What does Independent Newspapers deputy political editor Gaye Davis’ resignation this week over The Star’s “Cyril dumps Zuma” report mean for the media in general especially during this ANC Elective conference in Mangaung where every Madam & Eve wants to break news?
Is this another sign we had seen in many instances and even during the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference that many journalists, especially political journos and other media group political desks are so quick to break news “excessively” as did Mail & Guardian late Monday for a news report which it had since apologised without even checking and verifying its sources?
M&G apology over ‘riot’ report
This after it reported that the erupted “riot” at the ruling party’s Mangaung conference was from President Jacob Zuma’s supporter who were identified by one of its journo on Twitter as “Zuma supporters, who are not delegates” but “risk(ed) having a stand-off with police at the university’s main gate [and were] warned to leave”. The newspaper apologised on its Facebook page, saying: “Turns out the ‘riot’ we posted about earlier was more of an overreaction by cops to some zealous delegates. Our apologies”.
Of course this pissed off many, some unreasonable readers (in my opinion) who had failed to understand that the newspaper admitted to the mistake and had since apologised. M&G did not wait for the Press Ombudsman to give a directive for an apology, but that it apologised as soon as it realised there was an error in its reporting – something many on Facebook failed to understand.
Many of its readers were pissed by what they called the newspaper’s irresponsible journalism and expressed their concern for M&G having stooped “so low” that they even suggested it is for these kinds of slacky journalism errors that the ruling party and its alliance partners are “pushing for more media regulation laws”.
Brenda Cadillac Madisha, one of M&G commenters, defended M&G, saying it had not published a story about the “fight or overreaction (sic) or whatever it was anyway” but simply advised readers to follow one of its reporters on the ground, @MmanalediM, who was apparently outside when the fight broke out. Madisha said he was going to “question the credibility if a full story was done and not just a sentence suggesting we follow someone on twitter”. Following M&G’s bashers and unforgiving critics’ failure to understand, I was forced to write this note to them on the newspaper’s Facebook page that:
I (and others like me) do get your point. And the point is M&G’s failure to verify its facts as it should have done prior to publications (print and or online). Another point, in turn, however, is that the very same publication you’re now bashing had admitted to that journalism failure (on their part) and have since apologised.
So, let us not turn this into a Media Appeals Tribunal – something many of ya’ll are supporting given its envisaged objectives (of apparently hurting publications/the media where it hurts the most: financial penalties). As a blogger who has on many occasions called the M&G and other publications in SA to order, I think it takes a great publication to admit its mistakes and take full responsibility and apologise – which @mailangduardian did in this particular case. We certainly don’t need the POIA, MAT, Press Ombuds, ‘Secrecy Bill’ to have had the M&G apologise for that small, yet greatly irresponsible journalistic error.
Your frustrations are taken into account and understood. But your failure to turn this error – however legitimate – into something it ought not have been seems now unreasonable. Worse, that M&G has apologised yet you fail to accept it makes it even more worrying (for me). So let’s accept the apology (and get a life, ya’ll).”
The Star reporter “led down an unsavoury garden path”
It was sad that this M&G debacle happened just a day before the Davis’ resignation this week following The Star article which claimed the now ANC Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, had declined to become President Jacob Zuma’s deputy at the eleventh hour. This, claimed the newspaper, was because of his apparent “close relationship” with now former ANC deputy president (but still the country’s deputy President) Kgalema Motlanthe, who was also contesting the ruling pasty’s presidency.
The Star claimed at the time that “three highly placed sources confirmed” to it that Ramaphosa had told his lobby group he was no longer keen to be Zuma’s running mate. “One source said the businessman allegedly privately expressed concerns that the Zuma camp had failed to offer him a post-Mangaung deal that would clarify his future.” It quoted a source, saying Ramaphosa “felt Zuma lobbyists were using him to marginalise Motlanthe, who they suddenly hated with a passion for challenging the ANC leader.” As do all – if not most newspapers – The Star claimed Ramaphosa “failed to respond to calls and a text message last night” while now ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete could not be reached. Even the party’s national spokesman, Ishmael Mnisi, told the newspaper that he was not aware that Ramaphosa had withdrawn from the election race.
Another source further told The Star that Ramaphosa was declined nomination for the deputy president of the ANC based on “respect”, that he and Motlanthe “are friends and have been together during difficult times, and he [Ramaphosa] can’t allow this thing to complicate their relationship”.
Despite claiming Ramaphosa could not be contacted to give his side of the story to the said report before publication this week Monday, Davis reportedly said that on Sunday evening – possibly before the newspaper went to press – Ramaphosa denied the report that he had withdrawn from the race as was is (was) alleged by The Star. The former Independent Newspapers’ political editor said she received confirmation from the ANC deputy President that he had indeed accepted and signed his nomination form. Although she “had no hand in writing the story”, Davis however “communicated with the other morning newspaper editors in the group, who took appropriate action and did not run the story in its original form” but The Star refused. The newspaper stood by its story, refusing to correct its report, said Davis. Following this mess and because she could not “publicly disassociate [herself] from the story while remaining in the employ of Independent Newspapers”, the former political editor resigned.
On Wednesday The Star editor and former Sunday Independent editor, Makhudu Sefara, claimed his reporter who wrote the “Cyril dumps Zuma” was “led down an unsavoury garden path” and he has since apologised to Ramaphosa for the inaccurate and false report. He said it was a pity that “even with the best of intentions and efforts, errors will creep in and reporters will be misled. We’re all fallible. To err is human.”. “The point, though, is to avoid or minimise them and to improve quality-control checks”, he said.
Sefara also denied he had disregarded Davis’ advise not to run with its Monday report, saying “for the record, this was not so”. He said there was a misunderstanding between himself and Davis, and what Davis had discussed with the writer of the said report.
That Davis had to resign over this issue when it should have been Sefara or the journo who should have resigned is in my opinion very weird. Or as we’d often demand when an error of this nature is committed especially in the field of media and or journalism – where there was a seemingly irresponsible, inaccurate and false report written without regard to the actual facts – it probably is good that Davis chose to resign.
But what of Sefara, whatever the misunderstanding between himself and Davis and the latter and the writer who wrote the concerned report – especially when he, as editor, was made known and aware of Ramaphosa having denied The Star claims and insistence through its ‘sources’ that he had declined the nomination for the ANC deputy president position when he actually had not?