The South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF) is shocked to hear of the Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs, Gwede Mantashe's brazen alleged admission that he paid two Sunday World journalists to "bury" a story about his relationship with student, Lerato Habiba Makgatho. According to the Sunday World, Mantashe paid the journalists R70 000 to "destroy evidence" backing the story. Mantashe has not revealed the names of the journalists.
SANEF believes that "paid for" or what is known as "brown envelope" journalism is completely counter to journalism ethics. Section 2 of the Press Council Code deals with "Independence and Conflicts of Interest". The Code states clearly that:
The media shall:
2.1 not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence reporting, and avoid conflicts of interest as well as practices that could lead readers to doubt the media's independence and professionalism;
2.2 not accept any benefit which may influence coverage;
2.3 indicate clearly when an outside organization has contributed to the cost of newsgathering; and
2.4 keep editorial material clearly distinct from advertising and sponsored events.
SANEF will be pursuing the following actions:
- Writing to the Minister to request that he reveals the names of the journalists involved;
- Supporting Sunday World's investigations into the matter including their commitment to fire journalists if there is concrete evidence of them taking a bribe and ensuring that all their journalists sign pledges to ensure ethical journalism; and
- Adding a specific clause to our "Draft rules of engagement" with political parties to call for politicians to support an outright ban on any form of "brown envelope" journalism.
SANEF champions ethical journalism. We believe that if anyone has any evidence of unethical journalism – including the very serious breach of accepting funds for journalism – they should go to the Press Council.
Further, we want to remind the public that we have launched our own independent Inquiry into Media Credibility and Ethics, chaired by retired Judge Kathleen Satchwell. We encourage any South African with evidence of journalists acting unethically or illegally to approach Judge Satchwell and the authorities.