Tembisa 10: This is the biggest fake news story in SA history.

Tembisa 10: This is the biggest fake news story in SA history.
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“Let us turn to Rampedi himself, which is very much what he would want. The so-called ‘People’s Editor’ has turned the saga of the imaginary babies into a lengthy advertisement for himself and his virtues as a journalist, even as every new twist of the tale reveals him to be either ethically bankrupt, a gibbering idiot, deeply mentally ill, or some combination of all of the above.” ~ Rebecca Davis, Daily Maverick 16/6/2021

“Masebe said, if the media company belonged to the Press Council, it would have taken that route instead. However, because it does not, the Gauteng provincial government instructed the State Attorney to institute legal action against Rampedi and Independent Media. “~ Tembisa 10′: Govt to sue Piet Rampedi, Independent Media, News 24 23/6/2021

Barely three weeks after the South Gauteng High Court found that one of the Sekunjalo Independent Media newspapers, The Star, had defamed Maria Ramos by falsely accusing her of having ‘fixed the rand’, the Gauteng health department has said it is suing Iqbal Survé’s newspaper company and ‘Rogue Unit’ reporter Piet Rampedi.

It will do so after the country witnessed a nadir in our journalism – the pursuit of media sensation through the cynically callous exploitation of a clearly vulnerable person.

What is now clear is that the photograph of Gosiame Sithole used with the article on 8 June when Piet Rampedi began his fake news ‘Tembisa Ten’ campaign was fraudulent.

At 17h14 on 23 June The Citizen broke the news that medical examinations conducted on the alleged mother of the ‘Thembisa 10’ revealed that she had not been pregnant recently and quoted the provincial medical authorities saying:

“It has now been established by medical practitioners that Ms Sithole did not give birth to any babies in recent times. It has also been established that she was not pregnant in recent times.

“The Gauteng provincial government will continue to give medical, psychological and social support to Ms Sithole and provide any counselling she might require.”

On the previous day, at 21h:40 on 22 June TimesLive and News 24 broke the news that Piet Rampedi had sent a letter to Sekunjalo Independent Media’s editor-in-chief Aneez Salie apologising for his role in the ‘Tembisa Ten’ hoax which brought South African media into disrepute all over the world.

Survé’s newspapers have mendaciously accused the state’s medical fraternity in Gauteng of the most abhorrent mental and physical abuse of Gosiame Sithole shortly after she had allegedly given birth. We were told that she had been handcuffed, starved, neglected and “mentally tortured” all of which had left her “broken” and that the state’s hospitals in that province were guilty of a “cover up of mammoth proportions”.

Also on 22 June, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said:

“I may dare say that you are aware that the government is also being pushed to prove the birth of 10 babies, who were never born. I am 100% sure they were never born, but we are being asked to prove that they were.

“It looks like it is becoming common practice for the media to send the country on a merry-go-round to prove things that do not exist.”

Five days previously, on 18 June, the national health department issued a media statement saying it could find no evidence corroborating Rampedi’s claim and challenged Survé’s newspapers to provide proof:

“Given the magnitude of the allegations, we invite Independent Media, which has insinuated wrongdoing on the part of health professionals and government, to assist Ms Sithole to pursue a complaint with the health ombudsman for the alleged mistreatment of the patient at any health facility.”

The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) also said they were unable to verify the births of the alleged decuplets.

There was no response from Sekunjalo Independent Media.

On 15 June, the supposed father, Tebogo Tsotetsi, issued a statement saying that, to the best of his knowledge, the ‘Tembisa Ten’ did not exist.

All the hospitals where Gosiame Sithole claims to have been treated for her pregnancy, Steve Biko Academic Hospital and the Mediclinic Medforum Hospital in Tshwane denied having seen the babies.

Survé’s online portal, IOL, claims that it provides ‘News that Connects South Africans’ yet, at the time of writing, two days after other media companies had made Rampedi’s confession public, it has not informed its readers about it.

Neither has it informed them of the finding that Gosiame Sithole had not been pregnant recently thus giving the lie to the photograph of her with a hugely distended stomach published under Rampedi’s byline in the Pretoria Newson 8 June. IOL has also not informed its readers of the pending litigation by the Gauteng Department of Health to seek redress for the ‘Tembisa Ten’ defamatory falsehoods.

There was also no reference to these facts in the Cape Times or the Cape Argus which I read on 22 June, 23 June and 24 June.

Hallmark of the propagandist
This withholding of information by the man who controls and dictates Sekunjalo Independent Media’s news coverage is not surprising. Censorship by omission is the hallmark of the propagandist which is why the word ‘omission’ is deliberately excluded from the Sekunjalo Independent Media Press Code.

In telling contrast, omission is mentioned in the opening clause of the SA Press Council’s Press Code.

The lawyers appointed by government to seek redress through the courts for the appalling and deliberate defamation of the Gauteng Health Department and its medical personnel need to take cognisance of the statements by Survé on his Twitter feed – IQBAL SURVÉ (@IqbalSurve) / Twitter

22 June: There are stories that define your legacy as a media owner. The last few weeks has seen such a story emerge. I have full confidence in our journalists and editors. That decision to support them through difficult times such as now will define my legacy
18 June: Independent will continue to fight for the rights of this mother. This abuse by the state can happen to anyone in the future if we don’t stop it now.
18 June: It is a disgrace that other media houses are ignoring her fundamental rights in terms of our constitution and the terrible way in which this mother has been abused by government in health and social development.
The defamation of Ramos by the editor of The Star, Safiso Mahlungu and the defamation of the personnel in Gauteng while they were trying to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic by the attention-seeking Survé and the disgraced reporter Rampedi poses a professional and ethical problem for Yogas Nair, the Sekunjalo Independent Media ombud.

When she was appointed in January she authored an article carried on the IOL website under the headline ‘Accountability is sacrosanct’.

If she was telling the truth, if she is sincere, she needs to tell us how this accountability is going to manifest itself in the context of defamatory statements by Sifso Mahlungu, Piet Rampedi and her employer.

This also poses a problem for Adri Senekal de Wet, editor of the Sekunjalo Independent Media Business Report financial supplement who in April 2018 authored an article headlined ‘Unethical and fake news should be criminalised’ Hopefully, when she puts her claimed commitment to ethical journalism into practice by laying a charge at her nearest police station, she will have a photographer present to record this laudable moment for posterity.

Sordid example
The South African National Editor’s Forum, SANEF, has come under relentless attack by Sekunjalo Independent Media – see here and here and here and here and here but its stance on Rampedi’s self-aggrandising reporting on Gosiame Sithole’s fake pregnancy – arguably the most sordid example of fake news in South African newspaper history – has been vindicated:

“This entire episode ranks as one of the lowest points in the history of South African 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.“

The justifiable decision by the Gauteng health department to seek legal redress is not the first example of a government department going public about the reprehensible journalism of Sekunjalo Independent Media.

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In March last year the Department of Public Enterprises send out a cautionary note to all media organisations:

“The Ministry of Public Enterprises must caution the media about news coverage that can be expected in the Sunday Independent newspaper tomorrow, which appears to be part of an ongoing campaign by the newspaper and a group of its so-called ‘investigative journalists’ to again tarnish the reputations and work of good, honest public servants with baseless insinuation.

“Since the Sunday Independent and all titles of the Independent Media group have elected to end their membership of the South African National Editor’s Forum and to no longer subject themselves to the national Press Code, or the authority of the Press Ombud, their news reporting can no longer be objectively challenged or adjudicated upon, other than before court. This has necessitated this cautionary note to all other media.“

This warning was without precedent in South African newspaper history and it was an augury of the latest example of the way in which a once-respected newspaper company has had its reputation for ethical journalism trashed by Iqbal Survé.

It once again makes the point which has been repeatedly made since Survé followed the lead of the Guptas and withdrew his newspapers from the oversight role performed by the SA Press Council in 2016, when it was facing an unprecedented level of public odium – 72 print and five online stories in that year alone.

Sekunjalo Independent Media will have no credibility for as long as it avoids public scrutiny through the Press Council.

Let’s leave the last word to the man widely regarded as South Africa’s most disreputable journalist:

“SA, I am a credible and reliable journalist who has NEVER lied to you. So is Independent Media. We will not start today. We are dealing with something bigger here. A grand conspiracy. A cover up. Unprecedented stuff.