An investigation into events surrounding the murder of Charl Kinnear, commander of the police's Anti-Gang Unit in Cape Town, conducted by News24's Jeff Wicks and Kyle Cowan has won top honours at this year's Taco Kuiper Awards for Investigative Journalism.
The investigation, published in December 2020, revealed how Kinnear’s cellphone was "pinged" by a private investigator who used his access to cellphone service providers to allegedly relay the top cop's location to his murderers. Zane Killian is now accused of being an accessory to Kinnear's murder.
Wicks and Cowan obtained access to datasets which enabled them to reconstruct the days ahead of Kinnear's murder. They then used various resources to sift through the datasets and identified the relevant data which gave them insight into particular events. This data was extracted, cleaned and plotted on maps and helped reveal how Kinnear was murdered.
The Taco Kuiper Awards are administered by the University of the Witwatersrand's journalism school and is considered the most prestigious award in the country recognising investigative journalism. It also carries a significant cash prize.
Delivering the commendation, Professor Anton Harber, from the University of the Witwatersrand's journalism school, commented: "These reporters used cutting edge digital forensic tools to track down a key figure in the assassination of Charl Kinnear. They tracked and mapped how a private investigator used illegal location-based services to follow Kinnear until shortly before his death, as well as a number of other people."
"The report revealed how police had failed to protect Kinnear and the cellphone service providers had allowed this to happen. It was a show of tremendous journalism skill, demonstrating the power of new digital tools for both good and bad. It led to the arrest of the private investigator and forced the cellphone companies to take action to stop this activity."
Runner-up in the award was Carte Blanche's Tarryn Crossman for her story "Midwife Killer", which exposed a senior and well-known midwife who was using harmful drugs to induce labour without patients' consent, leading to problematic births and even deaths.
'Closer to the truth'
"It was a powerful and important exposé, skilfully told," the judges said.
Adriaan Basson, News24's editor-in-chief, said: "I am extremely proud of the work Jeff and Kyle did with this investigation; exposing the dark underbelly of cellphone pinging and how it was perversely exploited by shadowy private investigators and rogue elements in the largest mobile companies. Their investigation brought us closer to the truth about Kinnear's brutal death."
Pieter du Toit, News24's investigations editor, added: "Jeff and Kyle are two skilful and hardworking muckrakers. This award is just recognition for putting in the long hours without any guarantees of reward. Investigative reporting is a bedrock of News24's journalism, and we look forward to more impactful projects."
Exodus - News24’s seven-month investigation into accusations of gross human rights violations, alleged money laundering and sexual abuse at the KwaSizabantu Mission in KwaZulu-Natal - also made the final shortlist of nine entries.
According to a statement from the judges, investigative journalism remains important and valuable.
"Journalists were continuing their essential work, despite having to work under the hostile conditions of the pandemic and the severe financial difficulties of the news media industry. While there was excellent work to be recognised, the judges did note, though, that it appeared the decimation of newsrooms had taken its toll on the quality of editing."