Johnny Masilela, The BEAT editor

Reckless reporting can get a newspaper editor into big trouble


Johnny Masilela   l   Views: 119

Let me start by congratulating my journalism grootman (elder), Joe Latakgomo, after being named the public advocate for the Press Council.

Bra Joe was editor at the Sowetan’s predecessor, Post, at a time I was a cub reporter at the old lady of English language mainstream press, Rand Daily Mail.

My memories of Bra Joe were of a senior journalist who had high mortals such as the late Aggrey Klaaste working as his deputy, and Eliot Makhaya as the showbiz editor.

Something that comes to mind was when Bra Eliot published a story to the effect that Oupa Segwai of the Hotstix Mabuse-led Harari music ensemble had died.

The following day - nudged on by the Mail’s showbiz editor, Doc Bikitsha - I ran with a front page counter-article that Segwai was very much alive! 

Such is the contestation between rival newspapers from time to time.

Having said that, the Caxton group dispatched a legal report to all title editors, including yours truly.

In the report the legal division sensitised us about certain gremlins that tend to sneak into the newspaper, such as labelling people by means of race and/or otherwise.

One living example is the story reporter Mzamane Ringane published in our last edition, based on a teenage girl who had gone missing in Mokopane.

Initially we had the name of the young woman in the story, with Mzamane innocently reporting on the principle of a missing person. We did not have enough space for the story at the time.

The following week we advised Mzamane to follow up on the story, to find out if she had been found.

Yes, she was found, but had been taken in for post-traumatic counselling.

Fearing for the worst, we immediately withdrew the name of the woman from the story.

Guess what? It was also the responsibility of our colleagues at the SAPS to warn us and other media about these sensitive developments.

During my stint as news editor at Sunday Sun, we stumbled into a juicy police docket in which a sex worker accused a prominent business executive of pushing her out of a moving vehicle.

Let there be no doubt that with that kind of breaking story, the Sunday Sun would have outsold our competitors hands down!

But alas, gut-feel nudged me to check the story with the Naspers Group media lawyers.

Our lawyer advised us to check with the courts if the sex worker was pursuing the case.

The answer from the clerk of court was that the woman had disappeared and that the case had been thrown out, and we therefore could not publish the story.

It’s called damning legal implications.

At the Pretoria News I happened to be the night duty reporter, when a young man arrived at the newsroom, claiming he had been manhandled by the police.

The young man also claimed to be the son of the Sowetan’s Eliot Maskhaya.

Foolishly, I ran with the story, only to be phoned by Makhaya the next morning calmly cautioning me he had no son by that name!

So folks, next time you wake up and feel like using the pages of The BEAT to level all sorts of damning allegations against political opponents, think twice, for here we work under the guidelines of the Press Code.

3 months ago       08 March 2018