Evidence always required

LAST week several anonymous tip-offs were dropped off at the Talk of the Town office, one even in a stereotypical brown envelope.

We have become used to these kinds of tip-offs over the years, and some have actually materialised into worthy hard news stories, exposing some or other malfeasance usually involving the municipality or a government department. The stories we published about the Amatola Water project last year were backed by voluminous documents provided by our well-placed source.

But many of the “hot tips” we receive never go anywhere, mostly because no evidence is provided other than a cryptic letter alleging wrongdoing.

Also, what often gets a letter like this binned is the refusal of the informant to even identify themselves to a journalist, so we cannot even verify who they are and what their stake is in the allegations being made.

We will respect a source’s request for confidentiality if they ask for it, and the reasons most often given are that being named will either hurt their business or make them a target of intimidation or worse.

We will respect a source’s request for confidentiality

In the latest scenario, the individual who dropped off the tip-offs actually came back and identified himself, along with colleagues who also had an interest in the stories he wanted us to pursue.

We commend this step. But still, they lacked evidence other than allowing us to take a photograph of one page of a Cipro company registration document.

In itself, that did not provide proof towards the allegation of wrongdoing – that said company was benefitting from contracts with the municipality while having a councillor as one of its directors.

Still, we asked the municipal spokesman if the company in question was doing business with the municipality and received a simple “no” for an answer.

We related this to our source, and told him if he had no other evidence to produce then there was no story. He couldn’t come up with the goods so it fizzled into nothing.

He did want us to pursue two other allegations, however, and one is more likely than the other to reveal something that is in the public interest. Sometimes stories like this take time, especially when we need to contact official sources who can either verify or refute information.

The other story just seems to be a gripe about someone’s criminal past, which has already been written about. If his detractors believe this man cannot be involved in community affairs they must come out and say it – not attempt to use the newspaper as their cudgel.

– Jon Houzet

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