Saturday, February 3, 2018

HOW THE SUNDAY TIME'S MORAL STANDING KEEPS DROPPING

Dear Bongani Siqoko Editor of the SundayTimes,
Anton Harber, journalism
professor
            You began you tenure in the hot seat in 2016 with a whole page apology for the lies your paper had been telling about the so called “rogue unit” at the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Alright I accept that this did not happen under your watch, but that did not excuse it.(lotto journalism)
            It clearly caused the downfall of your predecessor Phylicia Oppelt, who suddenly disappeared never to be heard of again?
            Subsequently I revealed that your Johannesburg based paper was once again employing Jim Jones, a known thief, as a freelance writer for your business section (Business Times). And when I asked you to undertake that this would never happen again you didn’t even have the courtesy to reply. (love affair with a crook)
            The latest serious indictment of your paper’s integrity has just appeared in your 28 January edition.
            A whole page (you never do these things by halves) on Cape Town’s drought problems headed Special Feature gave no hint to your readers that it was in fact a Department of Water Affairs advertisement paid for with the taxes of many of your readers. You hoodwinked them completely.
            The way it was written could not have given anyone the impression that it was anything else other than a genuine Sunday Times report by one of your journalists.
            What else would they have thought when they read “Another document given to the Sunday Times” etc?
            It was a huge puff for the African National Congress (ANC) government’s Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane.  As you know the national government is mandated to supply bulk water to the provinces which then have to distribute it.
            The issue is complicated because both the Western Cape Province and Cape Town are led by the Democratic Alliance (DA), much to the annoyance of the ANC.
            This advertisement in editorial clothing blamed the DA for “typically being at loggerheads with the ANC-led national Department of Water and Sanitation.” Above this the headline had another dig at the DA with “Water Minister tells DA finger-pointers to dry up.”
            While your paper was deceiving its readers with this no doubt very expensive (a couple of million at a guess) addition to your coffers, the worried people of Cape Town were holding thumbs that the projected April Day Zero, when the taps are scheduled to run dry, will not materialise.
            In the Daily Maverick Anton Harber slammed the paper you head for its deceit with some very strong language. And if anybody should know about newspaper ethics he should as the Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University.
            He wrote that your paper contravened “every principle of journalism, every code of conduct.” It could not get much worse than that yet he added that by not saying the page was sponsored it was a “dangerously misleading, politically-laden, one-sided, unfiltered opinion.”
Bongani Siqoko

            Asked for an explanation you did what so many of our political heads have been doing lately when grilled at various inquiries. Somebody else did it. The page was changed without your knowledge, you told Harber.
            You’ve got no excuse now. Unlike the “rogue unit” series this one happened when you were well and truly established in the editor’s chair
            Getting back to the edition of your paper that started this latest controversy it would seem that you are completely oblivious to threats to newspapers from social media and the internet. Finding something new for readers must be a nightmare for daily papers and even harder for ones like yours that only appear once a week.
            Surely that must make it even more imperative that your staff make a much greater effort to come up with something off beat so that as much as possible of your paper is not old hat when people get it on Sunday.
            There were 28 pages in the main part of the edition I am referring to and of these three were devoted to the Cape Town water crisis that had already been done to death for weeks. To compound this overkill the page that followed that controversial advertisement was broadly speaking an echo of the advertisement, this time as an actual report by your staff member Bobby Jordan. He presumably did not know about the skulduggery behind the “Urgent plans to avoid Day Zero” spread opposite his contribution.
            Then you also totally over did it with tributes to jazz great Hugh Masekela that took up the whole of pages 3, 15 and 16. He died on the Tuesday in the week that your paper was published so by the time the Sunday Times came out there must have been very little that had not yet been said about him in all forms of the media.
            Even your front page lead about how the Gupta brothers milked R220-million of government money earmarked to upgrade poor farmers in a dairy project had a touch of “Oh not that again”.
Mzilikazi wa Africa

            That too highlighted your paper’s dubious morality. Among the three names in the byline (using more than one journo to write so many of your stories shows a lack of confidence in their abilities and is tailor made for mistakes with one blaming the other) was that of Mzilikazi wa Africa, who was so discredited in Jacques Pauw’s  book The President’s Keepers.
            He was one of your three ace investigative reporters responsible for that SARS “rogue unit” fiasco that Pauw blamed for “helping Zuma’s keepers to destroy the finest law enforcement institution in the country.” (sources dilemma)
            In spite of this he is still on your investigative team apparently. He is the only one of the three still working for you. Like continuing to employ Jim Jones this shows your paper’s total lack of any acceptable standard which can only lead to more apologies and more people wondering if your paper is worth buying.
            As the old saying goes: You get judged by the company you keep.
            Your sister paper The Times that kept your group’s flag flying during the week was recently dumped in the rubbish bin as rising costs forced it to go digital. Do you know how well that’s doing now because I can not afford a lawyer to go on reading it? (online shocker)
            Could your paper be going the same way? Do you think that repeating stories that most people have already heard with hardly any new angle is the best recipe for selling newspapers in this digital age, when virtually everybody can be a reporter or a photographer and have their work sent around the world in seconds.
            Also if people lose faith in your paper’s ability to tell the truth what’s left? Fake news might keep you going, but not for long unless you happen to be Donald Trump.
            Regards,
            Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman who once worked for the Sunday Times in the days when the editor had this old fashioned idea: You got fired if you spiced up an expose` with fiction.
            

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