Article in BEELD newspaper
November 2018

Credibility is a glaring gap in “Bird Island”

(by Barnard Beukman – editor of Beeld)

(Klik hier vir oorspronklike artikel in Afrikaans)

One of the news events that attracted attention in the past week, was the private investigation by the Foundation for Human Rights into allegations made in the book The Lost Boys of Bird Island.

The underlying question was one of credibility, which is the cornerstone of any media and publishing concern.

Unlike some other media, at Beeld we just could never get excited about the whole Bird Island saga. The investigation report that is now out (you can read the entire one on Netwerk24) merely augments the question mark over the credibility of some aspects of the book.

Probably the last word has not yet been spoken about the issues. A police investigation is still under way. However, some of the findings of the private investigations actually make you say out loud what you had already realised before: The book probably represents an all-time low in the South African (and the Afrikaans) publishing trade.

Reading through it, already raised certain basic questions for me. Right from the start there were also several credibility problems, of which those surrounding former late police official Mark Minnie are confirmed in the latest investigation. Nor does the response of his co-author, Chris Steyn, to the conclusion that no proof could be found to implicate Barend du Plessis and Magnus Malan in the alleged occurrences, do her credibility a favour: “He (the investigator) could also not prove that they had NOT been involved.”

Since when is that a legal principle or a departure point for any factual framework? Do we now have a new mantra?

Minnie’s contribution to the book is built mainly around the information of one character who supposedly pointed out photographs of the two ministers to him, as the persons who had been involved with the abuse of boys.

Private investigator Wouter de Swardt traced him and showed him the book. He denied this statement (about the photograph), as well as practically everything else that Minnie had attributed to him. He also mentioned that he now understood why Minnie had shied away from giving him a book, as he had previously promised to do.

The flood of unsifted information that has come about via the online environment and the bigger freedom of private individuals, places a larger onus on publishers and the media to thoroughly evaluate the material they put out, as well as to protect their own credibility.

Of course, ministers in the previous dispensation had opportunities for power abuse. By the way, how did they manage to go hunting and fishing at the expense of government? It would probably have been possible to perpetrate many more unseen and unknown acts.

However, if those at the receiving end of the book maintain that their rights have been violated, they most probably have a case. Unfortunately, at the cost of the credibility of print.

(Barnard Beukman is the editor of Beeld)