ONO Newsletter October 2020


Thanks to all our members who were able to join us for our Virtual Shop Talk last week with Tom Rosenstiel.

The picture above doesn’t capture everyone who was able to be part of the session – in all, we had twenty-nine participants, and a host of fascinating questions, comments and observations about the challenges of achieving impartiality in modern journalism practice.

Tom Rosenstiel was an insightful and thoughtful guest speaker who was generous with his time and shared some excellent concepts around the central importance of impartiality as a discipline. Given the amount of misunderstanding, misrepresentation and confusion about the concept, however, one of key discussion points was that perhaps we need a new name for the idea to help explain it better. All recommendations encouraged!


In these times when it is so hard for us to meet together as a group, ONO is committed to organising regular opportunities for virtual conversations.

We are hoping to hold at least four virtual shop talks every year, so all ideas for topics and speakers will be gratefully accepted.

Already, some members have suggested that there would be value in discussing the challenges of covering extremist groups and extremist views.

To that end, I thought it would be interesting to share with members a practical example of that from ONO Board Member and Public Editor at Sth Africa’s News24, George Claassen.

Here is his experience:

You may be aware of the burning question about South Africa’s crime rate and attacks on farmers and their workers by criminals. It has become a serious political issue as mostly highly productive white farmers are regularly attacked and murdered on their farms (also their workers, mostly black). Last week we had a horrendous murder of a 21-year old farm manager, Brendin Horner, who was killed and tied to a fence. When the two suspects were due to appear in court three days ago in the little Free State town of Senekal, a group of white farmers, incited by right-wing groups on social media, stormed into the court building, looking to get hold of the accused. A police vehicle was overturned and set alight by the protesting farmers. You can see the whole sage on News24 at https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/strangulation-and-a-stock-thief-cartel-inside-brendin-horners-tragic-final-moments-20201009 and https://www.news24.com/news24/analysis/analysis-sas-toxic-triad-invades-senekal-rampant-violence-broken-justice-cynical-politics-20201006.

I have had a flood of complaints about our reporting, News24 being accused of being part of a left-wing liberal plot and not sympathising with farmers, that we are “anti-white”, anti-Trump, that we are part of the “fake news media and CNN cabal” etc. I get regular complaints from the white South African community, even from expatriates living in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, that we are biased against Trump, that we are in the pockets of the ruling and corrupt ANC government. Despite the fact that News24’s senior editors have been part of a group of very serious investigative reporters on the ANC and state capture and exposing their corruption. I had a call from a young Afrikaner who lives in Perth, Australia now, wanting to know what really happened in Senekal as he only saw all the fake nonsense some of these right-wingers put on Facebook and Twitter. There is a notorious Facebooker, Willem Petzer, who is at the front of spreading rumours and false news, also leading a campaign against News24.

I get regular complaints from readers who wrongly accuse us of not reporting on these farm murders and I have compiled a file of stories proving that we do indeed cover these crimes extensively, sending my list to the complainants virtually every week.

News24 has been very consistent to report fairly and mostly accurate(there were some mistakes as Senekal is in a remote area in the country where it is difficult to send reporters to) about the Senekal protests and other farm murders, fully in line with the requirements of the South African Press Code to which News24 subscribes.”

No doubt we all have our own experiences in dealing with complaints, criticisms and questions about coverage of extremist politics. It may well make for an interesting shop talk.


  • Tom Kent, long-standing ONO member, former AP Standards Editor and now Adjunct Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, has published a new book. It’s called Striking Back: Overt and Covert Options to Combat Russian Disinformation. It proposes a new strategy of aggressive messaging to fight Russian information operations. As a Russian-speaker, a former President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the leader of Associated Press operations in Russia, Tom is full of insights, experience and wisdom on the issue. You can also hear him discuss his book on this podcast.
  • Bruce Campion-Smith,  Public Editor at the Toronto Star, provded this reminder of the importance of fair play and the opportunity to respond in journalism
  • Margo Smit, ONO Treasurer and Ombudsman at NPO in the Netherlands wrote a column exploring coronavirus and conflicts of interest
  • An oldie but a goodie!  It’s amazing what you can find if you spend enough time browsing the internet. This month, I came across this reminder from several years ago that some people actually appreciate what we ombudsmen and standards editors do. The article shows TV2’s Lars Bennike being rewarded not just with praise, but with flowers too.


Yes, it’s that time of the year again.

You will soon be receiving an invoice for your membership dues for the 2021 year.

However, we have good news.

The ONO Board is very mindful of the fact that we were unable to hold our annual conference last year, and there is still a great deal of uncertainty over whether and when we will be able to organise a conference next year, given the ongoing travel restrictions in so many parts of the world.

To compensate for that, we have been working hard to make the membership experience as useful and worthwhile as possible, with regular newsletters and regular virtual shop talks a key part of that, as well as increasing the contents of our website and our ‘members-only’ zone.

But we know it has been a difficult and challenging year for so many of you and for the organizations you work for, so we are keen to do our bit to ease the pressure.

Therefore, the Board has taken a decision to reduce membership fees across the board by 50% for ALL members, whether they are full, associate or retired members.

You will see this temporary reduction reflected in the invoices you will shortly be receiving.

We are very positive about the year ahead and the level of communication, collegiality and contact we can provide to all of our members. Our roles as ombudsmen and standards editors has never been more important, but it has also never been more important as we deal with polarized communities,  the fear and uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic and the continued spread of misinformation and disinformation. ONO is committed to serving as an important means of bringing us together to share experiences and discussion issues of importance.

Bjarne Schilling                                                                               Alan Sunderland ONO President                                                                    ONO Executive Director
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