This is the second apology the Avusa-owned newspaper has published in three weeks.
align=”justify”Dr Wallace Chuma from the University of Cape Town says that, as a reader, “Having to confront front page retractions of lead stories week after week is very disturbing.”
align=”justify”The first came after the Press Ombudsman ordered the newspaper to publish a front-page apology for its reporting on the Land Bank, headlined “How fat cats looted bank billions” and “Land Bank boss ‘must be charged'”.
align=”justify”This time Sunday Times editor, Mondli Makhanya, says in his target=”_blank” href=”http://www.thetimes.co.za/PrintEdition/Insight/Article.aspx?id=838152″column!_LT_/a: “We are not angels and – as idealistic as we are – we have never purported to be on a higher plane than the rest of human society. Just as others make mistakes, so will we.”
align=”justify”The newspaper claims that in its article “Transnet sold our sea to foreigners”, the headline, accompanying diagram and the statement about the extent of the area of sea that was ostensibly sold “went too far. We retract them.”
align=”justify”Chuma says an apology for the story is honourable but not adequate. “To lay claims of sloppy journalism to rest, the paper could have detailed the circumstances under which the story was gathered and processed, and proven beyond reasonable doubt that due process was followed. To simply apologise, especially if you’re doing so for the second or third time on major stories, is not enough. There is credibility at stake here.”
align=”justify”Professor Anton Harber of the Journalism and Media Studies Programme at Wits University says that this is a serious problem. “They have had a series of problematic stories over the past few weeks. It is a major blow for them and for South African journalism.”
align=”justify”The apology was accompanied by an article about the first black Springbok coach Peter de Villiers who threatened to “give (the job) back to whites” following rumours that there was CCTV footage of him engaging in a public sex act. The Times published a story on September 8, stating that there is “no rugby sex videotape”, following the rugby body’s investigation that determined all claims to be unfounded.
align=”justify”Chuma says this story is an unfortunate development. “As a weekly newspaper, the Sunday Times has more time to check and cross-check its facts than dailies or the electronic media. Why this has not happened in relation to major stories recently is anybody’s guess.”
align=”justify”But Harber says that this story is different. “It appears that there is still a story there.”
align=”justify”Makhanya says the paper will be tightening up on internal procedures. Harber says that he hopes the newspaper is serious about rectifying the problem. “My hope is that they will restore their credibility over time.”
align=”justify”Chuma concludes that traditional readers of the Sunday Times will probably forgive it easily and move on. “But I’m worried about how new readers will react to a paper that gives them a big story this week, only to retract it the next. One feels cheated and one migrates to other media. The Sunday newspaper market is not small, remember.”