Interesting nuggets among the clutter

2008-10-02 08:05

Steyn-Barlow's reminiscences are in complete contrast to Pauw's book: 353 pages of self-congratulation in a style that belies the school-of-hard-knocks training she received from Johnny Johnson, the curmudgeonly then-editor of The Citizen.

She relates her role in reporting on matters as diverse as the Stander bank-robbery gang, the Van Rooyen paedophile horror and the NIA bugging scandal where government was caught spying on its own ministers. Steyn-Barlow recounts the progression of her stories in minute detail, which is probably useful for journalism students but tedious for the general reader. What does come out of such blow-by-blow reporting, however, is an insight into how all parties - editors, reporters, government officials - respond to emerging facts and how they all work their separate agendas, sometimes courageously, often not. The bugging story for example shows up the bravery and cravenness of prominent media figures and Mo Shaik is revealed as a bullyboy who's quick to intimidate in his attempts to have a story quashed.

Steyn-Barlow spent some years in exile after police ordered her arrest over her refusal to give evidence on the Duduza dirty-tricks mission in which rigged explosives killed eight liberation fighters. After her return to South Africa she eventually left journalism, pursuing a range of interests, which include equestrianism and fencing. Her journalistic legacy is probably not as astounding as she appears to believe it to be but if you can wade through the clutter and long-winded writing, Publish and Be Damned has some interesting nuggets on stories that made the headlines from the late-apartheid era into the transition to democracy.

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