Publication: Sunday Argus Issued: Date: 2000-11-26 Reporter: Essop Pahad Editor:

Pahad's Denial on Probe into Arms Deal

Publication  Sunday Argus
Date 2000-11-26
Reporter Essop Pahad

I should like to deny, categorically, your newspaper's suggestion (Sunday November 12) that I sought, at a private ANC meeting, to derail the investigation into South Africa's arms purchases.

I was not given the elementary chance to comment on the matter before publication, which is or should be routine journalistic procedure. I therefore ask that you let me comment now, even though publication has already caused so much needless damage, not only to myself but to an organisation strongly committed to rooting out corruption and fostering good governance.

It is necessary for me to state quite clearly that at no stage did I seek interference with the investigation. Whoever said I did was lying. Yet without offering me a chance to comment, you prominently published this as fact, no doubt relying on an "impimpi" source within the ANC. In doing this, you invaded fundamental principles of good journalism which, as Katherine Graham of the Washington Post has said in her personal history (page 471), require "scrupulous attention to fairness and detail". She relates her newspaper's practice whereby, in important matters, every bit of information attributed to an unnamed source was supported by at least one other, independent source. 

To give those publicly criticised a chance to comment on material allegations against them before publication is a deep-rooted tenet of good journalism. It can only aid enlightenment, and in no way inhibits the free flow of information in a democracy. In fact, it assists it. What worries me is that elementary requirements of fairness are increasingly being denied to the representatives of a democratic government in South Africa and this situation can only be described as a journalistic disgrace. The effect will be to stifle free and critical debate, for people will fear being subsequently ambushed by distorted and malicious reporting, and this will impact severely on all political parties and the public process. So the matter is far wider than the calumny committed against myself in  my ministerial capacity. 

It is time that the newspaper houses, at all levels, took stock of their standards of reporting and revisited the way reputable newspapers worthy of the name go about the serious business of reporting and commenting on public affairs. I am asking for nothing more than applies in established democracies. And nothing less. 

Essop Pahad (MP)
Minister in The Presidency

With acknowledgement to Sunday Argus.