The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on Tuesday slammed the Pretoria News and its editor, Piet Rampedi, for its coverage of the “Thembisa 10” babies.
This comes after the family of the children’s alleged father, Tebogo Tsotetsi, said in a statement they considered the babies “did not exist, until proven otherwise”.
Later, Rampedi posted videos in which the mother, Gosiame Sithole, speaks about her “babies” and says she will not be forced to reveal where they are.
On Tuesday night Sanef criticised the coverage of the story from the beginning, accusing the publication and Rampedi, who authored the story, of uncritically reporting the couple’s version of events about the births without “verifying the facts with the hospital or doctors involved”.
Sanef said the publication, and its parent company IOL, continued to report on the story and even flew Tsotetsi to Cape Town to receive a R1m donation, and encouraged people to contribute gifts and cash to help the family.
However, while this was happening, said Sanef, other media started investigating and found there were “serious gaps” in the story.
“Notwithstanding the many holes in the story, Rampedi and Independent Media doubled down and continued to report the story without the basic facts having been confirmed or established. Rampedi steadfastly refused to provide the name of the hospital or medical professionals involved.
“On June 14, Rampedi and Independent Media, after sustained attempts by the rest of the country, the government and other journalists to verify the story, started to blame Sithole, the woman, claiming she had disappeared and was not responding to messages from Tsotetsi, the alleged father.
“It is now clear Rampedi never saw the babies nor had proof of their birth, but solely relied on WhatsApp messages between Sithole and Tsotetsi to report as fact that they were born. This is reckless and irresponsible journalism of the highest order,” Sanef said.
“Throughout his reporting, Rampedi purported to know in which hospital Sithole and her babies were. This has now proved to be a lie. Instead of admitting his lapse of basic journalistic tenets, Rampedi is now victim-blaming Sithole, who needs medical assistance, according to the head of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital.
“This entire episode ranks as one of the lowest points in the history of SA journalism. The failure of Rampedi and Independent Media to do basic fact-checking and verify grandiose statements before publication has undermined and damaged the entire journalistic profession.”
Sanef said even though Independent Newspapers was not a signatory of the Press Code, “it is clear all journalistic standards were abandoned with the handling of this story”.
“Sanef calls on the management of Independent Media to urgently institute an independent inquiry, led by an expert in media ethics, to investigate how this story was investigated, reported and responded to by Rampedi and his colleagues.”