OPINION: Pauw ethical breach in opinion piece threatens work to rebuild trust


The South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) is deeply concerned and disappointed by the ethical breaches in the opinion piece by veteran investigative journalist Jacques Pauw, published by the Daily Maverick last Friday.

This development highlights the bitter struggles of integrity and ethics the media is grappling with. Sanef is preparing to hold its upcoming Media Ethics and Credibility Summit in an effort to strengthen media integrity and credibility, and to regain the public’s trust.

These very problematic incidents cause the public to doubt the media’s credibility and further erode the fragile relationship between law enforcement and the media.

Last Friday, Pauw penned a lengthy piece about his apparent arrest and detention by the police at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. He wrote that he was “stunned and dazed when pounced on by police, arrested, jailed and charged with theft” and alleged mistreatment by police, whom he also accused of stealing his money.

The article was published on 12 February, after his arrest on 6 February and an appearance in court on Monday 8 February. Pauw and Daily Maverick have since retracted the column and apologised for what was clearly a fabrication.

In his statement, Pauw said he had realised the “errors in his column” after watching video evidence and having met the V&A Waterfront management and the police.

Furthermore, Pauw said he wished to “correct the mistakes in the article” – indicating that he was intoxicated and his “memory was blurred”. He said he also had a meeting with the owner of the unnamed restaurant and has since apologised for his actions and also extended an apology to the three police officers whom he had accused of theft. He also appealed to the public to discontinue the backlash against the V&A Waterfront and its restaurants.

Daily Maverick noted that after obtaining the CCTV footage and “given the factual inaccuracies in the original column”, they have “unpublished the piece”.

Sanef believes that this ethical breach undermines the work currently under way to rebuild trust between the media and the public. Editors and journalists must hold themselves to the highest ethical standards. The public expects the truth from us at all times. We must also not abuse our privilege of access to media platforms and the might of our pens.

Along with other ethical breaches within the industry, we will also use the opportunity to reflect on these developments and how they impact the industry.

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. It is committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. It promotes excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research and education and training programmes. Sanef is not a union. Follow Sanef on Twitter.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.