/ 17 April 2009

M&G investigative journalists scoop prestigious award

Three of the Mail & Guardian’s investigative journalists on Friday won the prestigious Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism for 2008.

Sam Sole, Stefaans Brümmer and Adriaan Basson scooped South Africa’s largest journalism prize for their extraordinary commitment to the complex arms deal story.

The judges commended them and M&G editor Ferial Haffajee ”for their doggedness in chipping away at the edifice of secrecy and steadily filling in the detail of what must rate as one of the most important stories of this era”.

They recognised the team for the use of the full range of investigative techniques: cultivating sources, accessing court documents, chasing down international records and using the internet to track down individuals in obscure places.

The judges added: ”They have presented their story in a readable, graphically rich way and made it people-centred. This story has not ended but if this remains a national issue then it is largely because of the excellent work of the Mail & Guardian team.”

They will receive R200 000.

Incoming editor Nic Dawes said the award recognised the extraordinary work that the team had done for almost over a decade, and their determination to press on in the face of considerable hostility.

”It is also a welcome acknowledgement that the Mail & Guardian‘s ongoing investment in tough, independent, investigative journalism, pays dividends not just for us and our readers, for our democracy more broadly”, said Dawes.

Runners-up were television programme Carte Blanche for a story on police corruption in Hammanskraal, and City Press, for their story on corruption in the tenders for a new Sowetan hospital. They will share R100 000.

The Carte Blanche team made use of secret cameras that allowed them to nail the culprits on video. The judges made special mention of presenter Devi Sankaree Govender who ”has done her work with clarity, forcefulness and conviction”.

The other runner-up was City Press, who stumbled across the story and then pursued it all the way to its conclusion: forcing the cancellation of the tender.

The judges said the five shortlisted candidates indicated that there were remarkable pockets of excellence in South African journalism.

”There is a real commitment by some South African print and broadcast media to uncovering the story behind the story,” said Anton Harber, Caxton professor of journalism at Wits University and convenor of the judging panel. ”There were a number of investigations which were professionally executed, pursued with vigour and in some cases a good deal of courage. All the successful cases were marked by reporters’ and editors’ commitment to tough stories over an extended period of time.”

He added: ”It was striking that most stories brought official response, whether in the form of tenders being stopped, officials being investigated or arrests being made. Overall, the judges concluded that at least pockets of our media are playing their role in ensuring good governance in this society and forcing transparency and accountability with vigour and rigour.”

The Taco Kuiper Award is a partnership between the Valley Trust and the Wits journalism programme’s investigative workshop.

The award has been created to commemorate late business journalist and publisher Taco Kuiper.