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- A Stuijt
- Retired South African medical journalist, ex-Sunday Times of Johannesburg.
The courage of the gutsy Daily Sun: which rescued a rape-victim and published the now world-infamous, viral Soweto gang-rape video
Gill Moodie on what the Daily Sun newspaper's reporting says about the state of SA today
Moody writes: May 7 2012 - It was interesting at the launch two weeks ago of the Press Freedom Commission's recommendations that Mathatha Tsedu, the MC at the launch, praised the Daily Sun newspaper for getting the police moving on finding the 17-year-old Soweto girl who had been filmed being gang-raped.
“The Daily Sun got those rascals behind bars”
South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. A 2009 study found that one in four South African men had admitted to rape, and most cases are never prosecuted. The 10-minute cell phone video shows a group of young men taking turns raping and filming a mentally disabled girl, who pleaded with them to stop throughout her ordeal. The rapists – the youngest was 15 - often laughed and jeered at her plight.
Pointing to the power of press, Tsedu, a former City Press editor, said it was the Daily Sun that "got those rascals behind bars" as part of his introduction to the commission's release of recommendations for tighter government control over the South African print media.
…”Paradoxically, a key part of these recommendations involves strengthening the protection of minors' rights in their portrayal in the press.
Moody continues: “Technically, the Daily Sun broke the law when it published a picture - taken from the cellphone video of the gang rape - of the 17-year-old mentally ill girl because the media is not allowed to reveal or even hint at the identity of minors involved in crimes and court cases - and the same goes for sex-crime victims unless they give their consent (or, in the case of a minor, a parent's consent).
The disjunction between Tsedu's view and commission's recommendations says as much about the rambunctious, sensational, hugely successful Daily Sun - which is 10 years old in July this year - as it does about how ordinary South Africans view the government and authorities today.
56,000 rape cases were reported in South Africa in 2010: however they are grossly underreported. This DJ in the clip below, discusses the incident in Soweto and slams ‘guys for raping kids while they are still babies’:
Moody: “In a shocking story that reverberated around the world, the cellphone video that had gone viral in Soweto came into the hands of the Daily Sun last month, who then contacted the police. Sun reporters went with the police into the streets with pictures of the alleged rapists (taken from the video) to try find them and the girl, who had been missing for about three weeks. This resulted in arrests (of seven boys and men between the ages of 14 to 20) and then, weighing up the girl's dignity against her safety, the paper published her picture in a plea to the public to help find her.
Charges against 37-year-old man she was found with, were withdrawn:
“This flushed out her alleged abductor the very day the picture was printed. The girl was found in the company of a 37-year-old man, who was also arrested. On Friday, charges against the man were provisionally withdrawn.
“The risk that the Sun took - though they did have the girl's mother's permission to print the picture - was high, especially considering how the ANC has been waging a war against the press for being sloppy, sensational and unrepresentative of the nation. It also shows us that even with the most altruistic of rules and laws, there will be occasions of grey area. It is very unlikely the girl would have been found had the Daily Sun not stepped in.
“The decision to print the picture was not taken lightly, says Reggy Moalusi, the Daily Sun's acting editor. "It was not an easy decision," he told Politicsweb. "You can imagine the backlash we knew we were going to get out there but we don't just do things unilaterally... We called our lawyer and said: "We want you to come through and look at each and every picture of the girl. She is missing and we would like to find her. We don't want her to get killed. We're quite worried about her safety."
(Click on next 3 links for the Sun's own account of events in its weekly blog for the paper's story on its mobisite on how the girl was found.)
- Questions were raised about the Sun's move, notably from the Media Monitoring Africa watchdog group while the National Prosecuting Authority said it had "reservations" about use of the video by the media.
The Sun rescued that vulnerable, mentally-ill girl when all others had failed her:
Moody: “But, in this instance, most feel the Daily Sun made the right judgment call. I'm also sure copies of the paper flew off the shelves on the back of this story - but, more importantly, the Sun rescued that vulnerable, mentally-ill girl when all others had failed her.
In a revealing story in the Sunday Times two weeks ago, we discovered that not only had the police failed to fully investigate the girl being raped on two previous occasions but the mother was ridiculed and insulted each time she reported the attacks to the police.
"I've reported two rape cases to the police, but nothing came of them," she told the paper. "I felt there was no need to continue reporting because nothing happens anyway. The police have failed me and my daughter."
This cynicism about the authorities is something that has come out very strongly in recent years in the Daily Sun's reader research.
"It might seem a bit fast - for an electorate to go from high hopes to cynicism in less than 20 years," the late Deon du Plessis, the founder and publisher of the Daily Sun, wrote in a blog post 2010. "...but then these guys DO move fast: From bicycles to taxis and cars in one mighty bound, from no phone to a cellphone in another mighty bound... If politicians thought they could string things out for a while...they're wrong.
"In a quite heroic scale, people simply don't believe them any more," wrote Du Plessis.
The research by Jos Kuper - who started the Sun with Du Plessis before going on to become an independent researcher - shows that among the Sun's readers there has been a shift from an entitlement mind set to one of "we need to do it for ourselves".
Referring to the work of the Nobel Prize-winning economist called Amartya Sen, Kuper says: "One of the things that he talks about is how important certain freedoms are in people's lives - the freedom to get a good education, good medical care and free media and democracy that enable people to start taking control of their own lives. If you want to unlock the Daily Sun, that is the key to this market because it is what [the paper] has done right from Day One. When we conceived the paper in its fullness, [the idea] was to find a way in which it talked the people's language in a way they could understand but helped them to take control of their own lives."
One third of the paper was actually conceptualised at launch to be a "how to" section, says Kuper - how to get a driver's licence, how to open a bank account, how to understand what interest means.
"If you have a look [at the paper today]," she says, "there is always a page that is very enabling, which says: ‘Do it for yourself, take your power into your own hands'. This is coming through very strongly [in the research] now that a lot of people are understanding that they can't wait for the government to provide."
Moalusi says he believes the paper has found such a big readership because it goes beyond being an ordinary newspaper. "We get involved. Our readers are not objects that we write about...we use our widespread circulation to say: ‘Let's get issues known. Let's get issues solved... If we win these battles, then we know we are much appreciated. If we lose them, then we fight even more - and that's what newspapers should be about."
The Sun's ethos is centred on keeping the government on its toes and highlighting service-delivery problems, Moalusi says. "We tell the government: ‘This is what the readers are complaining about - and ‘if they are complaining about it, what are you going to do about it'... Our readers are well conscious of our power to get the government doing what it's supposed to do."
The remarkable thing about the Daily Sun has always been that it didn't steal readers away from existing newspapers when Du Plessis launched it 10 years ago for Media24. It created a whole new market of people who had never read newspapers before. Five years after launch it became the biggest circulating paper in South Africa when it passed the 500 000 sales mark. Amid the recession, sales fells back and were then punished when Media24 switched to a new distribution system. In the most recent ABC figures - for the fourth quarter of 2011 - the paper was at 381 000 sales and had appeared to have arrested its decline.
I always say if you want to know what ordinary South Africans think, read the Daily Sun. And, as the horrific rape-video shows us, these ordinary South Africans - the petrol attendants and taxi drivers, the domestic workers and nurses, the man in the blue overalls who make up the 5-million plus readers of the Daily Sun - will turn more readily to the press than the authorities for help.
Which is probably why Moalusi welcomes the Press Freedom Commission's recommendations on having more public involvement in the independent co-regulation model it is proposing.
"I think we (at the Daily Sun) still have the trust of our readers," he says. "We've got our critics but, in most cases, they are not in our target market. We have a target market that is happy with us and they know that whenever they call us, we give them our undivided attention."
This article was published with the assistance of the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF).
Poiliticsweb: ‘What the Press Freedom Commission recommends', April 2012
Bizcommunity: ‘Lose circ fast; build it 'damn slow' - Daily Sun GM Minette Ferreira', January 2012
Bizcommunity: ‘The research behind SunPower' (interview with Jos Kuper), Nov 2012