Editorial: Protect media sources


This past week, US President Donald Trump praised US congressman Greg Gianforte, who assaulted a journalist last year, saying: “He is my guy.”

And in Turkey this week, an investigation is under way after a journalist, who was critical of the Saudi Arabia regime, was allegedly killed, beheaded and cut into pieces by suspected agents of the regime inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

These are random examples of the toxic and dangerous atmosphere in which the media operates.

In their line of work, journalists invariably evoke the ire of those who wield power when their exercise of such power is called out.

South Africa faces the same challenges.

The advent of social media and the digital space means journalists must work harder to distinguish themselves from everyone who has a phone and believes they can create their own stories.

The credibility of our stories is what sets us apart from the phenomenon of fake news.

The turn of events at the Sunday Times has been a source of anguish for everyone in the media space. The paper must be commended for owning up to past mistakes.

However, this apology has now generated calls for the paper to reveal the sources of its now discredited stories.

The argument is that the sources were motivated by malice and were, in essence, criminals who torpedoed good governance for nefarious purposes.

However, we believe that this sorry saga should not be allowed to be opportunistically used by those who want to clamp down on media freedoms.

Instead, it should be a call for introspection by the journalistic community and for the necessary strengthening of existing ethical and accuracy mechanisms in newsrooms.

Journalists must never behave as helpless individuals at the mercy of their sources.

The role of anonymous sources is to give pointers to the journalist, who still has a responsibility to put all the pieces together before writing a story.

Journalists and editors must take responsibility for inaccurate reporting and not seek to pass the buck to their sources.

Once we set a precedent of outing our sources of information, this might have a chilling effect on many whistle-blowers, who take huge risks in sharing information with the media.

Our anger with the people who misled these journalists should not blight us into wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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