POLITICS

Ashley Smith: What the Cape Argus had to say

Text of newspaper's editorial on the confessions of a former reporter

Below is the editorial published by the Cape Argus alongside its report on the admission by a former reporter, Ashley Smith, that he had been paid by then Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool while working for the newspaper:

Cape Argus - Our Standard

In 2005, at a meeting between executives of the Cape Argus and the ANC's regional leadership, allegations were first aired - in an aside to the then editor, Ivan Fynn - about journalists on the newspaper receiving money for the writing of stories.

Fynn began an inquiry that led later that year to a disciplinary hearing in which two staff members were charged with misconduct and suspended.

No evidence could be secured to corroborate the allegations that the journalists were directors of a public relations company which did work for the provincial government.

It was felt, however, that the potential conflicts of interest that were uncovered in the investigation merited a hearing.

Political reporter Ashley Smith resigned as the hearing proceeded and left the newspaper immediately.

Political editor Joseph Aranes faced lesser charges - in effect, that he was aware of the conflict of interest but had not alerted his editor - and was reinstated without his political designation.

Fynn resigned in early 2006 to take up other opportunities. His resignation was not related to this issue.

The allegations have been aired on several occasions since then, most often by aggrieved members of the ANC, who felt they had been conspired against, and as the internecine conflict within the ANC intensified.

In November last year a rival newspaper published an article based on uncorroborated claims in a tape recording that Aranes had continued to receive payments from a public relations company.

That newspaper's own ombudsman suggested that it published without doing the due "homework" on the story and substantiating the claims on the tape.

The Cape Argus has repeatedly called for anybody who may have evidence to corroborate the allegations to come forward.

It has also launched its own investigations, most recently one by chief reporter Murray Williams.

To date no such evidence had been forthcoming. Last week, however, sources told the newspaper that Smith had gone to the ANC with a confession.

The editor-in-chief of Independent Newspapers, Chris Whitfield, and the Cape Argus executive editor, Gasant Abarder, arranged to meet Smith.

The former Argus journalist indicated his desire to get legal advice on his criminal liability.

The newspaper executives put Smith in touch with the company's lawyer and the former journalist gave him an affidavit for delivery to the National Prosecuting Authority, in which he asked for indemnity from prosecution and offered his full co-operation with any investigation.

He also agreed to co-operate fully with Independent Newspapers.

The allegations outlined by Smith make for grim reading. They suggest a conspiracy leading from the top office in the province to the heart of the newspaper.

The suggestion that reporters received monetary compensation from public funds in exchange for supporting political agendas is about as damning a charge as you can level at journalists.

It is little consolation to the newspaper that those journalists involved are no longer on the staff: the truth now appears to be that the newspaper was abused by them and the politicians involved.

Naturally we are aghast and have to acknowledge a failing on the Cape Argus' part: to the newspapers' readers - who expect it to be a beacon of integrity - and to those politicians or others who may have become victims of any conspiracy.

We believe, however, that we have made every effort to get to the bottom of these issues, including and up to today's publication. We will continue to pursue other allegations that have been levelled at us and publish our findings.

We must stress that the newspaper would not knowingly be involved in the sort of journalism to which Smith has confessed.

As we have said before, this newspaper has a tradition of political independence which it has sustained over virtually all of its more than 150 years in existence. It seeks to provide a service to our readers that enables them to hold informed views and make decisions on the basis of all available facts.

That is our standard and one that we will continue to aspire to.

Source: Cape Argus, June 30 2010

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