WE KID YOU NOT
Independent Media’s ‘Tembisa 10’ series an Inma Global Media Awards finalist – and Sanef is ‘appalled’
Remember the ‘Tembisa 10’ story – the decuplets that didn’t exist? Well, Independent Media’s baby trafficking series born out of that infamous story was named as a finalist in the 2022 International News Media Association’s Global Media Awards – and the South African National Editors’ Forum is ‘appalled’. Update: By Thursday the association had axed the entry amid the furore.
Independent Media’s video series Baby Trade – about baby trafficking born out of the infamous decuplets hoax – is a finalist in the 2022 International News Media Association (Inma) Global Media Awards, and the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has come out in strong opposition, calling for the immediate removal of the shortlisting.
To recap, in June 2021, Pretoria News made international headlines when the outlet’s editor Piet Rampedi published a story claiming that Tembisa mother, Gosiame Sithole, had broken a world record by giving birth to 10 babies (decuplets).
It turned out, the decuplets never existed.
In response to the backlash, Iqbal Survé, chairman of Independent Media – who own Pretoria News – doubled down on the story,
presenting the public with a QAnon-like theory in October 2021 that he believed the missing decuplets may be linked to a baby trafficking scandal, which he claimed is occurring across Gauteng hospitals daily.
Independent Media made a miniseries about baby trafficking, which has now been selected as a finalist in the category Best Use of Social Media in the Inma Global Media Awards.
This is despite Independent Media’s own internal ombudsman in July 2021 ruling that Rampedi’s decuplet story was a “hoax” that “failed to pass the basic principles of journalism”.
According to the description of Independent Media’s video series on the Inma website, after the decuplets story was decried as “fake news”, Independent Media launched multiple “investigations”, which concluded that it was highly likely that Sithole had been pregnant and gave birth to multiple babies and there was a probability of a trafficking ring in SA.
On Tuesday, Sanef announced that it was “appalled at the retention of a false report about the so-called birth of decuplets in Gauteng” and urgently called for Inma to remove the shortlisting, highlighting that the decuplets report had been condemned by the Gauteng provincial government, South Africa’s medical fraternity and Independent Media’s own internal ombudsman.
Sanef stated: “We urgently call on the Inma, as a business associated with reputable publishers worldwide, to immediately remove the shortlisting of this piece from this category.”
Sanef wrote directly to Inma, but the series remains a finalist, and Inma responded by saying that the judges would be “judging the quality of the social media campaign – not the story itself”.
Inma, the association said, is “not in a position to reverse their jury’s decision to shortlist the social media campaign; given the information at their disposal during the judging process in February 2022, the additional context surrounding the story will be weighed in the ongoing process to select winners which will be announced by Inma in June 2022”.
Sanef said this response was, “unfortunately not good enough for Sanef, as it legitimises a campaign borne out of a story that has been proven not only to be ludicrous, but also an embarrassment to South African journalism”.
“This report has no basis in truth, is factually inaccurate and contributes to the spread of disinformation, deliberately misleading audiences. It’s now public knowledge and widely accepted that the piece perpetuates disinformation and has been flagged for its total lack of verification, and deeply questionable ‘sources’.”
Thomas Baekdal, who is one of the media experts judging the 2022 Inma Global Media Awards, spoke out publicly on Twitter about Independent Media’s entry, stating: “This should very clearly render the entry invalid.”
— Thomas Baekdal (@baekdal) April 6, 2022
Inma announced 333 finalists for its 2022 Global Media Awards on 8 March, with the theme “How to capture audiences and keep them close to the brand”.
The winners will be announced on 9 June, but judging was held in February by 50 media experts from 24 countries.
Independent Media described their entry titled “Baby Trade – Tracking the Truth” as a video series “that deals with the spectre of human trafficking in South Africa, was born out of the front-page story that made headlines around the world”.
“The story was at first welcomed for the celebration it should have been but was swiftly thereafter decried as ‘fake News’.
“Without doing any investigation to prove otherwise, the South African media immediately castigated Independent Media and Piet Rampedi, editor of Pretoria News, who broke the news.
“Our key objectives for the project were:
- Investigate and bring to light the truth surrounding The Decuplets, their whereabouts and Gosiame Sithole.
- Investigate and expose corrupt elements within the state and medical fraternity complicit in trafficking.
- Have the matter thoroughly investigated by the state.
- Use the video series to drive audiences.”
Conflict of interest?
— Kerry Cullinan (@kerrycullinan11) April 6, 2022
Attempts to reach Survé or Rampedi for comment were unsuccessful on Wednesday. Daily Maverick will add this comment as soon as it is received.
UPDATE on Thursday, 7 April 2022: After being contacted for comment, Inma CEO Earl J Wilkinson released a statement following the initial publication of this article, stating that the entry had been axed as a finalist.
“After the Inma awards competition shortlist was made public on March 8, certain concerns were brought to our attention regarding a social media campaign promoting a baby trade story in South Africa.
“Inma understands how important trust is to news media. The shortlist process can be, and in this instance has been, used to provide additional information which the judges had no access to at the time of judging.
“Given the opportunity to review information from all parties related to the concerns raised, our international judges have reconsidered the entry, and it is no longer a finalist. We respect the jury’s decision.
“Inma looks forward to unveiling the Global Media Awards winners on June 8.”
Responding to the criticism, an article on the IOL website stated that the actions of Sanef were “out of line, unfortunate and deepy disturbing”.
“The reasons provided by Sanef, and their subsequent defamatory statement, not only demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the serious matters raised in the Baby Trade docuseries but bring their organisation’s credentials as a media representative body into disrepute.”
“This point has been completely ignored by Sanef’s pontificating that simply put, adopts the attitude of, if; ‘Government says it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen.’ Since when do media organisations simply take the government’s word for it?
“If members of Sanef had indeed watched the Baby Trade series, then they would have seen how the series seeks to unpack the story from its inception, and by hearing directly from the characters involved, so audiences can make up their minds for themselves – the fundamentals of any docuseries and good journalism.”
It concluded: “Independent Media’s view is that when looked at objectively, Gosiame Sithole’s story is a compelling and fascinating one that warrants exposure.” DM
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