CHECK THE FACTS: Media professor breaks first law of journalism

Glenda Daniels is associate professor of media studies, Wits University and is Sanef’s Gauteng convenor. Picture: DM

Glenda Daniels is associate professor of media studies, Wits University and is Sanef’s Gauteng convenor. Picture: DM

Published Nov 23, 2023


WITS Associate Professor, Glenda Daniels is under scrutiny after penning an opinion piece that by all considerations, breached the first law of journalism – accuracy.

The article, which stated that Independent Media paid food vouchers instead of severance pay, has been debunked as factually incorrect, raising concerns about the standards of media education in South Africa.

What has drawn additional ire, is Professor Daniels’ failure to seek comment or verification from Independent Media before publishing her opinion, appearing to rely on a factually incorrect statement issued by the National Press Club (NPC), that also failed to verify its misplaced and erroneous assertions.

The first law of journalism, often regarded as the cornerstone of ethical reporting, emphasizes the importance of accuracy and thorough fact-checking before disseminating information.

It is disheartening to see a journalism and media professor overlooking the basics of responsible reporting, as Independent Media would have welcomed the opportunity to provide accurate information and clarify any misconceptions she might have had.

Independent Media’s response to the publishing platform requesting a right of reply (still waiting on that), states: “That Ms Daniels did not approach Independent Media for comment or to corroborate this highly questionable statement in the first place or confirm that the first round of severance has indeed been paid, is of extreme concern to Independent Media. It is also outright misrepresentation.”

Daniels must have had queries, which she chose to ignore, as in her very own opinion piece, she writes, “(Primedia and Arena are retrenching too, last year Media 24 did, but no one’s heard of food vouchers instead of proper severance)”.

Of course, no-one has ever heard of that. It’s completely mad to believe that a company would pay out staff who have worked for the company for multiple years with only R2500 food vouchers. Aside from that, it’s not exactly part of the country’s labour law.

Surely that should have raised a red flag for Professor Daniels? But then again, Daniels’ colleague at WITS, is Adjunct Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, Anton Harber, whose rhetoric also does not extend to fact-checking when it comes to reporting on matters relating to Independent Media.

It should not be forgotten that it was Harber, who vocally and actively called for advertisers to boycott all Independent Media titles, jeopardising the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of journalists. Not exactly the code of ethics and conduct we should be setting as examples to the next generation.

Are there are red alerts we should all take cognisance of here as a common theme seems to be developing, because when personal bias infiltrates publishing, there is undue influence.

This incident, which should actually be laughable considering the ridiculousness of the claims, is sadly not isolated. It raises serious questions about the quality of journalism education, and journalism in the state of fast news in general, especially when an academic figure fails to adhere to fundamental principles and in an article to do with the state of the media.

If this is the standard set by a media professor, alarms should be ringing all over – and questions should be asked as to what students are being taught, and the future of journalism in the country.

Aside from the food vouchers issue, there was another obvious ignoring of the facts in pursuit tarnishing Independent Media. On more than one occasion, Independent Media has highlighted that the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) has had no shareholding in Sekunjalo Independent Media (SIM) – since 2018. This additional inaccuracy in Professor Daniels' piece further underscores the need for responsible reporting and thorough fact-checking.

Daniels’ ill-conceived opinion has a knock-on effect. Published as it was on a well-known publishing platform, without a clarification, the public will remain misinformed and yet again, Independent Media will be branded pariahs.

In addition to Independent Media’s truth being told, there is an urgent need for Wits University to urgently address the issue internally, and re-evaluate its journalism and media studies curriculum to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills to maintain the highest standards of accuracy and ethics in their future journalistic endeavours.