What the Media Says
Caught in a lie
Barely a week goes by without a newspaper depending on anonymous
an account of a closed meeting of the ANC or its Alliance partners. And
barely a week goes by without those anonymous sources getting the facts
More often than not, media reports which provide an "insider" account
closed ANC meetings are either misleading or just plain wrong. While
present in the meeting may be aware that the media account is false, it
usually very difficult to 'prove' the inaccuracy of the reports short
publishing the transcript of the meeting.
So often are the proceedings of ANC meetings misreported that the
organisation often does not bother to rebut each false report.
Last week, on Tuesday, 23 August, Business Day published one such
its front page. 'Mbeki fuels ANC feud, faces down Zuma allies', the
screamed. According to the report, President Thabo Mbeki "came down
key backers of ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma" during a meeting of the
ANC's National Working Committee (NWC) the day before.
The report went on to claim: "Sources said Mbeki used the tense meeting
face down a mounting pro-Zuma campaign". It said, "Mbeki also demanded
[ANC] youth league president Fikile Mbalula explain statements
him that Mbeki had 'acted unfairly' and abused his powers in dealing
Like many before it, the article was a fabrication. The events
"sources" did not take place. The article was yet another in a long
of false reports which rely on anonymous sources.
Yet, what makes this particular article stand out from the others, is
the claims are verifiably untrue. They can conclusively be proven as
without having to publish the transcript of the meeting.
This is because President Thabo Mbeki wasn't present at the NWC meeting
question. Not being present at the meeting, Mbeki would have been hard
pressed to make the statements attributed to him by "insiders".
Ironically, on the same day as Business Day published this outrageous
fabrication on its front page, the paper's political editor, Jacob
wrote an article in the paper's 20th anniversary supplement praising
Day's "excellent political journalism". According to Dlamini, Business
political team is the "best in the business".
Journalists can often get away with untrue claims by anonymous sources
the contents of closed meetings. Generally, it's the word of their
against the word of the organisation in question. Journalists can claim
their sources are credible, even impeccable. Readers cannot judge for
themselves, because journalists won't reveal the names of these
sources, and must therefore rely on the say-so of the journalist.
The organisers of the meeting find it hard to rebut the claims.
the transcript of the meeting would defeat the point of having a closed
meeting, and would violate the right of any organisation to hold
But not this time. The "reliable" sources used in the Business Day
not only lied about the content of the discussion. They lied about who
in the meeting -information that can very easily be verified.
While some may argue that this one 'aberration' should not be allowed
cast doubt on Business Day's otherwise "excellent political
is necessary to acknowledge that what sets this particular article
others of its sort is that the newspaper - or, more likely, its source
caught in a lie. Usually they don't get caught.
It is surprising that so many South African media institutions are so
to accept as fact the word of these "inside sources". One wonders
any consideration is given to the motives of these sources, and whether
account is taken of the likelihood that these sources will provide only
information which serves their own purposes. Judging by a range of
reports over many years, an "inside source" will not hesitate to change
truth if the actual events do not suit their purposes.
Business Day got caught in a lie, presumably as a consequence of
an unnamed source. It remains to be seen whether that makes their
team - or those of any other media institution - think twice before
publishing as fact the unverified claims of an anonymous inside source.