Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko has defended the newspaper’s lead story published on Sunday [28 January 2018] that said mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane and members of the Gupta family would be arrested in the next few days.
Siqoko was responding to claims that the indictment used by his reporters was a copy of a guideline document drafted by the DA’s Glynis Breytenbach last year that she and the party’s leader, Mmusi Maimane, gave to the Hawks. They had lodged a complaint about the Estina dairy farm in Vrede and suggested the Hawks investigate. Zwane and the Guptas are alleged to have ‘stolen’ R220 million meant for poor farmers in the area.
“We have no reason to believe that we were misled, fed wrong documents or that our sources had sinister, personal motives,” Siqoko said in a statement. “Given their seniority, the independent verification with other officials not linked to our primary sources, the communication channel they used to transmit the documents, we were satisfied that we can identify the document as an indictment and attributable to the NPA.”
Siqoko said he and the reporting team were “neither aware nor suspected that the document is identical to the DA’s document”.
Siqoko said the newspaper had conducted interviews with senior prosecutorial officials and that the source document had been identified as a indictment from the NPA. Content and processes were confirmed by other officials in the police and the prosecuting authority.
“In our effort to ensure that whatever we publish is accurate and true, we subject all our stories to a system of checks and we ascertain that they meet our criteria, standard and requirements prescribed by our code, internal policies and the press council’s code of ethics,” said Siqoko, adding that these were applied to the front page lead. “As the editor, I was satisfied that our lead met the prescribed criteria and requirements,” he said.
But, he added, in hindsight “we should not have identified it as a finalised indictment as it is yet to be signed by the NDPP. We however have no doubt that the document we used emanated from the NPA and is an official document”.
Siqoko admitted that had they known the indictment sent to the Sunday Times was “identical” to the DA’s, they would have treated the story differently. But, he said, they would still have published it.