Avusa Media Public Editor Joe Latakgomo has for the first time written on Sunday Times newspaper today saying former Sowetan columnist Eric Miyeni’s column seen as a personal attack on City Press Editor, Ferial Haffajee, felt short of “reasoned judgment”.
Latakgomo says the necklacing was a condemned “barbaric practice”. He said columnists like sacked Sunday Times David Bullard, Sunday World’s Kuli Roberts, and now Miyeni himself “carry a great responsibility”, that their “column content is invariable opinion, analytical or social commentary” and that they are “used for specific briefs, and very few are given carte blanche to ‘write what they like’”.
The public, says Latakgomo, expects columns to “provide them [the public] with insight which is not possible to provide in hard news pages” like that of news reporters.
“Columnists are expected to be authoritative on their subjects of interest. They must provide an intelligent interpretation of issues and matters of public interest and contribute to the provision of a diversity of opinion. They have to avoid offence, and balance their own freedom of speech and expression with the responsibility that goes with these. But, above all, they are expected to be fair and accurate, and not resort to emotional outbursts”, he said.
Latakgomo said columnists “are not expected to use a column to drive personal agendas and become personal”. He said editors did not necessarily have to “agree with [columnists’] views expressed, but that when publishing such columns they “want to be comfortable and able to defend their columnists’ right to say what they said” and that they “should also be in line with the views and codes of a publication”.
The Pubic Editor admitted that there was a “system failure” at Sowetan for having published in the column in the form that it did. He said many raised the same “failure” with Bullard, Roberts’ sacking by Avusa newspapers too. “But there does seem to have been a failure on the part of the humans who are supposed to watch”.
He said termination of Miyeni’s column was “ill-timed” and that those who at the newspaper had agreed to publish it “should have known what the consequences, in terms of response, would be” although this “does not suggest that Miyeni is correct in suggesting he did nothing wrong” because it “had a lot of emotional appeal to sections of the population, but little logical and ethical substance”.
“He abused a position of trust, a privileged position, by using the column to launch personal attacks on people”, said Latakgomo.