Cape Town - Independent Media has appointed an external, independent inquiry into the decuplets story, executive chairman Dr Iqbal Survé said on Friday.
“The terms of reference for this probe will be finalised by the close of business today and a further announcement will be made in the next few days,” he said in a statement.
“All information including video, text and other details in our possession will be made available to the chairperson of the inquiry.”
Pretoria News editor Piet Rampedi reported that Gosiame Thamara Sithole, 37, gave birth to decuplets at a hospital in Pretoria on June 7.
A range of emotions was experienced in South Africa and abroad after the story broke and in preceding days.
Survé said Independent Media’s Investigations Editor, Sizwe Dlamini, would lead a separate investigation.
“His task is to independently verify the facts pertaining to the decuplets story. Piet Rampedi will not be involved in any manner with this investigation,” Survé said.
Speaking on the investigation by the Gauteng provincial government, announced on June 23, Survé said Independent Media would oppose the launch of the litigation against the group and Rampedi.
“We will oppose such litigation. It is our view that this threat of litigation is an attempt to subvert the story and silence Independent Media,” he said.
“It is also indicative that government applies a different approach to Independent Media in comparison to other media outlets guilty of actual fake news stories.”
Survé said that the investigations by the group were ongoing, adding that the attacks on Independent Media have had a detrimental impact on the group, the employees and external stakeholders.
“We take our reputation and business very seriously, as too the livelihoods of our employees and the reputation of our stakeholders who continue to support us,” Survé said.
“Our business is based on conveying truth and we would not knowingly endanger our organisation or risk our credibility with our readers.
“For this reason, we will do all in our power to establish the truth and I believe that the robust and rigorous measures outlined above will assist in putting to rest the ongoing speculation around the decuplets story.”
Survé said the welfare of Sithole, her babies and the rest of her family remained paramount.
“As the facts behind the birth of the decuplets are ascertained, it is critical their welfare remains a priority for all concerned,” Survé said.
“Independent Media has serious reservations as to the way certain government departments have dealt with the situation. We believe their approach has been inconsistent and contradictory and continues to provide conflicting versions regarding the birth of Ms Sithole’s decuplets.”
Independent Media called on national government to provide more facts on:
– Whether Sithole was admitted to a public or private health facility, and if so, which facility and in what capacity.
– Whether she did indeed give birth and the number of babies.
– Informing the public whether the medical examination conducted by the Gauteng government was lawfully done and with Sithole’s informed consent.
– Whether government will allow an independent peer review.
“Independent Media is duty-bound to ask government to investigate the possibility of criminal syndicates that include health-care professionals and social workers involved in the trafficking of babies, which may have bearing on this matter,” Survé said.
“Independent Media is also of the view that the treatment Ms Sithole has been subjected to raises fundamental questions regarding her basic human rights.”
Survé said that Independent Media Editor-in-Chief Aneez Salie was in the process of finalising a report for submission to him. The report was compiled in conjunction with Rampedi and will outline the facts behind the story.
The report will also ascertain whether all the checks and balances were adhered to in terms of our press code.
“Independent Media’s Group Ombud has initiated a probe based on various complaints from readers,” Survé said.
“The Ombud will establish whether there has been any violation of our press code, the ethics related to the publication of the decuplets stories and whether the rights of the Sithole family were violated through the publication of such stories.”
What the group knows:
– Sithole was detained by the police under false pretences when they stated that they were following up on a missing person’s enquiry.
– When her lawyer requested clarity on her status, she was informed by the police that she was not arrested but rather detained on the request of the Department of Social Development.
– While being denied access to her lawyer, she was confronted by the state’s legal machinery, who informed her that she was being detained for 72 hours under the provisions of the Mental Health Act.
– A week later Sithole has still not been released.
– Her continued detention also raises basic issues regarding her constitutional rights and as such, has far reaching ramifications for ordinary citizens.
Survé said that no further statements or comment would be issued until the processes outlined above were completed.