Editors hope 10-part decuplets 'documentary' will be ethical

28 October 2021 - 21:30
Iqbal Survé, CEO of Sekunjalo Group, the owners of Independent Newspapers. File photo
Iqbal Survé, CEO of Sekunjalo Group, the owners of Independent Newspapers. File photo
Image: Gallo Images

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has called on Independent Media to rejoin the Press Council of SA after reports “about reckless, irresponsible journalism at the Pretoria News” in the controversial 'Thembisa 10' saga.

In a statement on Thursday, Sanef noted the report compiled by advocate Michael Donen and asked for it to be made accessible for public perusal.

“Sanef notes the findings made by advocate Michael Donen that Pretoria News editor Piet Rampedi was reckless when he published an article stating as fact that a woman had given birth to 10 babies without any evidence,” read a Sanef statement.

Sanef said Donen investigated whether Rampedi followed due diligence when preparing the story on the alleged birth of 10 babies by a Thembisa mother for publication and whether there were any ethical breaches in the reporting of the story by Independent Media staff.

“Rampedi reported at the time that the woman had given birth to decuplets, breaking the Guinness World Record,” said Sanef.

“Donen found that at the time of publication there was no evidence the woman had given birth to 10 babies. It must be noted this report has not been made public, and we call on it to be made accessible to everyone for perusal,” they said.

The statement quoted Donen’s report as saying: “Due to the fact that the birth of decuplets is unknown in human history, I concluded that to publish a story saying the decuplets were born and that the ... world record was broken without corroboration was reckless. The only evidence that existed at the time was a report that had been made by the alleged father and he had said that his wife had told him that she gave birth to decuplets. I regard that according to journalistic standards as reckless, and that would be so regardless of whether the current inquiry proves that”.

“Independent Media launched the investigation after Sanef called for an independent inquiry. Sanef will always stand for ethical journalism and the practising of credible journalism across newsrooms,” said Sanef.

They said the news story was a “clear case of a gross lapse of ethical journalism that has done untold damage to the profession” at a time when the industry was rebuilding trust relationships with the public.

“The cardinal principle in journalism is to get the facts right the first time by ensuring that all information is corroborated by more than one source. When the information cannot be corroborated, we owe it to our audiences to be transparent and inform them accordingly,” said Sanef

They called on Independent Media to rejoin the Press Council as it allowed for all media houses to be held accountable when they act in breach of the Press Code and fail to practise ethical journalism.

“It also allows for those aggrieved to be able to complain before an independent panel. We hope Independent Media will also use this moment to reflect on the treatment of the story and ensure that all subsequent stories are backed up by real evidence and sources. We hope that they will also review their internal systems to ensure all stories are checked before publication,” read the statement.

Sanef said it noted the serious allegations made by Independent Media “without evidence” of a “cover up” involving politicians, medical professionals and hospitals.

They said they hoped that a 10-part documentary, promised by Independent Media boss Dr Iqbal Survey in a press conference on Wednesday, would see Independent Media “abide by world accepted journalistic standards to provide evidence to all allegations”.

“As an organisation — charged with the responsibility to champion media freedom and promote ethical journalism — we have confined our comments to the part of the report that deals with journalism and do not in any way vouch for other unverified claims made during the release of the report,” read the statement.