UPDATED: Wits Vuvuzela responds to lecturer complaint

UPDATE: 20 MARCH 2013

After securing agreement from all relevant sides, Wits Vuvuzela is finally able to publish a series of letters that Dr Last Moyo wrote to Prof Anton Harber in his capacity as the Head of the Department of Journalism which produces the Wits Vuvuzela. In these letters, Moyo details his concerns about the way in which the story of sexual harassment allegations against him were handled.

 

The official Wits Vuvuzela response:
We do not accept that Wits Vuvuzela behaved unethically or unprofessionally, and we stand by our story. Dr Moyo is concerned that the reporter herself made accusations against him.  But stories often originate from the personal experience of reporters and handling potential conflicts of interest can be complex. In this case, we believe that this position needed to be spelt out for the reader, which was why the reporter wrote her own first-person story.

We took the view that it would have been inappropriate to hide the reporter’s position.

We accept that it could have been handled differently, and that it should have been made clear to Dr Moyo that one of his interviewers was in this dual position. However, there is no evidence that this affects the veracity of the story, as she was just one of a number of accusers. Just the opposite: her experience adds weight to the accusations.

The Wits Media Code allows for independent arbitration. If Dr Moyo is not satisfied with our response, he can lay a complaint with the Dean of Students who will then
convene the Media Board to adjudicate on the issue.

 

LETTER FROM DR LAST MOYO (11 March 2013): Apology and retraction from Vuvuzela

Dear Prof. Harber and the editorial team,

Following my e-mail communication with Professor Harber over the unethical and unprofessional way the news report about the alleged sexual harassment story about me was handled, I have now consulted widely to get other expert opinions about the issue. Indeed, it does seem that the editor of Vuvuzela completely failed to observe the most basic journalism standards and as a result the credibility of the story you published  is severely compromised.

That loss of credibility not only affects my interests as the accused, but also those of the complainants. For my part, I would like Vuvuzela to acknowledge publicly the unethical way with which the story was reported and also put an apology to me clearly stating that for those reasons the story’s credibility is in question. I would also request that I be given some space to respond and state my case to the university public against Vuvuzela’s type of reporting. Prof let me kindly tress three important points to you and the editor:

1.   As a Media Scholar, I do value and respect Vuvuzela’s editorial independence and autonomy. I however, strongly believe that that independence and autonomy comes with responsibility to discharge journalistic duties professionally. As a student training paper, I believe that if Vuvuzela failed to take reasonable steps to minimise the risk of dishonest, malicious or even biased reporting, this must be openly acknowledged and apologised for as part of student training. Simply put, I have nothing against you Prof Harber as a colleague or advisor to the editorial  team. As a colleague, I have and continue to enjoy the most cordial and supportive relationship with you. I am simply demanding that things be done according to rules.
2.  I  have faith in the Wits’ internal  institutional processes in resolving this issue and believe that a fair and honest internal ombudsman would be competent enough to show that Vuvuzela crossed the line, should we get to a point where you think we need to quote third opinion about the ethical question in relation to Vuvuzela’s coverage of my issue. Should you be of that opinion, we could ask those with such competence to speedily set up an internal ombudsman to adjudicate on the issue and propose the way forward. I would be glad if you agree with me on that because it would defer my recourse to external adjudication which may not always work in favour of institutional reputation and professional standing of Wits. We’ve just had enough negative coverage of Wits by the mainstream press in relation to sexual harassment issues and think that time has come for us to reflect on how we solve internal problems.
3. My request for an apology should not be seen as absolving me of the claims made by my alleged accusers. As you know,  the university is running a community wide campaign for alleged victims of sexual harassment to come forward and make the reports. My accusers in and out of the story (if there are any) should exercise that right so that a speedy investigation can be made to allow the law to take its course.
Prof. Harber and team, I would be very happy to hear from you about how you think we can resolve this issue. I do not agree that under the circumstances, Vuvuzela took reasonable steps to report my issue professionally.  The story fails to meet the most basic test on ethics and by asking the accuser to interview the accused (without disclosure), author the story, take her her personal picture to provide visuals for the story, Vuvuzela totally compromised the biggest fundamental of news reporting. I find this totally dishonest, disingenuous, and reflective of the unscrupulous and self-serving journalism that cannot be allowed to be associated with Vuvuzela as our student training newspaper.  I therefore believe that such a story does not merit to lead and direct university and public opinion about my sexual harassment allegations and that under the circumstances must be retracted in public interest and respect for professionalism.
I have copied the Acting Dean and my HoS to this communication so that they can see how I am proposing that we solve this issue internally without any further drama that may be injurious to the image of the university and our collective interests as the university community. I hope that we move on his with speed so that if agreed I can get my apology and space to write my complaints about how my story was covered in the next issue of Vuvuzela. Thank you.
LETTER FROM DR LAST MOYO (9 March 2013): Ethical concern over the sexual harrassment story
Dear Prof Harber,

Thank you for the response Anton. It is not the weight of the story in journalistic terms that I am contesting. Any newspaper would certainly have liked to report such a story. However, I am querying the process of reporting that story. Let me make it clear to you that the student came to my office in her capacity as a journalist from Vuvuzela and NOT an alleged victim of my alleged sexual harassment.

There is a world of difference here. If she had disclosed to me that she was interviewing me as a victim or survivor of my alleged sexual harassment I would not have granted her the interview for the mere reason that it leaves me very vulnerable. An accuser to me is certainly an interested party in the whole story and would have been foolish to grant that interview. So the student journalist did not disclose her full identity to me and nowhere in the story is her double identity fully acknowledged. But suppose it had been, there would still be a major problem based on journalism ethics:

1. How can an accuser be truthful, honest, objective and accurate in reporting the accused? She already stands in a position of symbolic power to frame and report the story in her favor; and to select and exclude material that privileges her allegations.

2. There is also a major risk here. What if the accuser is friends with people that are also making these allegations against me? What would prevent them colluding to fabricate stories against me for one reason or the other?

3. Prof I honestly think that there was an oversight over this issue. Under the circumstances, I think it would have been better to either pass the story to a different newspaper or ask a different reporter in Vuvuzela to report the story.

I am not convinced that the gravity of the matter or numbers of students involved justified overlooking such an important issue. I feel that Vuvuzela was not honest and fair in dealing with this issue. I had a right to be informed that I was being interviewed by an accuser and Vuvuzela did not do so. Vuvuzela had the responsibility to take reasonable steps in minimizing the risk of biased and partial reporting by an interested party.With due respect Prof, I do not think  that was done.

LETTER FROM DR LAST MOYO (08 March 2013): Ethical concern over sexual harrassment story

Dear Prof. Harber,
I hope I find you well. I have a complaint of an ethical nature to make about the way the story on sexual allegations against me was covered. I have observed that the complainant is also simultaneously the author of the story and I strongly disagree that this is ethical. Under the circumstances how to do you account for the truthfulness, accuracy, fairness, and objectivity of the story? She has even photographed herself to provide a picture for the story. I strongly object and do not think that it represents professional and responsible journalism.
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ORIGINAL: 15 MARCH 2013

Media Studies senior lecturer Dr Last Moyo has objected to elements of Vuvuzela’s story last week in which a number of students made allegations of sexual harassment against him.

“The editor of Vuvuzela completely failed to observe the most basic journalism standards and as a result the credibility of the story you published is severely compromised,” Moyo said in a letter to the head of Wits Journalism.

Moyo’s objection was to the fact that the story was written by a student who, herself, had a complaint against him. He said that this student had not made this clear when she put the story to him.

“I believe that Vuvuzela failed to take reasonable steps to minimize the risk of dishonest, malicious or even biased reporting,” Moyo said.On this basis, Moyo has requested an apology and a retraction of the article.

“My request for an apology should not absolve me of the claims made by my alleged accusers,” he said. Moyo has denied the accusations and called for an official inquiry into his conduct.

*Vuvuzela responds: “Stories often originate from the personal experience of reporters and handling potential conflicts of interest can be complex. In this case, we believe that this position needed to be spelt out for the reader, which was why the reporter wrote her own first-person story. We took the view that it would have been inappropriate to hide the reporter’s position.

“We accept that it could have been handled differently, and that it should have been made clear to Dr Moyo that one of his interviewers was in this dual position. However, there is no evidence that this affects the veracity of the story, as she was just one of a number of accusers.  Vuvuzela stands by its report.”

SLLM announces sexual harassment committee

The School of Literature, Languages and Media (SLLM) have announced that a sexual harassment committee has been constituted in order to address concerns, and facilitate a discussion, about sexual harassment among students in the School.

This announcement comes in the wake of allegations against one of the School’s senior lecturers, Dr Last Moyo.

The Wits Vuvuzela last week broke the story of the allegations against Dr Moyo, which he strongly denies. According to the Head of the School, Dr Libby Meintjes, the committee consists of Prof Pumla Gqola (Pumla.gqola@wits.ac.za), Dr Colette Gordon (Colette.gordon@wits.ac.za), Dr Mehita Iqani  (Mehita.iqani@wits.ac.za) and Prof Tommaso Milani (Tommaso.milani@wits.ac.za).

Dr Meintjes has encouraged students to approach the committee who will be able to assist students with concerns around sexual harassment and will even assist in approaching the CCDU’s sexual harassment officer, Maria Wanyane. According to Dr Meintjes, members of the committee, “will be able to provide a safe space for students to articulate any concerns.”

Read the official statement from SLLM:

“The School of Literature, Language and Media would like to assure students and staff of the University that it has a policy of zero tolerance with regard to sexual harassment. The School has constituted a Sexual Harassment Committee. This Committee will be calling all students in the School to a meeting to discuss sexual harassment generally: what it is, how to cope with it and what processes are in place to assist students subjected to it. A person familiar with procedures in cases of suspected sexual harassment will be present at the meeting to clarify procedures and answer queries.

The Committee has also been briefed to meet with the Media students as a separate group. Dr Last Moyo has called for a formal investigation into the allegations, and, out of concern for the School’s reputation, has stepped aside as Head of Department and as Assistant Dean of Internationalisation and Partnerships until the findings of the investigation are made known.
The School will always remain centrally concerned with the safety, well-being and professional treatment of its students and staff.”