Sunday, March 20, 2016


Dear Bongani Siqoko Editor of the Sunday Times,
          When you are trying to bring down South Africa’s President and generally picking on the rogues and incompetents of this world it’s incumbent upon you to ensure that your paper’s reputation for accuracy and fairness is as immaculate as reasonably possible.
          But you can’t do this if the inadequacies of your staff are such that apologies become a regular feature of your paper.
          Since I began following this “sorry story” your paper has carried an apology of some kind almost every single week since  20 December last year(http:sunday times aiming for junk status)
          Most of the biggest ones were forced on your paper after a Press Ombudsman ruling while the less prominent ones were made voluntarily.
          A disturbing thread that runs through far too many of them is that your reporters don’t get both sides of the story and yet your paper is still prepared to publish them.
          Surely you must have been told in the early stages of your career that getting both sides of the story is an absolute must as it is one of the basic rules of journalism.
By not doing this your paper not only increases the risk of making a serious error but it also stands accused of being grossly unfair
          Then too it bolsters the old saying: “Don’t get the other side in case it spoils a good story.”
6 March: Got Gordhan's wife's
name wrong this time
          I accept that it takes a bit of time before complaints to the Ombudsman Johan Retief are finalised so the subject of his recent rulings can’t necessarily be laid at your door as you only became the Sunday Times Editor in November last year.
          Still I assume you must have taken note of them. You were already in the hot seat on 20 December when the following admission was included in your paper’s apology ordered by the Ombudsman after a complaint from Previn Gordhan the Minister of Finance.
          “We accept we were in breach of the Press Code for failing to seek Gordhan’s comment ahead of publication.”
          Having accepted that, your paper keeps on doing it.
          On 14 February in one of your increasingly common Matter of Fact voluntary apologies there was another admission that the person involved “was not asked to comment.”
          It was the same story on 21 February when the ironically named Matter of Fact told us that you had not given the person concerned “an opportunity to respond to the allegation.”
          And today 20 March the headline on Page 2 cries out “Ombudsman finds we failed to let parliament reply.”
          Even your lead story last week headed How Gutptas shopped for new minister showed that not getting both sides of the story appears to have become habitual on your paper.
          Alright you got away with it this time and only you and the reporters concerned will know if it was good luck or careful planning.
          As you know this sensational political splash was based on nothing more than a series of unnamed “sources” - a very dubious form of journalism. It told readers that members of the Gupta family had offered the Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas the Finance Minister’s job held by Nhlanhla Nene.
             The significance being that the Gupta family are known to be very close to President Jacob Zuma and the meeting when this was supposed to have taken place occurred days before Nene was fired by Zuma.

          Your story again showed up the calibre of your own reporters by admitting that your paper was beaten to it by the London Financial Times and this is what sparked your interest in it that week.
          Your paper claimed the controversial meeting took place on 27 November last year, so while your ace scribes were sleeping the Financial Times was digging up the dirt on your turf from half a world away.
          In the old days of Fleet Street journalists got instantly dismissed for missing a big one like this.
13 March: In the Business
section. You would think
that there they would know
the difference between dollars
and rands 

          To get back to my original complaint; the Gupta story revealed that “numerous attempts to get comment from Jonas were unsuccessful yesterday.”  That could only have meant it was on Saturday, your publication day.
          That clause in the Press Council’s Code of Conduct was conveniently forgotten and like your paper has done often recently the story was put to bed without anybody speaking to the Government Minister who was the main focus of the report.
          If as you claimed you were piggy backing on a Financial Times story why was it that your reporters left it to Saturday, the last minute as it were, to try and get hold of Jonas.
          Some cynics might have said your reporters never spoke to Jonas in case he spoilt the big story of the week, like all the people that were named, by denying that he had ever been made the controversial offer.
          You would have thought that by having three of them Thanduxolo Jika, Qaanitah Hunter and Sabelo Skiti on the job at least one of them would have been able to locate Jonas.
          As it turned out a few days after your report was published Jonas publicly admitted that the story that the Guptas had made him the offer was true.
          I wonder if the shareholders of Times Media, the owners of the Sunday Times, are happy with this lotto journalism. It’s lucky when you hit the jackpot, but when it’s played in a national Sunday paper with millions of readers it can cost a fortune in defamation damages when the wrong number comes up.
          Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman who gives the other side.        
P.S. See also: http:press councils special protection

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