Monday, December 11, 2017


Dear Newspaper readers, 
Jacques Pauw
          The Times editorial describes the Sunday Independent Editor Steven Motale’s attempts to expose Jacques Pauw’s "sources" for his book The President’s Keepers as a “disgrace to journalism.”
          Journalists have increasingly based stories on anonymous “sources,” which may or may not be real. A glaring example of how dicey this can be was the Sunday Times’ expose` about the so called rogue unit in the South African Revenue Service which was followed by a whole page apology (lotto journalism). As part of this possible, eating humble pie newspaper record, the Editor Bongani Siqoko admitted that one of the reasons they got things wrong was that they "overly relied on our sources." And that paper is in the same stable as The Times
            Let’s face it by attributing disclosures to so called “sources” a story can be made far more sensational than it actually is. So it’s hardly a disgrace to question their validity in Pauw’s book which has a very liberal sprinkling of them.
          The big problem arises when the words of these ghost contacts have to be substantiated in court. Will a person, who was not prepared to have his name publicly associated with an expose` of this kind, change his mind when it comes to a sensational court case, where he can be cross-examined and possibly be caught out in a lie?
          And if in defence of a story you have to make all kinds of excuses as to why your “sources” cannot come to give evidence that speaks for itself.
          Relying on “sources” to attack the reputation of the well healed can be a very risky business unless you have other much more concrete evidence to back them up.  Then it can be argued that if this other evidence it so good, why do you need to fortify it with quotes that can as likely as not be made up?
          Another problem is that journalists are never supposed to reveal the identity of their “sources” for their protection and some have actually gone to prison for this.
         Cynics might say that noble gestures of this kind are not to shield any helpful contact, but the reputation of the journalist himself, who could hardly confess to having no source at all.
          Newspaper journalism is very much going for the big one; the glory of having the splash that leads the front page, so the temptation is always there to sensationalise without the necessary facts. And that’s where untraceable “sources” can be very handy.
          It’s one of those situations where in theory nobody but the journalist himself will ever know the truth, because it can’t be proved one way or the other.     
          It’s clear that the "disgraceful" aspect of what Motale’s paper did was that it questioned the work of a journalist. Heaven forbid that journalists eat journalists; it’s just not done old boy, certainly not in very parochial South Africa.
          If that book had been written by a non-journalist it would have been fair game.
          The Time’s editor Andrew Trench and all the other critical journalists in South Africa have been silent for years while the The Citizen, a Johannesburg based daily tabloid distributed nationally, has been aiding and abetting shysters to rip off poor and uneducated blacks with advertisements that even its editor agreed were not believable.
          They are all about "doctors" who can enlarge penises in five minute; win you the lottos and so on.
          Surely this silence is a much bigger “disgrace to journalism” than questioning Pauw’s book which only directly affects wealthy politicians and their associates.

          By coincidence Steven Motale had just become editor of The Citizen, before moving on to the Sunday Independent, when I wrote my first post about these money spinners that bring in an estimated R40 000 a day in the smalls section of that paper. Although he conceded they were not believable he said he thought the paper should still carry them with a “caution”.
          I would not have expected him to be able to dictate advertising policy to the Caxton Group, the owners of this paper. Money evidently overrode morality when it came to these advertisements.

          My first post The Citizen Aladdin’s cave of unbelievable adverts (unbelieveable) appeared early in 2013. After that I tried to get the South African Editor’s Forum, the Advertising Standards Authority and the since disbanded Print and Digital Media organisation of which both Caxton and Times Media were members to put pressure on The Citizen to get it to stop carrying these ads, but I got no joy from any of these pillars of rectitude.
          I had obviously hit the bullseye dead centre because after promoting this post on Twitter I was blocked by The Citizen. It has a circulation of 70 000 mostly black readers many of whom believe in this mumbo jumbo that is punted in theses ads.
          It has a checkered history having been founded in 1976 by the National Party apartheid government with money from a secret government slush fund to promote the party among English speakers. In 1998 it was bought by the Caxton Group, publishers of newspapers and magazines as well as being the country’s largest commercial printers.
          Terry Moolman its co-founder is the Group’s CEO.
          So Andrew Trench how about dealing with this real disgrace to South Africa’s newspapers in the next editorial in The Times. That might just achieve something far more beneficial than attacking another editor for legitimately questioning the validity
of the “sources” in Jacques Pauw’s sensational book The President’s Keepers.
          Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman, who has always believed that if an informant is not prepared to stand up and be counted, he or she should not be given the protection of a “sources” label in any newspaper story. He must also emphasise that he hasn’t a clue whether or not Pauw’s “sources” are genuine. For that we have to rely on his impeccable reputation as an investigative journalist of long standing. What Jon has written here about “sources” are his general observations about this kind of reporting and don’t refer to any particular person.

P.S. My sources tell me that there is not a chance in hell that any South African newspaper journalist will criticise The Citizen for what it is doing. It could just affect their future job prospects in a very small market.

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