/ 12 November 2010

ProJourn: M&G’s coverage of Gumede ‘exhaustive’

The Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa said on Thursday it believed Mail & Guardian reporters had properly applied themselves in investigating businessman Robert Gumede’s Telkom tender.

Gumede’s ex-wife told the M&G how she transferred R100 000 on his instruction to the account of a company belonging to a senior Telkom executive’s wife.

The money was transferred in October 2004 — two years after Gumede’s Gijima Afrika Smart Technologies (GAST) was awarded a multimillion-rand tender by Telkom to manufacture smart cards.

Gumede accused the paper’s investigative journalist Sam Sole of receiving payments from Gumede’s former business partner and adversary John Sterenborg to expose Gumede as a corrupt businessman.

ProJourn said the M&G‘s coverage was “to put it mildly, exhaustive”.

Tough call
“We do believe, however, that on the rare occasion that a journalist — or in this case their editor — accepts a nominal payment from a source to cover expenses, it is only acceptable in very limited circumstances, and the acceptability or not of such payment needs to be weighed against the motivations of the source, the public interest value of the story, and the validity of costs incurred in pursuing the story,” said the association in a statement.

Noseweek‘s Martin Welz is an internationally respected journalist renowned for being unafraid to challenge vested interests. We are uncertain whether he ideally should have accepted payment to cover his journalists’ airfare for a story that [apparently] turned out to be unsubstantiated at the time — but that’s one of the tough calls that he had to make as an editor.”

“What is clear, however, is that Gumede’s ethics come out in the wash looking far dirtier than Welz’s and his airing of the small R900 cheque paid to Sole to cover his costs smacks of a smear campaign designed to obscure criticism of Gumede’s far more substantial gain from the extension of the tender,” said the statement.

“Nevertheless, we urge journalists to exercise extreme caution with accepting any assistance from sources while researching their stories which may lead them into the trap of ‘chequebook journalism’.”