Dear Editor

“Noseweek’s extraordinary attack on News24’s journalism and the victims of sexual abuse"

Adriaan Basson, editor-in-chief of News24, takes Noseweek to task for its report on KwaSizabantu Mission in nose 250. Noseweek editor responds point by point

Adriaan Basson: How was it possible that a publication that prides itself on a tradition of investigative journalism got it so badly wrong, buying into KSB’s victim blaming response to News24’s investigation, I wondered.

NW: All Noseweek was doing was what journalists are supposed to do: establish the truth: where and when had the alleged rapes occurred, who were the alleged perpetrators – and was the institution in any way culpable? 

Noseweek did exactly what it has done for the past 28+ years; independently investigating the claims made and not simply taking another publication’s so-called findings for granted. What NW found was extraordinary; inter alia several different versions of the same alleged abuse – which Noseweek printed verbatim. And most importantly we received comments from both sides and also printed those verbatim. Basson refers to “decades of depravity”, when in fact the incidents they quote all took place decades ago!

AB: In an era of fake news, it is understandable that journalists would investigate fellow publications if they had proof that a title was the victim of misinformation or consciously participated in a disinformation campaign.

NW: Both are possible, even probable, based on the evidence Noseweek found and reported.

AB: For a start, you never called me for my side of the story, as required.

NW: Now why would one experienced journalist ask the editor of another publication for his side of the story, when “his side” was already published – repeatedly and at length through various news media? As good ethical journalism required, Noseweek sent questions to the lead writer of the News24 documentary because one of the victims portrayed in the documentary claimed in an interview with Noseweek that she had given the News24 journalist important information which the journalist deliberately omitted from the documentary script. The News24 journalist refused to answer Noseweek’s questions.

AB: If Susan Puren, the author, had called me (she has my number, we shared coffee and notes years ago), I would have explained to her why KSB’s conspiracy theories about News24 are wrong We worked with facts not conspiracy therories. I would have explained to her Koos Greeff’s (vastly overcooked) role in our investigation. I would have explained the process we followed, on our lawyers’ advice, to get affidavits from six victims of abuse at KSB before publication.

“In an era of fake news, it is understandable that journalists would investigate fellow publications”

NW: The fact that something is alleged in an affidavit, does not necessarily make it true. It’s a lawyer’s cover-your-arse when you might otherwise be unsure of the truth of the allegations.

AB: If she contacted me for comment, I would have told Puren that our investigation had absolutely nothing to do with that of Mike Bolhuis and that we conducted our own analysis of KSB’s financial statements (which she seemingly did not do).

NW: Susan Puren can’t recall Basson phoning her to ask her to explain to him the process she had followed during her investigation. (“He has my number, we shared coffee and notes years ago.”) Yet News24 continued to publish more stories about KSB without mentioning Noseweek’s often very different evidence and findings.

AB: Because of the narrative she chose to follow – that KSB had been “raped” by News24 – Puren ignored the most extraordinary admission in her piece: a quote from KSB’s spokesperson that the mission had paid a hitman to pay “restitution” for “political murders”! It is unclear whether the mission reported the hitman’s confessions to the police.

NW: Puren did not “choose” that “narrative”; her investigation led her logically to that conclusion.

To which KZN police station should they have reported? As Mr Basson must know – he authored a book called Zuma Exposed published in 2012, in which he revealed that Zuma controlled the entire security establishment.

The story quoted KSB’s response as well as the Hawks’ spokesperson and did not try to tell NW’s readers what the outcome of the various investigations will be before they have been concluded. NW leaves it to its readers to form their own opinions. 

AB: Puren’s vilification of three victims of sexual abuse, quoted in our reportage, cannot go unchallenged. Our journalists spent hours with these women, going over their stories and convincing them to make affidavits.

NW: Read the Noseweek story again. The women who said they had been sexually abused were not vilified. NW pointed out their different versions of the same events. It’s such a pity that during all the hours that News24 spent with them your journalists did not notice that their stories changed. Noseweek also sought to establish whether KSB was in any way accountable. Our finding: hardly - or not at all.

AB: Noseweek seems to be very concerned about the workers’ plight at KSB’s aQuellé water plant and factories. Why did you not speak to them? If you did, you would have heard about arbitrary dismissals, illegal codes of conduct, low wages, and no separation between church and work. You would have found a ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal in favour of a pregnant woman who was chased away from the plant.

NW: We had not (yet) investigated their working conditions, but I am certain those 1,000 workers did not want to find themselves without a job, thanks to Mr Basson. Noseweek did follow the proceedings of the CRL Commission as reported by News24. The Commission is yet to resume its hearings on KSB. Let’s hope they have not thrown in the towel.

Adriaan Basson
KwaSizabantu Mission
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