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CAPE TOWN — The problem with publicly riding the high horse of newspaper journalism ethics, as Independent Newspapers CEO Dr Iqbal Survé so readily does, is that just one journalist doing basic ethical fact checking can bring you tumbling down. This spectacularly seems to be the case here, where Ed Herbst, a solid journalist of the old school who fought tooth and nail against the propagandistic capture of the SABC, both while employed there and now, debunks yet another grandiose Survé claim. This is that the captured Cape Times, a once-proud opponent of the apartheid regime, is a five-times winner of a prestigious global award for excellent front page spreads. It is no such thing, according to Herbst, who quotes the cited awarding company, Newseum, as saying all it does is simply show how various news organisations around the world report the day’s events. Nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of their products. What troubles me is that people I once worked with and got along with, are willing participants in this apparent public deception. Sure, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, but hell, there must be a limit! Even if you’re blinded by ideology, surely you abide by the basic tenets of your profession? – Chris Bateman
By Ed Herbst*
For the past year the Cape Times has run a series of front-page articles claiming that an international media organisation, Newseum, has rated the front page of the Iqbal Survé-owned newspaper as among the best in the world.
- On 22 January this year the headline was Cape Times scoops another top honour and Dr Survé said: “First of all, congratulations to the editor and the editorial team at the Cape Times for having put together a newspaper front page which has been regarded as one of the top 10 in the world at The Newseum for the third time in a year.”
- On 10 February this year the Cape Times headline was Fifth Cape Times nod at the Newseum in US and editor Aneez Salie said: “It is really heartening that the honouring of our front pages by the Newseum, five now, has proven to be no flash in the pan.“In fact, many papers here and abroad are adopting our style, which is very humbling.“It also negates the efforts of those who sought to rubbish the change in ownership, leadership and ethos at the Cape Times and Independent Newspapers, who predicted we would fall.
- On 20 July the Cape Times headline read Cape Times rated among world’s top 10 again by Newseum and Aneez Salie said: “We are thrilled at this latest international honour for the Cape Times. It is a direct result of a transformed ownership, leadership and ethos. Clearly, we now have a world-class team.“Being recognised consistently as among the very best in the world is testimony to what transformation from apartheid-colonialism can achieve in the media and everywhere else.“It also makes a nonsense of the persistent and racist attacks on us by those who defend colonialism and who ban newspapers who refuse to be lapdogs.”
The above-mentioned article was sent to Newseum with a question: What was the criterion which has resulted in the Cape Times front page being repeatedly selected as one of the best in the world as the front page banner headline Cape Times rated among world’s top 10 again by Newseum stridently proclaimed?
Back came the somewhat puzzled response from Michael Bateman, Senior Online Producer with Newseum:
Thank you for your interest in the Newseum’s Today’s Front Pages exhibit. We display front pages from around the world every day. By putting a newspaper on display, we are not selecting it for its quality, we are simply showing how various news organizations around the world report the day’s events.
So much for ‘Being recognised consistently as among the very best in the world’.
So much for the vaunted ‘transformed ownership, leadership and ethos’.
So much for the attack on ‘…those who defend colonialism and who ban newspapers who refuse to be lapdogs.’ – a clear reference to Helen Zille.
So will the Cape Times publish an apology for misleading its readers with the Newseum front page leads, for once again, yet again, misleading its readers with its now systemic Fake News articles?
Here are some recent Newspaper House Fake News examples:
Cape Argus fabricated a front page lead Politicsweb 20/6/2017
Fake News alert: Cape Argus misreports again Politicsweb 19/7/2017
Cape Times and Cape Argus repeat fake claim Politicsweb 28/7/2017
Former staff members at Newspaper House, headquarters of the Cape Times and the Cape Argus in Cape Town’s CBD, tell me that there has been, since the Sekunjalo takeover, an absolute obsession with smearing Helen Zille.
For much of last year the Cape Times and the Cape Argus, fabricated a series of Fake News articles about Zille employing a ‘spook’ with a ‘grabber’ using, it would have us believe, the money of taxpayers to do so. It was all a pack of lies as the SA Press Council ruled but, hey folks, this is how the ANC rolls.
The standard practice when an ethical newspaper disadvantages someone with a report which is not factual is to publish an apology of roughly the same size and on the same page that the original report appeared and the apology should outline what in the original article was wrong.
On 20 June the front page Fake News front page article published by Cape Argus editor Aziz Hartley was headlined Public Protector considers Zille probe and the online version was headlined Breach of ethics claim against Zille. It comprised 515 words.
Hartley’s apology the next day totalled a massive 41 words in two sentences and it did not even extend to Zille the courtesy of using her Christian name.
The standard exculpatory excuse from Newspaper House for such dishonest journalism is that an ‘error was introduced in the editing process’ or the falsehood is attributed to a ‘printer’s gremlin’.
Which raises the question – why did the sub-editors not pick up the error?
The answer, obviously, is that sub-editors with decades of experience and institutional knowledge have either left because they were not prepared to work in a news environment they came to regard as corrupt, or they were dismissed for refusing to obey orders in relation to such news practices or they were retrenched in a cost-cutting exercise that would not be necessary in a profitable company.
In a letter to his staff, shortly after the Sekunjalo takeover of the Independent group of newspapers, Iqbal Survé strongly emphasised that, on his watch, ethical journalism was an absolute requirement and no deviation from this would be tolerated:
All our stories must adhere to the highest standards required.
This means they have to be balanced, fair and accurate. What they can’t be is one sided, inaccurate and prejudicial.
Six months later, interviewed by the editor of the Cape Times, Aneez Salie he emphasised this point again:
There was only one set of instructions: be objective, fair, balanced and give everyone’s point of view.
A year later, an interview with Survé was published in his newspapers which was headlined Best safeguard of editorial freedom is to be fair and balanced.
With regard to repeatedly published comments by Dr Iqbal Survé about his courageous, principled and unyielding commitment to the truth and to ethical journalism in the newspapers he owns and to his constant condemnation of rival media companies – Biznews, the Mail & Guardian in a truly bizarre telephonic interview, Naspers and the Times Media Group – one is reminded of the plaintive question by CNN’s White House reporter, Zachary Wolf, about Fake News exponent extraordinaire, Donald Trump:
“What does he mean when he says words?”
- Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.