Veteran journalist Ed Linington dies

13 August 2017 - 14:34 By Timeslive
File photo.
File photo.

Veteran journalist Ed Linington‚ South Africa's Press Ombudsman for 10 years and editor of the Sapa news agency for two decades before that‚ died in Johannesburg on Friday at the age of 88‚ after a short illness.

Born the son of a circuit magistrate in the then Northern Transvaal‚ Linington rapidly established himself as a top "hard news" wire agency journalist‚ working also for Reuters in various parts of Africa‚ and as Sapa's London Editor before being appointed editor of the news agency in Johannesburg in 1972.

He retired from Sapa in 1992 and in 1997 took up what he joked was a "part-time" job as the South African Press Council's press ombudsman -- reviewing and adjudicating complaints from the public about the accuracy of newspaper reports.

It turned out to be a full-time job and he retired for a second time in 2007 when the press ombudsman's function was restructured via a revamped press code under the leadership of Joe Thloloe.

As editor of Sapa during the years of political upheaval and unrest in South Africa of the 1980s‚ Linington clashed on a number of occasions with politicians and government authorities who did not like his insistence on neutral terminology in the agency's news reports.

One memorable incident was when the National Party government of PW Botha put considerable pressure on Sapa's board to force Linington to instruct his journalists to refer to African National Congress' uMkhonto we Sizwe raiders as "terrorists." Linington‚ known for‚ besides his formidable intellect‚ a "hardegat" attitude to authority‚ stood firm and the neutral terms of "insurgent" or "guerrilla" were retained in Sapa news reports.

Another incident‚ recalled by Linington's successor at Sapa‚ Mark van der Velden‚ involved the government's media secrecy clamp-down on South African troops' invasion of Angola in 1975.

"The whole world knew‚ but not South Africans‚ because the newspapers were forbidden to carry any of that information. Ed had a loophole in that Sapa was not a publisher‚ but a wholesale distributor of content. He sent out all the news stories we could get on the Angola invasion with a simple ‘consult your lawyer if in doubt’ note. The stories weren’t printed‚ but‚ boy‚ were they absorbed. The government was livid."

Linington is survived by his wife‚ Vivien‚ and seven children.