OPINION: Many journalists/editors have experienced the ugly side of South African journalism, including the backstabbing, the paranoia, misogyny, racism and sexism, not to mention how individuals will lie and try to undermine others to save their jobs, only to be spat out when they too have served their purpose.
The lynch mob mentality that has targeted Verashni Pillay, a young, female editor, and helped derail her career, fills me with disquiet. I cannot help but wonder whether a male editor (black or white) would have received the same treatment. [Pillay resigned on Saturday night following the press ombudsman’s ruling in the Huffington Post South Africa fake blog post matter.]
Editors, young and old, experienced and inexperienced, make mistakes. Sometimes a little experience might help in not compounding these, but I don’t think any among us can throw the first stone …
We all need to up our game in this era of fake news and newsrooms stripped of more expensive and experienced journalists and where those who remain behind have to do a lot more with a lot less.
A sorry mess
The whole Huffington Post SA saga is a sorry mess, with the press ombudsman’s ruling – or the portion on hate speech – equally problematical. I see reports that Media24 will not appeal the ruling, but a precedent should not be set. The hate speech portion of Johan Retief’s ruling cannot be allowed to remain untested, as it has huge implications for newsrooms across the country, and for freedom of speech.
I see media lawyer, Dario Milo, believes that only a party that has a direct interest in the case can appeal. Now that Verashni has resigned, perhaps she will consider appealing that portion of the judgment, and if not her, what about Sipho Hlongwane in his private capacity, should he choose to remain at the HP?
— Karyn Maughan (@karynmaughan) April 22, 2017
— Dario Milo (@Dariomilo) April 22, 2017
On a different matter, the unmasking of the blogger by tracing his IPN address and using facial recognition technology has also bothered me, if only because of the damage it may do in terms of protecting sources. A source may think twice about leaking info to a journalist if he wants his identity protected. Moreover, if we can do it, how can we tell government not to do so?
I know that when it comes to digital security journalists are pretty lax. The State no longer needs Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act to find out whom journalists are communicating with, not to mention what websites they are visiting, etc. All it needs is a little bit of digital surveillance and hey presto it knows everything about that journalist and his/her contacts.
I cannot over emphasise how journalists need to begin to take digital security more seriously. There are things that every journalist should be doing as a matter of course to protect themselves and their sources.
Dangerous times indeed.
Read the full ruling here.
This story was first published as a Facebook post, where it elicited much debate and comment, and is republished here with permission.
Angela Quintal is a former newspaper editor who is now the Africa Programme Co-ordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.