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Journalist Dennis Itumbi is calling for an anonymous sources policy after an anonymously sourced story about lost cash turned out to be fake.(Credit: Flickr, "JollyUK")

Journalist Dennis Itumbi called for a better sourcing policy for South African journalists after South African newspaper the Standard’s April 15 anonymously sourced story ended up being false.

The Standard’s story claimed “a suspect facing charges in the International Criminal Court had lost a bag with US$10 million (KSh 840 million) cash at Jomo Kenyatta Airport. ”

It was attributed to “a single police source.”

However, the story was torn apart as bloggers and others found out the $10 million USD worth of cash weighs more than 200 pounds, or as Itumbi put it, “an impractical amount to carry as hand luggage.”

See here, for example, this story on OCampoSix, which debunks the story on the matter of the money’s weight, and called the Standard’s reporting “gutterpress.”

Other parts of the story were picked apart including that ” it would be impossible to get clearance in any airport for so much cash.”

Itumbi wrote about the fake $10 million cash story and the need for a better anonymous source policy in a column for Journalism.co.za. Journalism.co.za is affiliated with Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrang’s journalism program. (StinkyJournalism has written to Journalism.co.za to ask if it is affiliation to the UK media news site, Journalism.co.uk).

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Itumbi explained he believes in the absolute protection of sources and just recommends journalists use anonymous sources more cautiously. He wrote:

“I am not advocating for the elimination of anonymous sources, all I am calling for is a more careful and firm approach to anonymity.”

He also went on to offer some history on anonymous source use in the media, commenting that they were used for good in breaking the Watergate story, but also were used by Washington Post’s Janet Cooke used unnamed sources to cover the fact she made up a source.

Itumbi advised that the policy include a handful of points including:

  • journalists should detail why the source is granted anonymity so readers can determine if they want to trust the source’s information
  • anonymity cannot be granted to make “personal or partisan attacks”
  • source anonymity must be OK’ed by superiors
  • stories can’t have just one source
  • source attribution like “government sources” isn’t good enough. Instead, add “a little more about department and maybe their level to information,” Itumbi suggested

That policy includes many of the tenets of the New York Times’ anonymous source policy (see here).

iMediaEthics is writing to Itumbi for more information and to ask if he drew from the Times’ policy to create his suggestions,.  We will update with any response.

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Fake Story about $10 Million Cash Lost, Anonymous Sourcing Blamed

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