Sunday Times

A trans­formed Sun­day Times that you can trust

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● Over the past few weeks there have been calls for the Sun­day Times to pub­licly ac­count, apol­o­gise and tes­tify be­fore ju­di­cial com­mis­sions about its role and in­volve­ment in state cap­ture. While some of these calls are gen­uine and come from peo­ple who care deeply about this news­pa­per, the most vo­cal has been from a group of peo­ple who want you, our loyal reader, to doubt whether this news­pa­per can still be trusted.

So let’s deal with that ques­tion. Can the Sun­day Times be trusted af­ter every­thing it did just three years ago? The an­swer is a re­sound­ing yes. You can trust the Sun­day Times. You can trust me, its edi­tor, and you can trust the team that is en­trusted with the most dif­fi­cult task in South African me­dia, that of putting to­gether this great news­pa­per ev­ery week.

To­day I want to thank you for your con­tin­ued sup­port — es­pe­cially through what has been the most dif­fi­cult time in the life of this news­pa­per. The Sun­day Times has al­ways de­rived its au­thor­ity and man­date from the pub­lic trust. It sub­scribes to the prin­ci­ples and val­ues of trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity and hon­esty. Get­ting to the truth is in­te­gral to our mis­sion and val­ues. Our cred­i­bil­ity and in­tegrity de­pend on these val­ues.

It is for this rea­son that I took a de­ci­sion in 2016 to re-ex­am­ine our re­port­ing on the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice (Sars), to apol­o­gise for er­rors made and reach out to the peo­ple af­fected. This work con­tin­ues. I am will­ing to pro­vide clar­ity and ex­plain this de­ci­sion in any fo­rum. On dis­cov­er­ing weak­nesses in our in­ter­nal ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tems that might have led to our fail­ure to in­ter­ro­gate the mo­tive of our sources, I not only apol­o­gised but wrote to you to prom­ise a com­plete over­haul of the news­pa­per’s sys­tems and struc­tures.

Now it is time to re­port back to you about what we have been do­ing. The past two-and-a-half years have been a most dif­fi­cult but ful­fill­ing pe­riod for this news­pa­per. We have spent a lot of time fo­cus­ing on strength­en­ing our sys­tems, ed­i­to­rial pro­cesses and news­desk struc­tures to en­sure that ev­ery piece of in­for­ma­tion is au­then­ti­cated and ver­i­fied, and that sources’ mo­tives are in­ter­ro­gated, in ac­cor­dance with the press code and our own ed­i­to­rial pol­icy.

We have com­pletely trans­formed our work flows. Two years ago we were a news­room that worked the whole week gen­er­at­ing con­tent for one prod­uct. Now we are a fully in­te­grated news­room that cre­ates and pub­lishes con­tent across five plat­forms — TimesLive, TimesS­elect, Busi­ness Times, Life­style and the Sun­day Times. We are now a seven-day pub­lish­ing op­er­a­tion with rolling shifts and mul­ti­ple dead­lines. We have strength­ened our news-gath­er­ing and edit­ing pro­cesses across our three news­desks, in Jo­han­nes­burg, Cape Town and Dur­ban.

We have shut down the in­ves­ti­ga­tions unit. We re­cruited com­pe­tent se­nior jour­nal­ists and copy edi­tors, and all reporters now re­port di­rectly to one of nine news edi­tors. We have also cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment in which news sto­ries, sources and their mo­tives are ro­bustly in­ter­ro­gated. Con­tent is dis­cussed openly and there are no se­cret meet­ings where sto­ries are dis­cussed by a se­lect few. Lastly, we have opened up our edi­tors’ con­fer­ences to any mem­ber of staff who wants to make in­put on sto­ries, as we be­lieve that this en­hances our news­gath­er­ing and edit­ing process.

We have the right pro­cesses and sys­tems, and we have the right peo­ple in the right places. These changes have al­ready yielded re­sults for us. In the past two years we have bro­ken many sto­ries with­out any come­back. It was this news­pa­per that first told you about for­mer min­is­ter Des van Rooyen’s 24-hour mys­tery visit to Dubai — long be­fore it was con­firmed in the leaked Gupta e-mails. Our reporters told you about how de­fence min­is­ter No­siviwe Mapisa-Nqakula used your tax rands to fly to the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo to col­lect her son’s 28-year-old Bu­run­dian girl­friend. Last year we saved the pub­lic purse mil­lions of rands when we ex­posed plans by Eskom to give its for­mer CEO, Brian Molefe, an ir­reg­u­lar and il­le­gal R30m pen­sion pay­out. When for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma wanted to sur­prise all of us by ap­point­ing Molefe as his fi­nance min­is­ter, it was the Sun­day Times that ex­posed it. I could go on.

To us this comes nat­u­rally. This is what we do. This is our role as the big­gest news­pa­per in the coun­try. We break sto­ries that mat­ter to South Africans. We set the agenda and drive the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about the di­rec­tion this coun­try is tak­ing. We hold the pow­er­ful to ac­count. To­day we have the state cap­ture com­mis­sion partly be­cause of the role the Sun­day Times has played.

There are grow­ing calls for us to ex­pose the sources in our Sars sto­ries. The press code and our ed­i­to­rial pol­icy place a fun­da­men­tal duty on us to pro­tect our sources. Do­ing oth­er­wise is a nega­tion of the eth­i­cal prac­tice of jour­nal­ism.

The only time I am will­ing to dis­card this pro­tec­tion is when we can show that sources in­ten­tion­ally pro­vided false in­for­ma­tion to us, or sub­se­quently, with­out jus­ti­fi­able cause, dis­tanced them­selves from the in­for­ma­tion they pro­vided.

In the ma­jor­ity of cases in the Sars sto­ries we failed to con­duct our own ver­i­fi­ca­tion. There­fore, pass­ing the buck would be a dere­lic­tion of our eth­i­cal duty. Sources will al­ways have their own mo­tives, and it falls to us as jour­nal­ists and edi­tors to ques­tion and un­cover the mo­tive be­fore pub­li­ca­tion.

As edi­tor of the Sun­day Times, I have and will con­tinue to ac­count to you, the reader, to the gen­eral pub­lic and to reg­u­la­tory and other pub­lic bod­ies for my and the news­pa­per’s ac­tions and de­ci­sions.

 ??  ?? Sun­day Times Edi­tor Bongani Siqoko
Sun­day Times Edi­tor Bongani Siqoko

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