With the massive amount of copy that comes across editors’ desks in this day and age, and with social media putting pressure on traditional media by breaking stories through citizen journalism, taking the time to check the facts and authenticity of each and every story becomes problematic. There needs to be a level of trust between editor’s and the journalists/freelancers they work with to ensure that fake news doesn’t slip through. Michael Bratt investigates.
Soccer Laduma was on the receiving end recently of a Press Council ruling that required the newspaper to issue a public apology to soccer club, Kaizer Chiefs. The publication was deemed to have published a fake interview with Chiefs player Lucky Baloyi in its November 2015 edition. The Press Council ruled that the freelance journalist who provided the interview to Soccer Laduma, Patrick Baloyi, had never interviewed the Chiefs player.
The Media Online approached Peter du Toit, founder and CEO of Soccer Laduma, to find out what happened and how its editorial process are changing to safeguard against future incidents such as this one.
“Ultimately the responsibility has to fall on the shoulders of the editor or the publication,” Du Toit said, adding that Soccer Laduma had several checks and balances in place – including freelancers sending audio recordings of their interviews and only working with those who have a lengthy proven track record in the industry.
“The journalist sent a tape of the interview, (but) it is impossible for us to know the voice of every single footballer. We also can’t listen to everything. It’s like looking at a security camera 24/7. You only look at a security camera when there is a problem, so again that’s a flaw in the system, because you only listen to that tape properly afterwards,” he stresses.
Du Toit also believes that industry trends are contributing to the rise in incidents of this nature and says steps need to be taken to safeguard against them. “We’ve lost time,” he says, explaining that in the days before internet, people had time to double check stories for accuracy and balanced points of view. Nowadays, because of the internet and social media, the process has been forced to speed up, eliminating valuable story checking time. “We do 80 to 100 online stories a day, all of these done in-house. How does an editor check 80 stories? There has to be a certain amount of trust and integrity.”
Watchdogs must evolve
Du Toit says “industry watchdogs need to evolve to match the modern world. The watchdog has not evolved. Does a citizen journalist who does a story as he’s a witness, is he responsible if he writes a story and sends it to a publication and it is not true? Who is responsible? What is a journalist even today?”
He adds that the accountability needs to change as well. “The industry has to move towards making journalists equally responsible for what they have written because in this particular instance the journalist, who was deemed to have done a fake interview, has just walked away. There’s no real damage done to him. He was a freelancer, he has a job now. We have taken full responsibility,” he says.
“Journalists need to sign some form of declaration before they get into the industry, or once they are working in the industry, that they understand the ethics of the industry and they take full responsibility for what they write … it certainly needs to be relooked at … There needs to be a situation where journalists need to know that they have an equal responsibility for a story, particularly freelancers as they are selling their stories and one never knows if they are short of cash or are in a desperate situation … But it can’t just be one publication saying journalists need to be responsible, it needs to be an industry standard,” says Du Toit.
System must resist frauds
Du Toit also cited numerous examples of incidents such as the Soccer Laduma one and thinks the number of these instances will increase unless processes change. “It’s a problem that’s existed that has just been accepted because no one has known the truth, so it’s an interesting exercise and something that needs to be addressed because it has taken a much greater scale because of the competitiveness of this industry right now”. He says biased reporting is just as bad as fake reporting and that it too needs attention.
Executive director of the Press Council, Joe Thloloe, commenting on cases of fraudulent or incorrect journalism brought to the industry body, says, “Our findings are not against individual journalists because each publication has to ensure that the journalism it puts out meets the standards set out in the Code of Ethics and conduct for South African print and online media.
“Each publication has its system of gatekeepers who have to check and double-check the accuracy of a report. The speed of the social media is no excuse for sloppy journalism – in fact; it is the mark of professional journalism that it rises above the muck of the average social media. Each publication is also responsible for vetting the freelance journalists it trusts with its space,” he says.
Du Toit has issued a warning to other editors. “We (Soccer Laduma) genuinely seek out the truth, yet this has happened to us. Don’t think that your systems are fine. You’ve got to design a system that can withstand people deliberately trying to defraud you. We have had to put in lots more auditing processes that actually make the job, which requires speed in this industry, more cumbersome … You’ve got to make more phone calls and run the risk of being beaten to a story … The good guy could get beaten all the time by guys who are less efficient so to speak.”
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8