/ 10 April 2008

Selebi saga bags M&G top newspaper award

The saga of police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi has won the Mail & Guardian‘s investigations team the Mondi Shanduka Newspaper Award for story of the year, it was announced on Wednesday evening.

At the seventh annual awards ceremony held at the Wanderers club in Johannesburg, the M&G‘s Stefaans Brümmer, Sam Sole, Adriaan Basson, Zukile Majova, Nic Dawes, Pearlie Joubert and Matuma Letsoalo were honoured for their series of reports on Selebi.

The awards honour those media workers who excel in producing breaking news, in-depth features, provocative commentary and captivating photographs, as well as innovative layout and presentation.

The reports related to criminal allegations levelled against the police chief and his connections to criminal figures, as well as the suspension of National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli by President Thabo Mbeki at a time when the Scorpions were poised to charge Selebi.

Describing the series of events as ”a very complex and fast-moving story, with myriad detail and a fog of official machinations”, the awards judges said the M&G‘s reporters ”succeeded in turning serious behind-the-scenes developments into a highly significant story within the public realm”.

M&G editor Ferial Haffajee commented: ”It is important recognition for many years of hard work and for shouldering a series of insults from the national commissioner. The work of good journalism is to ensure accountability and integrity from our highest officers. The team makes us proud.”

Significant event

The judges noted that even though the African National Congress’s Polokwane conference in December was probably the most significant event of last year, not many awards entries did justice to that story.

They also stated: ”If Thabo Mbeki’s election defeat was linked to claims that he used the state security organs against political opponents, then one of the nails in his coffin was his suspension of Vusi Pikoli, National Director of Public Prosecutions.”

This apparent attempt to stop the Scorpions pursuing his ally, Selebi, triggered huge anger within the ruling party and indisputably contributed to Mbeki losing control of the party, they said.

The investigation into these events by the M&G team, along with the reports on Selebi’s many dubious connections and the suspension of Pikoli, helped set the national agenda and had a major political impact, said the judges.

Previous winners of this award are Rob Rose (Business Day) and the M&G‘s Sole, Brümmer, Dawes and Majova in 2007; Susan Winters (the Witness) in 2006; and Wisani wa ka Ngobeni (M&G) in 2005.

The M&G was also this year’s runner-up for the Joel Mervis Trophy, which recognises urban weekly newspapers across all categories for outstanding advertising, printing and production, layout and typography and use of pictures and graphics. The 2008 trophy went to the Witness.

Acclaimed cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro — Zapiro — was the winner in the category for graphical journalism yet again. His Polokwane cartoon of new ANC leader Jacob Zuma eclipsing Mbeki merged the muddles of ANC politicking, Eskom’s power failures and Zuma’s infamous shower episode into a single image. Zapiro’s cartoons appear in the M&G and on the M&G Online.

Mathatha Tsedu, editor-in-chief of City Press, was named this year’s Lifetime Achiever.

”Tsedu had risen through the ranks not just to his present position, but to the stature of a leader in the media more broadly — not just in South Africa but also across the continent,” said the judges. ”This is in part because he has never hesitated to express strongly independent views, and been an unstinting critic of racism. It is not surprising that because of this, the man was badly harassed under apartheid, and has also fallen foul of one employer as well as several politicians.”

Veteran journalist Jeremy Gordin of the Sunday Independent won the award for journalist of the year. He was described by the judges as ”a veteran journalist who brings a range of well-refined skills to bear with results that surpassed the performance of his colleagues in 2007”.

Other Mondi Shanduka winners were:

  • Hard news: Nerissa Govender — the Witness: ”Family’s blue-light trauma”

  • Analysis and commentary: Jorisna Bonthuys — Die Burger: ”Kioto2 kry nou stoom”

  • Feature writing: Shaun Smillie — the Star: ”The search for Looksmart”

  • Investigative journalism: Chandré Prince, Brett Horner, Ntando Makhubu — Daily Dispatch: ”Why Frere’s babies die”

  • Creative journalism: Oliver Roberts — Sunday Times Lifestyle: ”Don’t look down”

  • News photographs: Alon Skuy — the Times: ”Hillbrow flight”

  • Feature photographs: Sandile Ndlovu — Sunday Tribune: ”Labour of love” series

  • Presentation (layout and design): Arlene Prinsloo — Die Burger: Untitled cover wrap photograph of the Springbok victory and other pages

No winner or finalists were selected in the newly created category for popular tabloid journalism, and the judges described entries as ”disappointing”, adding: ”There are a great many bold, innovative and entertaining pages every day in the tabloid press, but they were not among the entries, which were dominated by hard news reporting or feature writing of a kind that was not specific to popular journalism.”

”There has been outstanding journalism over the past year,” said Professor Guy Berger, head of the Rhodes University school of journalism and media studies and convener of the judging panel. ”Critics should balance their concerns with the fine achievements this competition has highlighted, and meanwhile South Africans in general can feel there is good cause to value our free and vibrant newspaper journalists.”

This year’s judging panel also included Salie de Swardt, Ivan Fynn, Alf Kumalo, Irwin Manoim, Phil Mtimkulu, Joyce Sikhakhane and Caroline Southey.