Seasoned journalist and academic Professor George Claassen has been appointed as public editor of News24.
Claassen is currently the ombudsman of Media24's community newspapers and has served as a board member of the International Organisation of News Ombudsmen and Readers' Editors since 2011.
As public editor, he will receive, process and address complaints from readers.
Claassen cut his journalistic teeth in the 1970s at Beeld newspaper before he decided to further a career in academia. He is a former head of the postgraduate department of journalism at Stellenbosch University, where he established the first course in science and technology journalism at an African university and continues to teach the course.
News24 editor Adriaan Basson welcomed Claassen's appointment and said it was a big step forward in the evolution of South Africa's largest news platform.
"Over the past two years, News24 has grown by leaps and bounds. We have invested heavily in original journalism and are at the forefront of setting the news and political agenda in the country. As the country's largest provider of breaking and lifestyle news, we pride ourselves on accurate and credible reporting. But, when we make mistakes, we must learn from it and become better."
Claassen says the role the public editor plays in supporting journalists' roles in democracies to strive towards accurate, responsible, trustworthy and credible news reporting, has been established worldwide.
"In the midst of the 'clear and present danger' of fake news that has engulfed the credibility of news reporting, the necessity for ultra-high standards set by the profession have become a vital cog in the wheel of a smooth-running democracy," he says.
"Journalists cannot hold other sectors of society, such as politicians, public figures and the private sector to account if they do not apply the same standards of responsibility and accountability to their own profession."
"Social media have immense value to spread facts and counter falsehood, but it is also the haven of unchecked rumours and fake news which endanger the credibility of journalists grafting to establish the correct facts.
"As public editor at News24, I see my role as supporting quality journalism to keep the trust of readers which will subsequently lead to a society where democracy can thrive; in the words of former president Nelson Mandela: 'It was the press who never forgot us... A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy... It is only a free press that can temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen.'"
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