By Pinky Khoabane
YESTERDAY the former editor of The Huffington Post South Africa Verashni Pillay won her appeal against a hate speech ruling by Press Ombudsman Johann Retief, who had declared the article, “Could it be time to deny white men the franchise?” hate speech, malicious and discriminatory.
The victory will be bitter sweet for Pillay who apart from the ferocious backlash, largely from white men, as a result of publishing the article has also had to resign from her job following the Ombudsman’s ruling. At the time of her resignation Pillay said she accepted the ruling: “I respect the office of the press ombudsman and have decided to tender my resignation”. One would assume that the reason for leaving was because she had allowed the publication of a “malicious” and “discriminatory” article. But then there was the matter of the poor fact checking which was levelled against her.
The saga stems from an article which The Huffington Post South Africa published titled “Could it be time to deny white men the franchise?” The author of the blog claimed to be one Shirley Garland, who described herself as an activist and feminist student completing an MA degree in philosophy.
The article led to a public outcry and Pillay defended the blog, but her defence of it was later deleted when it was discovered that Garland was actually not who she claimed she was. She was in fact a white male who goes by the name Marius Roodt. In an interview with Huffington Post SA, he explained that he wanted to expose the poor fact-checking in South Africa’s newsrooms. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2017/04/19/revealed-here-is-shelley-garland-and-why-he-did-it_a_22046533/
Huffington Post had not only failed to verify the identity of the author but had also failed to check the claims made in the article.
Pillay took responsibility for the errors made and resigned.
But how often do editors admit that the buck stops with them as they often ask of politicians?
Just this week, the Independent Media reported that the ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, was to be auctioned for failure to pay a R25 million debt owed to Resurgent Risk Managers. Subsequent to the publication, both the ANC and Resurgent Risk Managers denied claims of a judgment or action by the sheriff to attach Luthuli House. Independent Media has had to apologise “unconditionally” to the ANC and Resurgent Risk Managers.
As it turns out, the journalist concerned did not corroborate the story and did not properly identify the legal papers. This clearly means the people who were meant to oversee this story didn’t do their work. Independent Media announced it had suspended three journalists involved in the story. But what of the editor who allowed the story to be published?
The Sunday Times, for almost two years, wrote almost 30 stories on the SARS Rogue Unit as fact and on one Sunday decided it “had got certain things wrong”. http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/we-got-certain-things-wrong-sunday-times-on-sars-rogue-unit-stories-20160403 Phylicia Oppelt, the editor under whom these stories were written, was offered a senior position in Times Media Group (parent company of Sunday Times) as General Manager, Editorial Projects. With the exception of Piet Rampedi and Pearlie Joubert who were part of a group of journalists working on the story, all others remain.
Joubert claimed in an affidavit that Rudolf Mastenbroek, her friend of 26 years and previously a source of hers, had tried to plant information about alleged improprieties committed by former SARS commissioner Ivan Pillay and SARS investigator Johan van Loggerenberg.
Mastenbroek was previously married to Oppelt.
There are many stories which the press ombudsman rules as having violated the Press Code and for which editors never take responsibility. Here’s the link to some of the Press Ombudsman’s rulings.