Note to Readers:

Please Note: The editor of White Refugee blog is a member of the Ecology of Peace culture.

Summary of Ecology of Peace Radical Honoursty Factual Reality Problem Solving: Poverty, slavery, unemployment, food shortages, food inflation, cost of living increases, urban sprawl, traffic jams, toxic waste, pollution, peak oil, peak water, peak food, peak population, species extinction, loss of biodiversity, peak resources, racial, religious, class, gender resource war conflict, militarized police, psycho-social and cultural conformity pressures on free speech, etc; inter-cultural conflict; legal, political and corporate corruption, etc; are some of the socio-cultural and psycho-political consequences of overpopulation & consumption collision with declining resources.

Ecology of Peace RH factual reality: 1. Earth is not flat; 2. Resources are finite; 3. When humans breed or consume above ecological carrying capacity limits, it results in resource conflict; 4. If individuals, families, tribes, races, religions, and/or nations want to reduce class, racial and/or religious local, national and international resource war conflict; they should cooperate & sign their responsible freedom oaths; to implement Ecology of Peace Scientific and Cultural Law as international law; to require all citizens of all races, religions and nations to breed and consume below ecological carrying capacity limits.

EoP v WiP NWO negotiations are updated at EoP MILED Clerk.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Report: Sunday Times Sensationalism: Something foul in the air?…AVUSA’s dirty linen

Out to Lunch: Something foul in the air?…. it must be AVUSA’s dirty linen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011
David Bullard, Newstime

If you smelt something foul in the air as you were driving through Rosebank last Wednesday afternoon don’t worry. No, it wasn’t the malodourous sulphur stench we expect to be wafted onto the Highveld from Sasolburg at this time of year. It was much worse than that….it was the stench of AVUSA’s dirty linen being aired.

Now before you all get misty eyed and start thinking that AVUSA had second thoughts about denying Michelle Solomon’s request to access to the entire 88 page report compiled by the Bouffant Haired Prof Anton Harber and his three colleagues let me put you right by revealing the extraordinary facts.

Back in 2008 things were going so badly for the lads at the Sunday Times that they decided to call the bouffant haired one in to tell them what they were doing wrong. The report would then be published for all and sundry to see and, hopefully, trigger some constructive debate and corrective action. But when the report was finished the AVUSA management(sic) decided to keep it a secret and instead published a 900 word summary. This is rather like receiving the Ten Commandants from God and rejecting those that it’s inconvenient to keep.

Enter one Michelle Solomon, a Masters student in journalism from Rhodes who felt that the report should be seen by all (that was, after all, Harber’s request) and , earlier this year, made an application under the Promotion of Access to Information Act to AVUSA for the entire document to be released for public scrutiny. With delicious irony AVUSA refused her application on May 3rd which happened to be World Press Freedom day on the grounds that the contents were confidential and could be damaging to the reputation of the Sunday Times (that’s if there is anything left to damage).

The next course would have been for her to mount a very, very expensive legal case against AVUSA to force them to release the document which she clearly couldn’t afford to do. Student journos tend not to have a spare half million rand kicking around for litigation.

So it looked as though AVUSA would be able to keep its dirty secrets to itself until last Wednesday afternoon when Business Day published the full 88 page report on its website claiming an “exclusive”. There’s something very Shakespearean about this isn’t there? Business Day, the evil half brother of the Sunday Times, with one parent in common , setting the people against the King.

Within minutes of the release of the “exclusive” report the Twitterati were up in arms, complaining that Ms Solomon had done all the dirty work and yet BizDay hadn’t mentioned her at all. There followed a grovelling piece by BizDay editor Peter Bruce where he paid tribute to Ms Solomon (grudgingly some may say) and planted a big slobbery kiss on Mondli Makhanya’s bottom by calling him “brave”. Those who know Makhanya well would probably question the use of that word but, in fairness, elderly white editors who are tiptoeing gingerly towards retirement can’t afford to upset the new baas.

The first question to ask is why did Business Day decide to air the Sunday Times’s dirty laundry? Michelle Solomon has admitted that she had a copy of the report since February (as, apparently, had other newspaper editors) but had assured her source she wouldn’t publish it on the Daily Maverick website. Peter Bruce apparently phoned her last Sunday and egged her on to publish it because if she didn’t somebody else would. She stuck to her promise and on Monday sent an e.mail to the three stooges at the Sunday Times (Ray Hartley, Mondli Makhanya and Mike Robertson) saying she had a copy of the report and requested a meeting with them to discuss an orderly release. She received no reply to this e.mail which I find very odd.

So why would Peter Bruce decide to publish what some of his colleagues evidently regard as a very sensitive document. One suggestion from within the AVUSA camp is that his loathing for Mike Robertson, the personality challenged MD of the Sunday Times, was the trigger. It’s thought that Robertson put the boot into Bruce’s pet project The Weekender and caused its demise. Another is that BizDay couldn’t afford to be eclipsed by a small website like The Daily Maverick who could easily have done a WikiLeaks and published the report had it not been for Michelle Solomon’s journalistic integrity. Another, more Machiavellian, theory is that the hostile bid for AVUSA from Capitau is now at an advanced stage and there is bound to be some editorial shuffling taking place. Just in case a due diligence process hadn’t revealed the Sunday Times for the fetid swamp it is, then the release of the Harber report couldn’t do any harm.
So what’s it about now it’s out and was it worth going to all that trouble to keep the lid on the can of worms? Those who have worked for AVUSA, like BizCommunity columnist Gill Moodie, aren’t particularly surprised at the content and she chastises poor Michelle Solomon for being rather naïve. But for those who haven’t worked for AVUSA and believe that the country’s largest English language newspaper should be a beacon of hope in our dwindling democracy it makes pretty nasty reading. Judging by the tone of the report, even Harber and his colleagues were shocked by what they saw.

The report leaves the reader in no doubt that the Sunday Times is a bloody awful place to work for all but the charmed few. It is a workplace characterised by spite, malice, pettiness, mediocrity, idleness, bureaucracy and nepotism.

Page 14 of the report reads “There is an unusually high level of family and personal relationships between staff. Some are related, others are married, or involved with, or divorced from each other, or a host of other variants.”

This clearly refers to what is known in-house as the “f***ers and f***ees club” or Mike Robertson’s cosy cabal. It’s well known within the Sunday Times that most of the management (sic) team have exchanged body fluids at some time or another. The ST is run as a family business, despite being part of a public company. This is how a lesbian poetess rose without trace to become deputy editor of the Sunday Times and now editor of one of the AVUSA newspapers, notwithstanding there are many other far more deserving candidates for the job.

Page 15 reports that “We encountered a high degree of unhappiness in the interviews we conducted. We will discuss morale in more detail below, but we believe strongly that it has had a major impact on the problems the paper has experienced. If people are unhappy, they don’t work effectively”. No comment needed there I think.

The reporting panel asked for an organogram so that they could determine the roles and responsibilities of staff. This was clearly something of a challenge to the ST management but one was produced which turned out to be absolute fiction. Maybe Harber should have asked for an “orgasmogram” from management…that would have been easier to produce.

The report makes it abundantly clear that the Sunday Times was produced in a haphazard fashion during the time of review with very few people knowing exactly what was expected of them. A shocking revelation appears on page 40 - “There is now no chief sub at the paper (although the organogram we were given shows a chief sub, the person shown in that post denied it was his job)”. The worrying thing here is that the organogram is meaningless because the poor sod who has the job of chief sub doesn’t know it. An easy way to verify whether or not this was the case would be to look at his contract but, as I’ve found out in court recently, AVUSA prefer to ignore the Basic Conditions of Employment Act because it makes it easier to get rid of people. The chief sub that never was probably doesn’t even have a contract of employment.

The one person to come away smelling of roses is the bibulous Mondli Makhanya who warrants this endorsement on page 15…”Makhanya is clearly a well-respected figure, setting a tone of collegiality and professionalism. We believe that he is insufficiently supported, both on the editorial and on the management side. But we believe that he is well-placed to lead the newspaper out of the current situation”.

Odd then that he was relieved of the post of Sunday Times editor shortly after and “promoted” to editor of all the editors with no particular responsibility for anything. I asked one AVUSA insider what he does…”F**k knows….just wanders around the office waiting to go to lunch” was the reply. Clearly Makhanya, despite the glowing endorsement, was not regarded as a safe pair of hands.

Even if you are not a journalist the full report bears reading and can be found on the Business Day website [(PDF: ST Report; PDF: Cover Letter)]. Pages 13-48 are the interesting bits.

But what now? Well it’s quite clear that the Sunday Times hasn’t implemented all the recommendations as Makhanya categorically stated they had in a Q&A with BizDay. That’s just another of his many lies. The report says on page 83.

“We recommend:
  • That the panel present this report to staff, and the editor his response, and that staff be encouraged to debate it.
  • That at least the executive summary of this report, and a response from the editor, be published in the Sunday Times, and the full report be made available to the public on the Internet.
  • That a mechanism be put in place to investigate progress on the issues raised in this report and the implementation of recommendations within 6-12 months.”

None of that happened. It took a rival newspaper to make the report available on the Internet. As I have commented previously, lying comes as naturally to Mondli Makhanya as breathing does to the rest of us.

And so, on the evidence presented, The Sunday Times seems to be in an even worse mess than any of us thought. It’s impossible to take seriously a newspaper that has so little respect for truth and integrity. Robertson and his cronies have managed to destroy both brand value and shareholder value over the past few years while greatly enriching themselves. Why should they give a shit? They will be retired with their ill gotten gains before long. Thank heavens for dozy shareholders.

Disclosure....David Bullard wrote for the Sunday Times for 14 years and is currently suing them for wrongful dismissal. His views are, therefore, jaundiced.

» » » » [Newstime] [(PDF: ST Report; PDF: Cover Letter)]

"When the Sunday Times hurts, SA journalism hurts"

EXCLUSIVE: First publication of controversial report into editorial failures at South Africa’s most important newspaper

Michael Bleby & Chantelle Benjamin, Business Day
Published: 2011/06/15 01:59:22 PM

Front-page stories at Sunday Times that turned out to be false or vastly exaggerated risked damaging journalism not only at the country’s largest weekly paper, but in SA as a whole – a risk at a time when politicians were gunning to curb criticism that could hold them to account – an as-yet unpublished report into problems at the paper states.

A series of high-profile stories in 2007 and 2008, such as utility Transnet’s apparent sale of the sea adjacent to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront development to foreign investors, sensationalised allegations against Land Bank officials that were not backed up and the details of which subsequently changed , and the news of a lavish birthday party for the 13-year-old niece of Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni all gave ammunition to politicians who wished to see the wings of the paper – and journalism in general – clipped, the 2008 report says.

"When the Sunday Times hurts, South African journalism hurts, and so may the country’s democracy. The paper has built credibility and standing over many years, and a reputation for high-quality and incisive journalism. In this report we have set out to shore up these foundations," the report by former Saturday Star editor Paula Fray, Wits University Professor of Journalism Anton Harber, former national editor of SABC radio news Franz Kruger and media lawyer Dario Milo. The report is today published for the first time, on the Business Day website.

"We are conscious of the fact that there are those who would use the paper’s recent problems to damage it and encourage it to temper its voice."

Scrutiny of the country’s biggest Sunday paper, with an audited weekly readership of 3,8-million, has not only given ammunition to would-be critics of the media in general, but it has left the owner , Avusa , – half owner of Business Day – vulnerable to charges that it is unwilling to open itself to criticism. The company did not make the report public, as the panel recommended it did, and has recently declined to hand it over to a reporter from online publication the Daily Maverick who asked for it through a Promotion of Access to Information Act request.

As a result, it is not clear how far the Sunday Times has gone in remedying the faults that led to the failures, former Mail & Guardian editor Prof Harber said yesterday.

"I think they implemented only part of the recommendations. One was that they have a review six months down the line of their progress and they chose not to do that. Without it, it’s hard to know certain things that they have done but it is clear that some things have not been done," Prof Harber said earlier today. "They let themselves down when they didn’t publish it openly."

The report, based on a three-month period of scrutiny of the publication by the four panel members, found that a core problem was the newspaper’s organisational structure, which it said "has been allowed to grow wild over many years, and has now reached a stage where it obstructs effective editorial decision making."

The role of individual editors in the news process was weakened by the role of a regular conference of editors "which takes far more decisions than it should," the report says.

"Almost everyone who deals with conference found it difficult, hostile, sometimes ignorant, and at the same time unable to ask the right questions. The centralisation of power in conference firstly makes it difficult for others to question decisions, since, after all, they represent the consensus of the paper’s leadership. Secondly, it disempowers editors."

Further, the newspaper had developed a habit of not attributing information it reported on in an effort to sound more authoritative. This had the effect, however, of not giving readers the opportunity to decide for themselves how much weight to attribute to any given piece of information.

"It is clear that the newspaper has developed a style of downplaying or withholding details of where information comes from, in the belief that it sounds more authoritative," the report says.

There was also a tendency to sensationalise stories.

"We found that the newspaper has often stretched the limits of acceptable editing too far, and has made itself vulnerable to accusations of sensationalism, " the report's authors say.

One example the report considered was a story that began with a front-page splash on 24 August 2008, with a headline stating: "Transnet sold our sea to foreigners". It was followed two weeks later by stating that the headline, a diagram accompanying the story and a statement that the extent of the area of sea sold "went too far".

Despite the newspaper’s retraction – unspecific about what was wrong – the process that led to the story being published in the form it was showed up serious errors, the report says.

"We believe that elements of the story were sensationalised without reason by the newspaper… The editing gave the story a sensational angle that the reporter appears not to have intended, and that the documentary evidence – seen only by the reporter – did not justify. Without having seen the evidence, the editing should not have taken the course it did. Likewise, the reporter should have objected to the edits to the story."

A separate package of stories that began in 2007 about the Land Bank, a state institution originally created to promote investment in agriculture and other land-related activities, publicised serious allegations about malfeasance at the institution by senior officials. While many of the details turned out to be correct – and the institution has since been placed under the control of the Treasury – the newspaper erred in the way it went about it.

It repeated allegations about the Land Bank head contained in an audit report without stating it had not seen the actual report, reported allegations as fact, exaggerated the extent of money subject to fraud and had not given sufficient weight to responses made by then bank head Alan Mukoki. In subsequent stories it published on the matter, as it got more information, the newspaper changed the facts it had earlier stated, but without admitting the mistakes it had earlier made. The newspaper also made allegations against another Land Bank official without giving him the right of reply.

"More difficult to understand is why, " the report asks, "when the Sunday Times received the audit report and it became apparent that some of the reported figures were inaccurate, these were not corrected in the paper. The paper did report some of the correct figures in its report of 20 January 2008, but without ever acknowledging that it had previously erred. The result was that there were contradictory numbers in the public arena, with little indication of which were reliable," the report says.

A third case the report raises is that of a September 2008 page-three story headed "Tito’s niece, 13, throws a stylish bash" with a sub-heading "Fancy goodie bags and a former Miss SA for the girl whose uncle signs the banknotes".

It was unclear whether the story, about then Reserve Bank governor’s niece, was of sufficient public interest to warrant its publication, the report says.

"There needs to be greater clarity about what can and cannot be published in regard to children in particular. If the child had not been named, then no privacy issue would have existed. We are surprised that there appears to have been no substantive discussion on whether the child should be named," the report says.

The report (PDF: ST Report; PDF: Cover Letter) goes into other stories the Sunday Times published, but says one effect they all have is to present the country’s mass media as unwilling to listen to criticism, despite being an institution that demands accountability of those it scrutinises.

" The newspaper’s behaviour does little to endear itself to the general public – which only plays into the hands of those would see it tamed and less vigorous. "

"For many readers, the practices and habits of journalists are thoroughly opaque, and decisions are hard to understand. The ANC line "they will do anything to sell the paper" has much wider resonance than media people would like to believe. A recent Wits University research project found that a very high proportion of people believe that journalists routinely buy information. The myths out there are very damaging to credibility. The answer is simply for journalists to do more to explain themselves," the report says.

» » » » [Business Day][(PDF: ST Report; PDF: Cover Letter)]
» » [BD: Q&A with former Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya]
» » [DM: Sunday Times, Business Day, the report and me]
» » [BD: The Sunday Times, Michelle, Daily Maverick and Meeeeee]

PETER BRUCE: The debt we all owe to Michelle Solomon

Journalists like Michelle Solomon are just what South Africa needs, writes Peter Bruce

Peter Bruce, Business Day
Published: 2011/06/15 04:36:34 PM

I am very pleased that Business Day has been able, finally, to bring into the public domain, the 2008 report on the inner editorial workings of the Sunday Times. Journalists should have few secrets, and, among them, editors even fewer. After a series of often quite baffling reporting errors a few years ago the then Sunday Times editor, Mondli Makhanya, called in a panel of experts to examine the way his paper gathered and published the news.

It was, typically for the man, a brave move. The Sunday Times is no ordinary newspaper. It is the most influential in the country by a mile, whatever we competitors might like to think, and the biggest on the weekends. It is a vital part of our democracy. The people involved in the study were eminently qualified to do their work and the report they produced, as readers can see today, is a magnificent piece of work, full of empathy and insight. It must have been a huge help to the editor and, certainly, I don't remember any further big editorial failures while he was in the hot seat.
Yet, to my lasting disappointment (and that of thousands of readers) the full report was never published. We were given a 'summary' I remember, that left you wondering what had been left out. Then, like many things do in our public life, it slipped from view and, soon, from memory.

Until, that is, a few months ago, on a website called The Daily Maverick, when a young journalist called Michelle Solomon wrote an article detailing how she had applied, through the access to information act, to the publishers of the Sunday Times, Avusa , for a full copy of the report.

It was a brilliantly written article which deliciously recalled her meeting with the company's chief information officer (who didn't know he was) in order to be told that, sadly, the company would be unable to furnish her with the copy she sought.

I was amused to read in Business Day today that Avusa is tangentially involved in using the same legislation to try to access information about a rival publisher.

Michelle Solomon, now studying for her Masters at Rhodes University, has written since then on the subject of media ethics and her writing is powerful and compelling. Without her, I have no doubt this report would have remained buried until it had been entirely forgotten.

We are, all of us in the media, in her debt. That is because this report had to come out. We face such political hostility that only integrity will see us through. Journalists like Solomon keep us honest, and in the frenetic bustle that is the media, that is no easy thing to do.

» » » » [Business Day][(PDF: ST Report; PDF: Cover Letter)]
» » [BD: Q&A with former Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya]
» » [DM: Sunday Times, Business Day, the report and me]
» » [BD: The Sunday Times, Michelle, Daily Maverick and Meeeeee]

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