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News24.com | Tembisa 10: 'Reckless to publish the story' - advocate recommends disciplinary action against Piet Rampedi

An independent external investigation found that the Pretoria News was "reckless" to publish a story penned by editor Piet Rampedi, which claimed that a Tembisa woman, Gosiame Sithole, had given birth to 10 babies.

The veracity of the story was widely questioned when several elements couldn't be proven, including where Sithole had given birth.

The father of the children admitted that he had not seen the babies and had relied on Sithole's account when he posed for cameras as the parent of newly-born decuplets.

READ | There are no babies, admits father of 'Tembisa 10'

The media company instituted several probes into the story regarding how it was handled. It included investigations internally by the editor, the office of Independent Media's press ombud, Independent Media's investigation division, and an independent external investigation, chaired by advocate Michael Donen.

Donen's report said the publication of the story was "reckless" and found that Rampedi had breached Independent Media's code of ethics. He recommended disciplinary action be taken against Rampedi.

However, Independent Media chairperson Iqbal Survé, who had previously backed his title editor, said Rampedi should be given a pass, despite the serious finding.

Iqbal Survé.

In response to the recommendation, Survé said: "Mr Rampedi's piece was a 'feel good' - we should cut him some slack. He is not everyone's favorite person; he made a mistake."

ANALYSIS | Tembisa 10: Anatomy of fake news

Survé said he refused to "throw Rampedi under the bus".

Rampedi was not present at the press conference held in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Survé said the story on the babies was a "feel good" article and not an investigative report. But, so far, neither man has yet answered why the basic tenets of journalism, including corroborating claims or asking for additional information to substantiate claims, were not followed.

Instead, Survé detailed claims of a conspiracy, which involved human trafficking, cover-ups and a doctor who operates under a pseudonym.

Survé provided very little, if any, evidence to substantiate the findings, rather promising that all would be revealed in a documentary series, which all his titles would carry.

The businessman made broad claims that government officials were part of a conspiracy to discredit Independent Media.

READ | Govt, private hospitals have no record of Tembisa 10, family insists babies were born

Yogas Nair, Independent Media's press ombud, found that Rampedi erred in his eagerness and failed to follow standard company procedure. She said:

Even the most innocuous reports demand care, checks and corroboration. The journalist's maxim must be that there is no 'small stuff'. Reports involving subjects and material with no obvious legal risks must meet the tests of accuracy and balance.

At the briefing on Wednesday, Surve said it was found that Sithole had been pregnant with 10 babies, which had been delivered by caesarean section.

Broke

Survé donated R1 million to the family after the newspaper broke the story. 

The group raised money and donations for the mother, the father, Teboho Tsotetsi, and the babies, who had never been photographed. 

The accuracy of the story came into question after reports emerged that Sithole gave birth at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, which the hospital disputed.  

READ | 'Tembisa 10': Piet Rampedi pens apology to Independent Media staff for baby saga

Dr Mpho Pooe, an independent obstetrician and gynaecologist, was tasked with the examination of Sithole after her release from Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital.

According to Pooe, Sithole was unequivocally pregnant, and had undergone a caesarean-section recently. 

"Gosiame was pregnant, she gave birth recently – there was a new caesarean section scar. There was oozing infection on the scar…this is not an old scar…her tummy was stretched," she said.