Award organisers caught by surprise as Sunday Times returns prizes for false reports

2018-10-15 16:25
Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko. (Masi Losi, Gallo Images, The Times, file)

Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko. (Masi Losi, Gallo Images, The Times, file)

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"This is the first I've heard of it."

Rashid Wajoodeen, chief accountant at Print and Digital Media South Africa (PDMSA), which organises the Standard Bank Sikuvile Newspaper Awards, was taken by surprise on Monday morning when called for comment, following the announcement by Sunday Times that it would be returning awards and repaying prize money received for false reports.

Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko on Sunday apologised and announced that the paper would return all awards and prize money received for now discredited reports on the Cato Manor "death squad", the SARS "rogue unit" and Zimbabwean extraditions.

News24 learnt on Sunday that journalists Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stefan Hofstatter had parted ways with Tiso Blackstar, however Siqoko declined to comment on the matter, saying he "cannot discuss employees in the media".

Among the awards raked in by Wa Afrika, Hofstatter and Rob Rose are three Sikuvile Awards in 2012: Story of the Year, Journalist of the Year and one for investigative journalism for their article "Shoot to Kill: Inside a South African Police Death Squad", which was published by the Sunday Times on December 11, 2011. At the time, a R15 000 cash prize was awarded in each category.

'Retracting awards would be the right thing'

Wajoodeen told News24 that the awards would probably be retracted. "That would be the right thing to do."

But Wajoodeen could not say how the PDMSA would go about this and whether the prizes would be re-awarded to the runners-up.

"We will have to go back to the judges to make a call on this. This was a long time ago.

"The applications will have been destroyed by now, but we do have a record of the shortlist and the runners-up.

"We are going to have to do this step by step."

Wajoodeen said he was "glad" that the prize money would be paid back.

Wa Afrika, Hofstatter and Rose were also joint winners of the international Global Shining Light Award in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in October 2013. The Global Investigative Journalism Network, which administers this award, has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The three were also the joint runners-up for the prestigious Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism in 2013.

Wits Journalism, which administers the Taco Kuiper Awards, said in a statement on Monday: "We note the editor's admission that they 'committed mistakes [in their reporting] and allowed ourselves to be manipulated by those with ulterior motives', and their decision to return the prize. We appreciate their honesty in dealing with this.

"Our panel of judges made the award in good faith. We are deeply disappointed that this entry has now been shown to have fallen short. South Africa has an excellent record of fine investigative journalism and the awards will continue to support, promote and recognise the best of it and be vigilant in upholding the highest standards," the statement read.

Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika is pho

Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika is photographed after being released from police cells at the Nelspruit police station. (Felix Dlangamandla, Gallo Images, Foto24, file)

Commenting on the Cato Manor article, Siqoko said that the labelling of it as a "death squad" was unqualified.

Siqoko also said the articles had created an "impression" that then-head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal, Johan Booysen, was "directly and personally responsible" for the killings.

Siqoko said that Booysen had told the newspaper he did not have any direct involvement in the unit - and: "We have no reason not to accept his version."

'Report led to criminal charges, suspension'

The original report led to Booysen and scores of detectives from Cato Manor being arrested and criminally charged with murder and racketeering, among others.

Booysen was also suspended as the head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal.

Media expert Professor Anton Harber told News24 that the returning of awards and prize money was "unprecedented".

As convenor of judges for the Taco Kuiper Awards, Harber said he didn't know what the procedure [of returning awards] entailed. "I'm waiting to hear from the Sunday Times," Harber said.

Asked about his thoughts on the Sunday Times' handling of the matter, Harber said: "I think it's a good first step. Now they need to be clear on what steps they take to ensure it doesn't happen again and whether individuals involved will be held accountable."

Harber said the paper should be able to recover from the reputational damage it had suffered should it "deal with it fully and openly".

"It's not enough to say you're sorry. You have to take steps to ensure it doesn't happen again."

'Not just a Sunday Times problem'

Harber emphasised that, "This is not just a Sunday Times problem."

"There are a number of our media institutions that have been compromised by the state capture project. As an industry, we have to face up to the fact that there are other media institutions that need to own up and clarify their positions and deal with state capture compromise.

"We can now forget about the Gupta media operation [The New Age newspaper and ANN7 TV station], but the SABC, MultiChoice and the Independent newspaper group have to follow the example of the Sunday Times," Harber said.

 *News24 and MultiChoice are both part of the Naspers group of companies.   

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