Public Protector highlights the importance of investigative journalism

Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela on Saturday affirmed investigative journalism as one of the many important accountability mechanisms that helps to strengthen South Africa's democracy.

Speaking at the Menell 13 Media Freedom Conference at the University of Johannesburg, the Public Protector explained that her view was based on the premise that democracy is a constant dialogue.

"We elect people to represent us and to exercise stewardship over our affairs, including our moneys and the rules that govern our relationships. We have to engage in a constant conversation amongst ourselves before we elect them and we have to engage in a constant conversation with them once they are in power, to the extent that they exercise that power on our behalf," she said.

Drawing parallels between her office and the media's investigative journalism role, the Public Protector noted that the two institutions shared the role of helping the public to have oversight over the people they have entrusted with power.

She highlighted the fact that some of the cases her office has dealt with have come as a result of media reports and, in particular, investigative journalism. Examples included the plight of communities that reside in the vicinity of and were adversely affected by the construction of Nandoni Dam in Limpopo and the struggles of the community of Braamfischerville in Soweto, who lived in unhealthy surrounding due to a defective sewage system.

The Public Protector also cited, as examples, the Against the Rules report, which focused on police office accommodation matters and On the Point of Tenders report, which followed an investigation into allegations of maladministration against the department of Roads and Transport in Limpopo.

Investigative journalism, she added, was also instrumental in helping to highlight improper conduct outside the state. This was seen in the bread price collusion scandal and a similar case involving the auction industry.

The Public Protector told the conference that her office benefits a lot from investigative journalists by often requesting information that could be useful in her own investigations. She emphasised, however, that her office does not force journalists to share documents but requests for such information instead.

"We have authority to do that. In the Mail and Guardian case involving PetroSA, the court took a dim view over the fact that we did not ask the journalist [that wrote the story] if they had some information to share," she explained.

For more information, contact:

Oupa Segalwe
Manager: Outreach, Education and Communication
Public Protector South Africa
012 366 7035
072 264 3273
0800 11 20 40


Published Date: 
Sunday, June 9, 2013