SANEF Commission: Now is the time to come forward

Ed Herbst writes on all those who could make valuable contributions

The SANEF Commission – now is the time

11 September 2019

In October 2018 Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko apologised for the Sars "rogue unit", Cato Manor "death squad", and Zimbabwean renditions articles which forensic investigator Paul O’ Sullivan described as the start of the Gupta state capture project.

As a consequence of this and in the same month, the South African National Editor’s Forum (SANEF) called for an inquiry into unethical news practices.

At its AGM seven months later, SANEF announced that it had convened a commission of inquiry headed by retired judge Kathleen Satchwell. Nikiwe Bikitsha and Rich Mkhondo were announced as her co-commissioners.

The commission feels that it should concentrate on unethical news practices in newspaper journalism because the horrifying abuses which culminated in the attempts to murder Suna Venter have been adequately analysed during the televised hearings in parliament in 2017, in Foeta Krige’s book The SABC8, in the investigation headed by Joe Thloloe and, currently, in the evidence before the Zondo commission.

Submissions on media capture and unethical news practices in the printed press should be emailed to [email protected] and they will be treated as confidential if so desired.

SANEF has already made a submission.

The deadline is November this year and a conference will be held in June next year to assist the newspaper profession in analysing the commission’s findings and in debating how benefit can be derived from them.

I believe it is incumbent upon everyone who values the role of the Fourth Estate in this country and who has experience of unethical newsroom practices to make submissions to the SANEF commission and I will certainly be doing so.

Others who come to mind in this regard are Pearlie Joubert and Max du Preez and Tony Weaver and Helen Zille and Gill Moodie and Dougie Oakes and Sam Sole and Brendan Seery.

I would ask the commission to take cognisance of testimony which is already in the public domain and here I refer to the evidence before the Mpati Commission of former AYO executives, Siphiwe Nodwele and Kevin Hardy. Hopefully, they too will make submissions.

Valuable contributions can come from those who were dismissed or had columns terminated for ideological or political reasons and one hopes that people like John Scott and Wally Mbhele and Azad Essa will also write to the commission.

I would certainly like to see submissions from Chad de Matos who suffered grievously as a result of reporting which I regard as evil and from a relative of his, Mark Povey, who made submissions to the SA Press Council calling for a revision of its procedures.

Here is an extract from the Sunday Times which I believe has relevance in the investigation of the SANEF commission into unethical newspaper practices:

Professor Bongani Mayosi’s soul was “vandalised” by #Fees Must fall protestors, his sister said at the cardiologist’s funeral yesterday.

Ncumisa Mayosi told more than 2000 mourners in Cape Town that the depression that led to her brother’s suicide nine days ago began when he became dean of health sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

He was hardly two weeks in his new position and the protests broke out”, she said. “The vitriolic nature of the students and their do or die attitude vandalised his soul and unravelled him. Their personal insults and abuse cut him to the core, were offensive to his values and were the opposite of everything he was about.”

#FeesMustFall to blame say Mayosi family Sunday Times 5/8/2018

The dissertation by UCT honours student, Ricky Stoch, has singular reference to the newspaper campaign supporting the Fallists and their destructive rampage at UCT – which culminated in the death by his own hand of Professor Mayosi.

I believe it is incumbent upon the university to make its experience in this regard available to the SANEF commission.

Within the next few weeks Tafelberg will publish a book by Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield and I would ask them to submit their manuscript to the SANEF commission in its entirety.

The Zondo, Nugent and Mpati commissions have played a valuable role in bringing to public attention the damaging impact of state capture on our economy and the wellbeing of our citizens.

I believe that, in a media context, the SANEF commission can prove equally beneficial.

It is incumbent on those who earn or have earned a living by producing news content and who have experience of unethical news practices to bring this to the attention of the SANEF commission.

It is a truism that we get the government which we, as voters, deserve.

This is equally true of the Fourth Estate.

Now is the time.