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INDABA Newsletter | September 2016

Press club condemns disruption of #OccupyLuthuliHouse briefing

The National Press Club has condemned the disruption of the #OccupyLuthuliHouse media briefing on Friday, 2 September as it is an infringement of media freedom and encroaches on our rights of freedom of expression.

Members of the ANC requested the club to have a press briefing to announce their #OccupyLuthuliHouse event using the press club forum. The briefing was disrupted by other ANC members who are part of the ANC Youth League Tshwane region, who rudely and aggressively demanded that the press briefing should be adjourned.

Members of the National Press Club, journalists and the ANC members who had called the briefing were intimidated and accused of being anti-revolutionary. The press club was accused of taking sides and they screamed at Jos Charle, press club exco member, who chaired the briefing.

Police were called in to diffuse the situation and the briefing could not continue.

Charle said the National Press Club had been caught in the crossfire between the #OccupyLuthuliHouse group and other ANC members.

The club continues to welcome all organisations to have newsworthy media briefings on its neutral platform.


Herman Scholtz

But he said so...

Journalists are often confronted with allegations that seem impossible to prove. We simply don't have the investigative powers of the police, for example, to get tangible proof or the proverbial smoking gun from sources.

The result is that the media often rely on on-the-record and off-the-record sources to confirm allegations. It might even be the most necessary evils of journalism, but it sometimes leads journalists astray.

A recent ruling by the Press Ombud speaks to this dilemma. Sunday Sun learned "reliably" – or as it turns out, not so reliably – that actor and television presenter Pearl Thusi bought her own engagement ring and pretended it was from her fiancĂ©, sports presenter Robert Marawa.

Sunday Sun proclaimed on its front page: 'Engaged to herself! – Robert's friends say Pearl's actions smack of desperation.'

According to the paper, three reliable but anonymous sources 'confirmed' the story. The insurmountable problem for the paper was that Thusi has an invoice from a very expensive Sandton jeweller made out in the name of Marawa.

Ombud Johan Retief wasn't impressed, saying he lost track of the number of times he has repeated the statement that 'a publication is not at liberty to publish an allegation just because someone has made it'.

He is emphasising that journalists should be confident that there is at least a measure of truth to an allegation before it is reasonable and fair to publish it.

Which brings us to that uncomfortable place between a rock and a hard place. Newspapers or broadcast bulletins would be empty if we had to prove everything being attributed to people.

This was also the reason why the Supreme Court of Appeal introduced a so-called 'media defence' for defamation in the Bogoshi matter. The court accepts that it is sometimes in the public interest to publish an allegation even if the newspaper cannot prove it.

For a defamation action to succeed against a 'normal' member of the public, the defamed person has to prove that the other had an intention to defame them. They should have known the information to be false and intentionally decided to defame the person nonetheless.

For media defendants in a defamation matter, the liability has historically been much different. Even if a mass publication was under the impression that information was correct while it was false, the publication would have been held liable.

After Bogoshi, the media has a lifeline to aver that it was "reasonable" to publish the information in the public interest.

What constitutes 'reasonable' publication will differ from case to case, but here are some pointers to consider:

  1. Use anonymous sources with the utmost critical mindset. Remember that they may corroborate each others' false version. On the record sources are much more reliable.
  2. Get as much objective, hard evidence such as documentation, as you can.
  3. Consistently ask yourself and your mentors what else can be done to verify the veracity of claims and do them. Don't rush off to the printers or airwaves and take meticulous notes of all the steps you've taken to verify the claims.
  4. Always ask for comment. In the Thusi matter, she would probably have provided them with the invoice if she was afforded enough time to respond. Rather wait for the response. In the Bogoshi matter, the court held that the defamed Bogoshi could have pointed out factual inaccuracies to the newspaper when he was approached for comment, but chose not to. He ultimately lost his defamation suit.
  5. The more public interest is at play, the better chance that it would be reasonable to publish damning allegations. Where the content is merely of interest to the public, it will ordinarily not be reasonable to publish the allegations.

Read the full Press Ombud ruling: Pearl Thusi vs. Sunday Sun.

Herman Scholtz (BCom LLM, BPhil Journalism) is legal advisor to the National Press Club and national news editor of Rapport. Legal questions of a journalistic nature may be forwarded to martin@nationalpressclub.co.za.


From left – Val Boje, Verashni Pillay, Mandisa Mbele (press club PRO), Bongekile Skosana and Tanya de Vente-Bijker.

When women run the newsroom

At a press club panel discussion in emBARgo on 31 August, sponsored by Turkarain General Trading, the role of women in the newsroom was discussed.

Facilitated by club chairperson Tanya de Vente-Bijker, the panelists were Verashni Pillay, editor of the Mail & Guardian, Val Boje, editor of the Pretoria News and Bongekile Skosana, content editor at Power FM.

Following the discussion, the last in a series of discussions during Women's Month, Pillay made the following resolutions:

  1. Don't get pulled into gossip about another women colleague, and definitely don't start it yourself. The double standards women in leadership must face are ridiculous, as I've recently experienced, and the urge to vilify or caricature a powerful woman is nothing more than the old patriarchal clap-back - even when practiced by other women.
  2. Make time to mentor younger women journalists and would-be editors! The reason there are so few women at the top is because we don't tell them how damn hard it is and help them push through.
  3. Ask my female readers what they want in their newspaper and do something about that persistent gender gap that dogs all mainstream news outlets. We don't have parity in female audiences for a reason: the entire mode of news production was built for men. Change it. (Or try)
  4. We don't have a women journalism forum in this country. It took a man to point that out tonight. What? Why? We're too tired, and too busy and meanwhile only 12 out of 43 or so editors in the country are women.

SAFREA and AFJK announce alliance to advocate for media freelancers of Africa

The Southern African Freelancers' Association (SAFREA) and the Association of Freelancer Journalists Kenya (AFJK) have announced the launch of the Alliance of African Media Associations (AAMA), a cooperative partnership that acts to support the rights, skills and general recognition of media practitioners in Africa.

"On a continent where political unrest is prevalent, economies are struggling and objective news is challenged, media freelancers need to feel supported," says SAFREA Chair Laura Rawden. "With this partnership, we hope to provide resources and encouragement to Africa's media professionals and promote a robust freelance industry."

This partnership between SAFREA and AFJK's established executive structures allows for open communication, strategy planning and resource sharing. The AAMA will develop out of the coordination of common interests from both parties; however, the collaboration will not hinder the individual identity and constituency of each organisation.

The AAMA aims to better connect African media organisations and streamline efforts to promote freelancing through legislation and industry standards. Attention will also be paid to the plight of African journalists, throwing the spotlight on cases of media censorship, rights abuses and other infringements.

"True collaborations are the ones that will help us achieve that goal of having the pleas of journalists heard," says AFJK President Winnie Kamau. "This one collective voice is needed."

SAFREA and AFJK hope to promote advocacy and create a professional platform throughout Africa that includes like-minded organisations.

Those interested in joining the AAMA partnership or learning more should contact Bruce Cooper at SAFREA in South Africa or Winnie Kamau with AFKJ in Kenya.

Welcome to our new members

We welcome the following new National Press Club members:

Janeske Botes – Legal Aid South Africa, Lonia Disebo – Boston City Campus, Kesagee Nayager – Bombela Concession Company, Dries Petzer – Centurion Online Media Services, Jennifer Motlhala – Boston Media House, Pulane Molefe – Council for Medical Schemes, Nalene de Klerk – Reputation Matters, Zelda Kim – Boston Media House.

We look forward to seeing you at a press club event soon.

Feedback

Please send any news, suggestions or information for this newsletter to Martin van Niekerk at the secretariat on martin@nationalpressclub.co.za, 082 257 0305. Website | Facebook | Twitter

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