Prof Anton Harber, chair of the Kuiper judges' panel, delivered these remarks during the ceremony where the winners were announced. The slide show he used is available by clicking here.
We have gathered today to pay tribute to troublemakers, to those who
use their pens to make life difficult for anyone who has and abuses
power and authority. Every story we are going to recognize today caused
a stir, shook things up, and kept awake at night someone with power.
This is the countryÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s biggest reward for professional troublemakers.,
for those who exposed the corrupt, challenged the inept and told us
things many would prefer not to hear. It is a generous thank you. The winner today will take home R200 000, and a runner-up with take R100 000.
I speak on behalf of our distinguished panel of judges. As you might know, we use a two-tier judging system. (SLIDE) We issue a general call for entries and nominations, but also have a nominating panel which is charged with identifying and nominating worthy stories. This panel also does the shortlist of entries to be considered by the judges. This is to try and ensure we truly identify the best reporting of the year and stories are not overlooked because someone forgot or was too busy to enter.
Our judges are:
Mr Justice Tom Cloete of the Valley Trust, and a judge of the Appeal Court
Charlayne Hunter-Gault, distinguished US journalist and foreign correspondent
Justice Malala, widely respected editor, columnist and media manager
Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism, Wits University
Our nominators are:
Lizette Rabe, Professor of Journalism, Stellenbosch
Vuyo Mvoko, journalist and columnist
Ed Linington, former editor and Press Ombud
Some background on the competition. We take a broad view of investigative reporting ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ after all, good reporting is always investigative. (SLIDE) We seek to highlight reporting that probes beneath the surface to uncover the truth. We look for those who give time and energy to exposing stories, and particularly those which have a wider impact on our society. We give special credit for stories which require persistence and courage, and many of those we looked at showed both.
We are not one of those competitions which have a host of categories and try and fit everyone into one of those. (SLIDE) At the end of the day, we are instructed to recognise "a distinguished and outstanding example of investigative reporting" as well as a runner-up. That was not an easy task.
First, allow me to give you an overall impression, shared by the judges: there is more good, probing, exposing, investigative journalism than one might expect. (SLIDE) We had 13 entries, all of which were of an impressive standard. They came from 10 different publications, ranging from the large and powerful Sunday Times to the much smaller Daily Dispatch, from an international magazine, Marie Claire, through to the very local Farmers' Weekly. It was most gratifying to see that reporting of this kind is taking place in newsrooms, big and small, across the country.
The subject matter (SLIDE) ranged from environmental hazards (industrial pollution of our water supplies) through to accounts of the arms deal and corruption in the granting of state tenders. Although official malfeasance is always a strong element, we were pleased to see among the contenders powerful social investigations (such as the Daily News' in-depth look at the lives of prostitutes and Farmer's Weekly's examination of poverty and local corruption). Significantly, there were four which dealt with the countryÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s health system.
(SLIDE) Nobody can accuse our newspapers of cowardice. They are bold, they are challenging, and they frequently stick their necks out. They are taking authority on head-first and are certainly not holding back. The public's right to know weighed up in responsible balance against the right to privacy, dignity and fairness.
Display and presentation can be so important. At least one leading entry was damaged by the fact that judges had to admit that they struggled to work their way through a long series of articles presented in a flat, bland and seemingly under-edited way.
In general, we did criticise one or two stories for sensationalising their findings, overplaying aspects in situations where simple statement of the facts would have been most effective.
It was clear that what often matters in investigative is the support of editors and the newspaper as a whole. Some of those we recognise today were the work of brave individuals, others were collective team efforts ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ but there was little doubt that those which did best were those which showed total team work: the paper and its editors supporting the reporting efforts and giving it time, space and the seriousness it deserved. Today we recognise reporters, but we must also extend a grateful hand to the rest of the editorial team.
We shortlisted five stories, which I present here in the alphabetic order of the newspaper title:
(SLIDE) Beeld's toxic water expose. Reporter Elise Tempelhoff took on powerful mining companies and showed great persistence in exposing the contamination of water in the Wonderfonteinspruit. The first story appeared in 2003 and she stuck with it until she nailed the culprits four years later. It was noteworthy for tackling an under-reported issue, for giving voice to ordinary people affected, and presenting the story without vanity or spin. Her persistence has forced the government to admit to the problem and led to the formation of an NGO to deal with it, and drawn in the involvement of the National Nuclear Regulator.
(SLIDE) The Daily Dispatch's expose of neo-natal mortality at Frere Hospital was the case of a small story being built up into a national scandal. Over a period of about three months, a team of journalists used both conventional and imaginative and creative approaches to illustrate the problem and probe its causes. They used personal accounts, graphic photographs, documentary evidence, hidden cameras and even went in to work at the hospital themselves to probe the conditions there. The paper was attacked by the president, himself, for the story, but they stood their ground and their story held up under intensive scrutiny. The newspaper can take credit for forcing significant reforms at the hospital, and for causing shockwaves which carried all the way through to Polokwane in November.
(SLIDE) The Mail & Guardian's persistent pursuit of Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi and his dubious associations with the underworld. They took on one of the most powerful men in the country with the full weight of the state apparatus behind him. To do so required courage and commitment, and they showed loads of both, amassing such a body of evidence that eventually the story could no longer be ignored. Selebi is now suspended and charged with corruption and defeating the ends of justice, and the impact on our country has been enormous.
(SLIDE) The Sowetan newspaper published an important story when reporters Isaac Moledi and Langelihle Changwe revealed that 20-m faulty condoms were being distributed because of corruption at the Bureau of Standards. The story was notable for taking on white-collar crime. The impact of this story is clearly enormous, but specifically it has led to charges against those responsible, a tightening up of quality controls and a very large class action case.
SLIDE) The Sunday Times now-famous "Manto: A drunk and a thief" was without doubt one of the most impactful stories of the year. As the paper hit the streets that Sunday morning, you could hear a whole nation sucking in its breath. The paper's now-famous investigative team ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ consisting of Jocelyn Maker, Megan Power, Charles Molele and Buddy Naidu – dug out evidence from some years previously to show that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's eccentricity had deep and significant roots. The story caused a major stir over the issues of privacy and dignity, but the competition judges concurred with the supreme court judge who said that the Minister's capacity to do her job was a matter of public interest and the storyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s publication was of social value. Notably, the minister sued the paper only to get back her health records and prevent their future use, but has not pursued a threat to sue for defamation. Her reputation will never be the same, that is for certain. The paper came through it with strength and courage.
And now I get to the most important part of this event. The announcement of the winners. There is a runner-up, who will get R100 000. And an overall winner, who takes home R200 000.
The runner-up this year did not balk at taking on one of the most powerful figures in the government. Their exposes of the corrupt relationship between police commissioner Jackie Selebi (SLIDE) and a number of criminal networks took a great deal of courage and difficult, risky work. I am talking, of course of the Mail & Guardian.
SLIDE) Their series of stories which built up the case started in 2006 and still continues into 2008, but the judges focused on five editions of the paper which filled a total of 15 full pages during 2007. What impressed most was the careful collation and meticulous presentation of disparate strands of evidence. The story was pieced together by a team of seven: Stefaans BrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¼mmer, SamSole, Zukile Majova, Nic Dawes, Adriaan Basson (a previous winner of this award while he was at Beeld) and Pearlie Joubert. This is a team which has built up a considerable and much-deserved reputation. Their story had and continues to have major social and political impact. The chief of police is on trial and suspended from his job; the president has come under fire for allegedly protecting him; most important of all, the message has been sent out loudly and clearly that no-one, no matter how tall they stand, is above the law.
Citation for winner
One can often judge the quality of a good story by the level of invective it draws from its subjects. (SLIDE) This one was labelled "false" by the president and "lies" by the Health Minister. On the other hand, our judges called it "a model of excellent and powerful journalism". In the words of one of the panel, "it has everything we were looking for". The paper uncovered every aspect of the story, from the highly technical to the human interest; to get to the evidence, they had to use some unusual methodology; it had an enormous impact not only on the paperÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s immediate area of reach but on the country as a whole; and, when facing pressure and criticism, their story held up well. I am, of course, referring to the Daily Dispatch's Frere Hospital investigation, the work of Brett Horner, Chandre Prince and Ntando Makhubu.
The newspaper and editor Phylicia Opphelt must be commended for committing a team to such a story over a three-month period and deputy editor Andrew Trench for encouraging his reporters to dig deeper into an issue that had been an item on the daily news diary time and again, instead of shrugging it off as yet another of many such instances.
Great stories often involve taking a single case and building it into a larger picture which lays out the context, examines the cause and points fingers at the culprits ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ and therefore has maximum impact. This is what the Daily Dispatch did. As a result, and despite her criticism of the newspaper, the Minister of Health promised to build a new labour ward, increase the hospital's maintenance budget ten-fold, start a programme to hire extra nurses and doctors and pay them better, and overhaul the management of the institution. It is a testament to the power and value of the best kind of journalism, of which this is most exemplary.
1 Announcement: from next year the competition will be open to all media and no longer restricted to print. Why we are doing this.
Birgit and Sibongile
Valley Trust ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ for their vision and generosity
Judges and nominators – for their hard and important work
Editors, entrants, journalists
Closing: We gathered today to celebrate great journalism. So letÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s end with a toast to the troublemakers.