The Department of Communications said that it is shocked and flabbergasted by information that the Sunday Times collaborated with the Democratic Alliance regarding allegations against Communications Minister Dina Pule.
The City Press reported that DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard handed information to Parliament’s ethics and members’ interest committee, which is investigating Pule. This submission included information provided to her by the Sunday Times.
According to the report Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt said that the Sunday Times was “concerned that the committee might reach a finding based on partial and incomplete evidence” and felt obliged to cooperate in the investigation.
The Department of Communications hit back with a press statement, saying that the Sunday Times’ actions raises many questions.
For the sake of accuracy the full press statement by the Department of Communications is provided below.
The Department of Communications is flabbergasted by the confession made by Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt in today’s City Press newspaper confirming that the Sunday Times collaborated with the Democratic Alliance in a desperate attempt to influence the outcome of the Parliament’s Ethics and Members’ Interests Committee in the matter involving Minister Dina Pule.
The Department strongly condemns the unethical conduct of the Sunday Times and its editors. We call on the South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) to take note of this shameful behaviour by the Sunday Times editor, who is supposed to exercise due care when dealing with matters of this nature.
In an article headlined “More twists in the Pule inquiry”, the City Press said it is in possession of a document submitted to the Parliament’s committee. City Press further stated that the DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard handed the document, which contains information provided to her by the Sunday Times.
When approached by the City Press to explain this bizarre conduct by the Sunday Times, Oppelt shamelessly admitted that she authorized the submission of unsubstantiated information about Minister Pule to Kohler Barnard on the first day of the parliamentary hearings.
The information in question was in turn submitted to the committee by Kohler Barnard the same day. According to City Press, Kohler Barnard had initially sought to hide the source of the information by claiming that it was from an “anonymous source.”
However, she was caught out and exposed that the information was from the Sunday Times because she had foolishly forgotten to delete references to the Sunday Times in the document, which then gave away the source as being the Sunday Times. This is desperation of the highest order characterized by witch-hunt, misinformation, and manipulation of facts to satisfy the undying desire on the part of the Sunday Times and its handlers to ensure Minister Pule’s downfall by hook or crook.
This latest revelation raises serious questions about the Sunday Times’ independence and its adherence to the press code. The Sunday Times is no longer just the messenger. It has become part of the story. Oppelt’s confession raises the spectre of the dark days of apartheid when the nexus between politics and journalism was often murky and shameful.
We have a duty as society to make sure that South African journalists do not become lapdogs for political masters. As South Africans we must never allow those apartheid ghosts to be resurrected. In trying to justify the Sunday Times newspaper’s unethical conduct, Oppelt told the City Press she had decided to provide information to the DA as she was “concerned that the committee might reach finding based on partial or incomplete evidence”.
She claimed the Sunday Times had released the information to the DA in the public interest.
A number of questions arise:
- Is it in the public interest when the Sunday Times collaborate with a member of the committee, which is supposed to be neutral, against Minister Pule? The Ethics Committee is supposed to be just, fair and objective to make a determination based on the information before them.
- How did the Sunday Times, on the first day of the hearing, become aware that there was “partial or incomplete evidence” being considered by the Ethics Committee?
- What does Sunday Times stand to gain from assisting the committee to address “partial or incomplete evidence” on the first day of the hearing? Was it perhaps Kohler Barnard herself who informed the Sunday Times of the “partial or incomplete evidence”?
- Why did the Sunday Times submit this information to the DA on the first day of the hearing when they had this information long before this?;
- Why did the Sunday Times submit the information “anonymously” through a member of the DA instead of following normal Parliamentary processes which allows for anyone to submit a complaint against a Member of Parliament?;
- Why did the Sunday Times submit to the DA instead of submitting to the secretary of the committee or the leadership of Parliament?
- Why did the Sunday Times attempt to hide their identity if, as Oppelt claims, that their intention was to assist the committee and act in the public interest?
- The parties in this matter is the Minister on the one hand and the committee on the other. Can the Sunday Times explain the role of the DA in this matter and their inordinate interest to package a case against the Minister?
The Sunday Times has disgraced South African journalism. The Press Ombudsman must investigate what is clearly a serious breach of the South African Press Code.
Article 3.1 of the South African Press Code, which guides journalists in their daily practice of gathering and distributing news, states that the “press shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non- professional considerations to influence or slant reporting.”
It further states: “Conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the press’s independence and professionalism.”