'Tembisa 10': Independent Media to appoint external, independent inquiry

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Iqbal Survé. (Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen)
Iqbal Survé. (Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen)
  • An external, independent inquiry will be appointed by Independent Media into the "Tembisa 10" story.
  • This is one of six "immediate actions" the company says it has put in place to "establish the truth", executive chairperson Iqbal Survé has announced.
  • The group's ombud was also investigating following complaints from its readers.

Independent Media will appoint an external, independent inquiry into the publication of the story of the "Tembisa 10".

"All information, including video, text and other details in our possession, will be made available to the chairperson of the inquiry," executive chairperson Iqbal Survé announced on Friday.

This was one of six "immediate actions" the company would undertake "considering the ongoing attacks" on the group and Pretoria News editor Piet Rampedi.

The publication reported as fact that Gosiame Sithole gave birth to decuplets on 7 June.

READ | 'Tembisa 10': Piet Rampedi pens apology to Independent Media staff for baby saga

This, however, was denied by the authorities, with the health department saying no hospital, both private and public, had any record of this.

In a statement, Survé said the measures have been put in place to "establish the truth".

"Independent Media's Group Ombud has initiated a probe based on various complaints from readers. The Ombud will establish whether there has been any violation of our Press Code, the ethics related to the publication of the decuplets stories and whether the rights of the Sithole family were violated through the publication of such stories," he said.

The Editor-in-Chief Mr Aneez Salie is in the process of finalising a report for submission to the executive chairperson. This report, compiled in conjunction with Piet Rampedi, will outline the facts behind the story and ascertain whether all the checks and balances were adhered to in terms of our press code.

Furthermore, the company said it would initiate a "separate investigation" into the decuplets story led by its investigations editor.

"His task is to independently verify the facts pertaining to the decuplets story. Piet Rampedi will not be involved in any manner with this investigation."

Survé said the company would oppose the litigation announced by the Gauteng government, which said it instructed the State Attorney to sue Rampedi, who authored the story, and his employer.

Its "investigations are ongoing", Survé added.

Sithole was admitted to Tembisa Hospital on 18 June, and various medical tests were conducted on her to determine her state of health.

READ | Mother receiving 'support' as Gauteng government plans to sue Rampedi, Independent Media

Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said medical practitioners had established that Sithole "did not give birth to any babies in recent times" and that she had also not recently been pregnant.

Sithole was meant to be kept at the hospital for 72 hours, but doctors recommended she be kept for an additional seven days for further observation, in accordance with the Mental Health Care Act, Masebe said on Wednesday.

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) welcomed the announcement of an independent panel.

"We call on Survé to ensure the independent panel is independent in every sense of the word and will consist of recognised experts on media ethics and media law," it said in a statement.

Sanef was concernend about the precedent that the pending lawsuit would set.

"If replicated elsewhere it could have dire consequences for small media companies and publishers who would -  unlike Independent Media - not have deep pockets to defend themselves. It could also be abused to force smaller media outlets into silence or to self-sensor."

It said instituting legal action against a media house should always be the last avenue for an aggrieved complainant.

"We would again encourage Independent Media to rejoin the Press Council of SA and abide by the Press Code of SA and not be a law unto themselves."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Sanef.

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