Journo pulled from investigative conferences over cancer lies

Journalism. (File)
Journalism. (File)

A journalist who faked a cancer diagnosis for nine months has been removed from a list of speakers at two investigative conferences.

Roxanne Joseph said in a statement that she "fully agreed to this with the organisers" of the Africa Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC) and Global Investigative Journalism Conference.

"The work that is showcased at these conferences is tremendously important, and I do not want to tarnish or jeopardise that."

Joseph said she was diagnosed with a serious mental illness in 2016.

"This diagnosis followed a long period of lies and deceit on my part: I faked an illness, and betrayed a number of people in doing so," she said.

Not for financial gain

She shared that her deception was not for financial gain but "entirely for attention and sympathy".

"The decisions I made and actions I took during this time - such as not attending work because I told my employers that I was ill - are not all clear to me, as I was extremely mentally ill and on lots of the incorrect medication. These details were discussed with my former employer at the time, with the assistance of my family," she said.

"I am so sorry and filled with remorse for the hurt and mistrust I have caused people, both personally and professionally. I have and would never try and defend or justify what I did, and I am under no pretense that anything I say or do going forward will change how people feel.

"I have, for the past few years, tried my best to give the people I hurt space to feel anger, hurt and disdain; this is absolutely their right, and I will continue to respect that."

Joseph said she had worked very hard in her personal and professional lives to move forward since then but was aware she could not undo her actions or the hurt or pain she caused.

"I can, and have, received extensive psychiatric treatment and therapy. This will be my reality for the rest of my life, and it is work I am committed to doing, every day," she said.

Joseph began receiving psychiatric treatment shortly after returning to her family in Cape Town, as well as being prescribed medication.

"I still take medication and receive therapy, in various different forms."

"I am a journalist, and I am aware that as a result the ethical expectations placed on my shoulders are necessarily extremely high. In all of my work, both before and after my diagnosis, I have applied the principles that drive good journalism. Fairness, honesty, transparency."

Franz Kruger, head of the Wits journalism department - which organises the AIJC, told Wits Vuvuzela that they would not release a statement but admitted it had been a mistake to accept a suggestion for Joseph to take part in the conference.

Anton Harber, an Adjunct Professor of Journalism at Wits, told the publication that while fabrication was inexcusable, mental illness could happen to anyone.

Withdrawing her from the list of speakers was enough of a statement, he said.

"There are a lot of people hurt in this terrible incident so I would be very cautious of simple ethical points of view," he said.

- Compiled by Jenna Etheridge

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