Media Ethics Demands Objectivity Not Mischief


Saturday Star’s scandalous front-page headline which screamed: "Al-Qaeda operatives ‘used SA as a base’" [August 27], possibly jolted many readers into believing that so-called terror cells linked to America’s nemesis do exist and flourish in this country.

However, reading the text of the entire report by Michael Schmidt and Kashiefa Ajam, reveals that apart from the non-existence of any such cells, no al-Qaeda operations have been launched from South Africa!

On the contrary, what emerges is a tale of deceit spun by a faceless source known only as "LW" who offered his services as an "informant" to the Scorpions, an organ of the SA National Prosecuting Authority [NPA]. But all contact with him was terminated because his information was proved to be unreliable, according to NPA spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi.

In addition a SA government source described him as a "rogue" and found his story on al-Qaeda to be "bulls**t".

A follow-on report tucked on page 5 of the same paper headed "Drug snitch tells of life in the shadows", provides further intriguing details of the anonymous "LW". These relate to his involvement in the criminal underworld of drugs and death.

A self-confessed "undercover contract agent" from Uruguay, LW discloses his links with Israel and a "job" he did for them in Egypt; though he would not specify any details. In addition, his involvement in the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Division [CID] as well as his undercover work for Germany’s National Criminal Authority did not stop there.

The report uncovers his role as "Mr Pisces" in the US sponsored "Operation Pisces", which in the period 1984-1987 laundered about $167-million of profits from the Colombian cocaine cartel. Since then, he has been indicted for tax-evasion charges in the US and is in South Africa, having fled from America.

With a life riddled with double-dealings, fraud, crime and illegal conduct, is it any surprise therefore that after having investigated LW’s claim about a "Cape Town al-Qaeda cell", the Scorpions dismissed it to be nothing but "a bunch of credit-card fraudsters"?

Yet the Saturday Star chose to mislead public opinion by it’s bold front-page headline catergorically claiming that SA was used as a base by al-Qaeda operatives and an equally deceptive sub-heading suggesting that "Terror men allegedly sent to Cape Town may have been involved in Underground bombings in London".

These headlines are in sharp contrast to the information contained in the reports. Neither of the two reports bear any reality to the fiction depicted in the alarming front-page heading. Indeed one learns from the details that the dubious claims made by LW and another "Pakistani operative named Mr Butt" have been so tenuous and self-serving, no credence can be placed on them.

"Mr Butt" in fact is none other than a former Russian military man dealing in arms trafficking which included working for the neo-con aligned Halliburton in Iraq. His full name is Victor Bout and following a series of investigations by the United Nations has been placed under sanction with an international arrest warrant by Interpol. According to Le Monde, his ability to avoid arrest thus far is due to access to "powerful support".

A question which arises therefore – and which was not canvassed in the reports – is why such a rogue element is able to surface in South Africa and set-up a clandestine operation designed to implicate al-Qaeda? A simple Google search would elicit a huge volume of startling information on Bout’s illicit deals and links with the underworld, yet the Saturday Star would have us believe this "merchant of death".

Are we scraping the barrel here in desperation to manufacture al-Qaeda bogeys in South Africa? Are we going to see a continuous media-hype on the so-called existence and threat from "Islamic terrorism"? And more importantly: should media consumers tolerate blatant bias and mischief?