.

         My name was not mentioned anywhere as the author.

         I protested to the News Editor and other high up members of the staff to no avail. Eventually I emailed Williams complaining that his paper had ‘hijacked my story.’
         I got no reply from him. A senior editor merely assured me that I would still get paid for my efforts, but no apology of any kind was forthcoming.
         It would be nice if Mr Williams would now tell us all if this is the kind of morality he will be following at the New Age and whether he will continue his publication’s stated policy of only recording the positive side of life and only publishing constructive criticism of our leaders?
         Regards,
         Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman

Note: I emailed this to Williams before I posted it and invited him to make any comments he wished. But as was the case when his paper hijacked my story I got no reply. It seems when journalists are in a corner they are as likely to remain silent as anybody else.

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