Searchlight discharged its duty fully and responsibly
JOURNALISM’S FIRST OBLIGATION is to the truth. Unfortunately, the truth is sometimes uncomfortable and inconvenient.
When last Sunday, we published on our website, screenshots of Whatsapp messages between the acting Commissioner of Police and a female constable, some people were made uncomfortable, and making the images public may have been inconvenient to a few. But in publishing the story and the images, SEARCHLIGHT acted ethically and in keeping with the tenets of good journalism.
News broke last week that a police constable had accused her boss, the Commissioner of Police, of sexually assaulting her and that he had denied the allegation. It was immediately clear that there was much more to the story than what had been unearthed and published in SEARCHLIGHT and another local newspaper last Friday. The people involved, the difference in rank between them, the serious nature of the allegation against the Commissioner of Police and the fact that he had been given seven days to respond to a letter from the accuser and her husband, catapulted this matter from “a private affair” to one of great public interest, which speaks to public accountability, the conduct of public officers and transparency.
Journalists have an obligation to tell stories as they unfold using all relevant and credible information at their disposal,
so when our investigations turned up the Whatsapp images and we were satisfied that they were authentic, we had no choice but to publish them, and publish them all. In fact, it would have been wrong to do otherwise.
Had we withheld any of the images, we could have been accused of covering up, or of choosing what to publish to the benefit or detriment of either one of the people at the centre of the story. We also gave both parties ample time and opportunity to respond on the record, ahead of publication of the story. And in writing the story, we did not pick a side, but allowed the images to speak for themselves.
But in publishing the images, we were not reckless and never did we forget that the matter involves an alleged victim of sexual assault. We took care to remove any information that could identify her or her husband and other individuals mentioned in the conversations. As it stands, our story effectively confirmed that the Commissioner engaged in unprofessional conduct that has the potential to cause him to be removed from his job, while up to this point, the alleged victim still has not been identified, as least not by us.
The trust that readers have for any newspaper is a very fragile one, and it can be easily broken, not just by what we do, but also at times what we fail to do. In this matter we are satisfied that we discharged our duty fully — and that we did so responsibly.