Thursday, June 01, 2017

Sunday Independent's Persistent Online Lies


On Sunday 23rd April the Sunday Independent published an incorrect and misleading article about the "It's Time" prayer event near Bloemfontein. A million people showed up to pray for the country. Their freelance correspondent Sidwell Guduka wrote a piece that was published in the paper and online. The story was picked up and repeated by numerous other smaller online web sites.
I was not at the event, so I am not able to comment on the overall accuracy of the story, but there was one obvious and glaring inaccuracy that could and should have been fact-checked by the Sunday Independent newsroom. The sentence "He touched down in his private jet just a stone’s throw from the area where the event was held." Angus Buchan doesn't own a jet. How many farmers do?
The Cape Argus went a step further, combining two separate articles into a single mishmash and making out that Angus Buchan is a "bogus pastor".
So I wrote to the Press Council of South Africa to complain about both of them. It seems that Independent Newspapers has withdrawn from this august body, and has its own internal (but useless) complaints procedure. I forwarded two complaints to <complaints@inl.co.za> and have only received a reply to one of them from their "Group Ombudman". They clearly don't feel that correcting misleading information is any kind of priority, since after 5 weeks all they have done is publish this apology in the print edition of the Sunday Independent:
In my opinion, the line "This is not the case" doesn't clarify anything. It doesn't make it clear whether he didn't arrive in his private jet (but still has a private jet), or whether he arrived in a private jet belonging to someone else, or whether he arrived at all. Very sloppy writing. Their take is:
"This is not the case" means exactly that: that Buchan didn't arrive by private jet/ doesn't own a private jet/ didn't arrive by aircraft on the farm.
So which is it? They clearly don't know or don't care. But we know he was at the venue, along with a million other people.
My attempts to get in touch with Jovial Rantao, their current Group Ombudsman have largely failed. His landline 011-633-2180 voice mailbox is not set up so you can't leave a message. His emails (with one exception) go unanswered. I eventually called his cell phone number 082-446-6008 and he rambled on about how 5 weeks was a long time to deal with the complaint but there were "circumstances" that caused the delay. He claimed to be "unaware" of the fact that the online article was still not corrected. He claimed that someone else reads the emails to <complaints@inl.co.za> but when I challenged him on a mail sent directly to his own mailbox on Tuesday he was "unaware" of it.
Clearly the reputation of innocent parties is not a high priority for a newspaper group that produces 21% of South African print media (by circulation). They may claim that "the unflinching truth" is their quest, but accuracy and clarity of thought are obviously not part of the package.
The irony is that this article appeared right next to the sloppy "apology" they printed. Sad. In the meantime the "Bogus Pastor" accusation has still not been dealt with. It seems that no good deed will go unpunished by lacklustre and sloppy writers.

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